Skip to content

How War Thunder Offers Core Gameplay Completely Free

War Thunder is an impressive feat in the gaming industry – a fully featured vehicular combat game with cross-platform multiplayer and progression, available entirely free. For anyone who downloads War Thunder, all of the core gameplay mechanics, modes, maps, competitions, and progression systems are unlocked without paying a dime.

So how can War Thunder be completely free to play? The developers use an increasingly popular business model known as free-to-play.

The Genius of Free-to-Play

Free-to-play or F2P means the developers do not charge for access to the full game. Instead, they generate revenue through optional in-game transactions. Players can choose to pay for certain extras and bonuses, but are never obligated to pay to progress or compete.

This model has been transformational for the gaming industry, pioneered by multiplayer hits like Fortnite, Apex Legends, and Genshin Impact. By removing the barrier to entry of an upfront cost, millions more players try these games than would under the old model of a mandatory $60 box price.

A small percentage of those players end up investing in in-game purchases over time. When your player base scales to tens of millions however, even 5% converting to paid customers generates substantial revenue. Enough to fund ongoing development, tournaments, and profits to spare.

For gamers, it means more access to great multiplayer experiences than ever before. And smart developers have structured these games to maintain fairness between free players and paying players.

Staying Fair as a Free User

As someone who has played over 1000 hours of War Thunder without spending a dime, I can vouch for its fairness to free users. At its core, War Thunder is a skill-based PVP game. And from Tier 1 to top Tier 7, free players can be competitive if they dedicate themselves to mastering the game‘s mechanics and metagame.

Of course, paying does help progression and convenience substantially. We‘ll cover exactly how later. But when it comes to combat performance, someone who has honed their skills over years playing free can dominate any match, regardless of premium tanks or planes on the enemy team.

Matchmaking and events make no distinction between free and paying players. You‘re equally likely to face off against veterans who never spent a dime. And the progression system never truly locks anything behind a paywall – just allows premium players to unlock content faster.

Paying for Progression

While the core gameplay may be free, War Thunder monetizes convenience and progression in various ways:

Premium Account

  • ~$10-$15 monthly for +50%-200% rewards per battle

  • Speeds the grind tremendously, especially at higher tiers

Premium Vehicles

  • Unique collectible vehicles sold for real money

  • Stronger economic rewards than standard tech tree vehicles

  • Prices from $10 for early tier to $50+ for top tier

Loot Boxes

  • Predatory crates with random prizes including premium vehicles

  • Chance-based system amounts to unregulated gambling

Battle Pass

  • Free track has minimal rewards, premium paid version far better prizes

  • Incentivizes daily logins & grinds challenges

Premium Currency

  • Golden Eagles can shortcut unlocks instead of grinding

  • 500 GE costs ~$2, with bulk discounts for more


  • Packages containing vehicles, skins, boosters, etc.

  • Appeal to collectors and convenience-seeking players

Altogether, War Thunder brings in yearly revenue estimated to exceed $100 million. All fueled by players voluntarily paying to speed up grinding or collecting premium goodies.

Dealing With the Grind

Without purchases, progression is intentionally slowed down to a grind. Unlocking new vehicles and upgrades takes substantially longer for free players:

  • Hundreds of hours to progress up from Tier 1 to top jets/tanks

  • Stock vehicles must be upgraded before competitive

  • Massive silver lion costs to purchase new vehicles

  • Losses are far more detrimental to progress

  • High repair costs eat into earnings from battles

It can feel like a second job at times. To ease the pain, here are some tips from a veteran free player:

  • Focus on skill first – good aim and tactics matter more than upgrades

  • Target efficient research vehicles – bombers and ground attackers research faster

  • Learn stock loadouts thoroughly – spade upgrades gradually

  • Conserve your silver lions – play conservatively to profit from wins

  • Use wagers and events – big boosts to progression for free

  • Buy discounted premium time – occasional sales help ease the grind

Most importantly, enjoy mastering the early tiers before rushing to top tier. Tagging along in squads helps learning immensely also.

Pay-to-Win Concerns

A common criticism of free-to-play games is the specter of "pay-to-win". Arguably overused, but it captures valid concerns over the balance between free and premium players.

There‘s no question premium boosters provide significant advantages:

  • Access to top vehicles months or years faster

  • Higher earnings to afford expensive costs

  • Upgraded modules vastly improve vehicle capabilities

  • Premium ammo and consumables restock for free

However, premium vehicles themselves tend to be sidegrades rather than direct upgrades. The premium benefit comes mostly from improved earnings and research speed. A veteran free player can still dominate matches in a tech tree vehicle they‘ve honed over years.

At the same time, a new player with premium purchases remains at a skill deficit that upgraded modules can‘t offset. While premium helps progression immensely, it does not substitute for experience.

So premium provides a clear leg up, but skill and knowledge determine victory more decisively in War Thunder. It manages to avoid being truly pay-to-win compared to far more egregious examples in the industry.

Millions Playing for Free

By removing barriers to entry, War Thunder has accumulated a registered player base exceeding 30 million over its 10 years of operation. Matchmaking remains consistently quick across all battle types thanks to the healthy population.

Events and competitive tournaments see strong participation with everyone able to join. The ranked scene stays vibrant from the thriving player base.

For developers, operating as a live service over years is only viable when ongoing development is supplemented by premium spending. War Thunder has succeeded in keeping the lights on solely via voluntary transactions of a subset of players.

The Future is Free

War Thunder provides a blueprint for multiplayer publishers moving forward. Removing the $60 box price hurdle has become the dominant trend in recent years. Mainstream franchises like Call of Duty are now following the free model rather than fighting the tide.

For consumers, it means more access to great games than ever before. But ethical concerns remain around manipulative monetization methods and potential addiction. War Thunder shows you can have both a fair free experience and profitable premium model by keeping them meaningfully separate.

At over 2000 hours played, War Thunder remains my favorite competitive game thanks to its exhilarating combat. The fact that it didn‘t cost me a penny to enjoy makes it all the sweeter. Its success as a free experience paves the way for the next generation of accessible gaming.



Michael Reddy