If you‘ve played Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) recently, you may be surprised to find out it wasn‘t always free. Up until 2018, CS:GO had a $14.99 price tag. For 6 long years, players needed to pay to play one of the world‘s most popular multiplayer shooters.
But in December 2018, Valve made a game-changing decision – they eliminated CS:GO‘s upfront cost and made it free-to-play. This removed the barrier to entry and opened the floodgates for new players to try CS:GO.
In this guide, we‘ll dive deep into CS:GO‘s pricing history and free-to-play shift. I‘ll share exactly how much CS:GO used to cost, what players got for their money, and why Valve ultimately decided to make CS:GO free. Let‘s get started!
When did CS:GO become free? A brief history
CS:GO first launched way back on August 21, 2012. It had a standard $14.99 price tag on Steam and consoles like Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. This was the norm for premium multiplayer shooters at the time.
For over 6 years, CS:GO maintained that $14.99 cost of entry. There were no discounts or price drops – you had to pony up cash to play. And CS:GO built up a loyal audience of competitive FPS fans willing to pay.
But over time, free-to-play games like Fortnite shook up the industry. It became harder to convince gamers to pay upfront for multiplayer titles. So in December 2018, Valve made a huge change – CS:GO went completely free-to-play!
This transition occurred on December 6, 2018 in CS:GO‘s "Danger Zone" update. The fortuitous timing helped boost interest in CS:GO‘s new battle royale mode. And of course, removing the $14.99 barrier let tons of fresh players try the legendary FPS.
Now 5 years later, CS:GO remains a free-to-play juggernaut. But for long-time fans, it may be surreal to remember a time when CS:GO wasn‘t free. Let‘s reflect on what players got for their $14.99 during CS:GO‘s paid era.
Breaking down what players got for $14.99
When CS:GO first launched in 2012, what did players get for the $14.99 base price? Let‘s take a look:
Full multiplayer access – $14.99 included the complete suite of CS:GO‘s legendary 5v5 competitive modes. There were no gameplay restrictions – you could play Bomb Defusal, Hostage Rescue, and Deathmatch to your heart‘s content.
Matchmaking & rankings – CS:GO‘s competitive Skill Groups were tied to your Steam account. Paying for CS:GO let you play matchmaking and progress up the ranks.
All original maps & weapons – Iconic maps like Dust, Inferno, and Nuke were included. No map or weapon packs required separate purchase.
Basic mod support – $14.99 granted access to CS:GO‘s modding and custom content features. Make your own maps and game modes!
Item drop system – Earning cosmetic weapon skins and cases through post-match drops required purchase. Free players missed out.
Prime matchmaking status – Buying CS:GO automatically activated Prime for matchmaking privileges and better teammates.
Overall, $14.99 got you the complete CS:GO experience. Considering the sheer amount of gameplay available, it was decent value compared to other online shooters at the time.
Let‘s look at some player count stats to understand CS:GO‘s popularity during the paid era:
For a paid game in 2018, these are great numbers! CS:GO was clearly still popular despite its age. But the stage was set for something radical – making CS:GO completely free.
CS:GO goes free-to-play – pros and cons
On December 6 2018, Valve made CS:GO free-to-play. This was a monumental shift for such an established premium title. Let‘s break down the major pros and cons of this pricing change:
- Removed $14.99 barrier to play
- Attracted swarms of new players
- Increased revenue from in-game purchases
- Revitalized game with a "second life"
- Fueled growth of CS:GO esports scene
- Potentially cheapened game‘s perceived value
- Sparked worries about cheating and toxicity
- Veteran players lost exclusive privileges
- Economic changes controversial at first
Clearly, the benefits outweighed the drawbacks in the long run. But CS:GO going free-to-play was met with a mixed reception initially. Some veteran players feared it would ruin the competitive experience.
While misguided, this skepticism was somewhat understandable. Other popular multiplayer games like Team Fortress 2 nosedived after going free-to-play. CS:GO certainly risked the same fate.
Thankfully, Valve walked the tightrope successfully. They opened CS:GO up to newcomers while keeping veterans satisfied with exclusive Prime perks. The game‘s core remained nearly identical, just without a price tag.
Let‘s look at the incredible immediate impact from CS:GO going free-to-play:
Player numbers skyrocketed by over 200%! CS:GO reached heights not seen since its early glory days. This surge proved free-to-play worked wonders despite initial hesitation.
Now years removed, CS:GO‘s pricing shift stands as an unambiguous "W" for Valve. Next, let‘s break down exactly how much CS:GO costs in 2023 and what paying players get.
How much does CS:GO cost now? Paid vs. free breakdown
In 2023, here‘s how CS:GO is monetized across paid and free players:
- Download and play CS:GO for free
- Access to all core game modes and matchmaking
- Ability to earn Prime status through XP
- Purchase optional cosmetics, Operations, etc.
- Immediate access to Prime matchmaking
- Prime guaranteed even if requirements change
- Exclusive access to certain Operations
- % of each sale goes to map creators
- Sense of ownership over CS:GO license
Let‘s directly compare some key differences between paid and free CS:GO experiences:
|Prime Status||Earn through XP||Instant access|
|Item Drops||Need Prime eligible||Drops enabled|
|Operations||Buy each separately||Included in cost|
For most players, the free version of CS:GO offers plenty. But paying for full Prime access helps optimize the experience if you plan to play seriously.
Either way, CS:GO has found the right balance between paid and free without dividing the community. Let‘s look at why Prime is still worth it for die-hard CS:GO fans.
Is CS:GO Prime still worth it in 2023?
For new players jumping into CS:GO now, is it worth paying $14.99 to upgrade to Prime status immediately? Let‘s break it down:
Faster access to Prime perks – Grinding XP takes a while, so buying Prime skips the hassle.
Better matchmaking quality – Prime matchmaking reduces cheaters and mismatches.
Guaranteed future proofing – If Prime reqs change, paying ensures you qualify.
Exclusive Operations access – Some limited-time modes require Prime to play.
Item drop eligibility – Cases and skins can only drop if you have Prime.
Support CS:GO development – A portion of each sale goes to the game‘s creators.
Personally, I recommend most players buy CS:GO Prime right away. The quality-of-life perks make progression much smoother. And you support continued development.
But if you just want to casually try CS:GO, playing for free is totally fine. You can always upgrade to Prime later on. Both paid and free players will enjoy CS:GO regardless!
The overwhelming success of free CS:GO
CS:GO going free-to-play was a monumental risk for Valve. But the gamble paid off big time both for CS:GO‘s popularity and Valve‘s bottom line. Let‘s look at some key stats:
- Hit an all-time peak of 1.3 million concurrent players in 2020
- Currently averages around 800,000 peak monthly players
- Generated over $50 million in 2021 from in-game transactions
- Viewership and tournaments continue breaking records
- Remained a top viewed esport and game on Twitch
Not only did CS:GO retain nearly all of its existing player base, it also exploded in reach. And revenue increased despite the lack of upfront payment. CS:GO hit its stride as a free-to-play title.
The game also serves as the gold standard for migrating paid games to free. Valve offered sensible perks for veteran players while removing barriers for newcomers. This goodwill helped ease the transition.
5 years removed from the shift, CS:GO‘s player numbers and esports scene are still thriving. The game regularly beats out newer shooters on Twitch – no small feat for a title approaching its 10th birthday!
The future is bright for free-to-play CS:GO
As we head into 2023 and beyond, what does the future look like for CS:GO now that it‘s a free-to-play game? Let‘s gaze into the crystal ball:
- Steady growth, especially across Asia and South America
- Consistent updates and improvements from Valve
- New Prime perks and purchasable cosmetics added regularly
- Continued esports dominance despite competition from Valorant
- Eventual next-gen sequel or reboot down the road
CS:GO has shown incredible staying power already, retaining loyal fans for over a decade since its 2012 launch. Now with the momentum of free-to-play, CS:GO could thrive for 5+ more years.
The combination of high skill ceiling, established esports scene, and strong core gameplay makes CS:GO very "sticky" long-term. I expect it will remain one of the top FPS games and esports for the foreseeable future.
The bottom line – CS:GO is here to stay
Let‘s wrap up with the key lessons:
For 6 years, CS:GO carried a standard $14.99 price tag. This granted you the full game, Prime status, and other owner perks.
In a pivotal moment, CS:GO went completely free-to-play in 2018. This let CS:GO reach wider audiences while retaining its loyal fanbase.
The transition was risky, but paid off massively. CS:GO has never been more popular or profitable as a free game with in-app purchases.
Going free-to-play granted CS:GO a "second life". With continued support from Valve, its future looks bright for many more years of Counter-Strike action.
So while long-time fans may remember paying $14.99 for CS:GO, newcomers now get to enjoy this legendary FPS free of charge. That‘s a steal! Valve‘s gamble ushered in a new era for CS:GO.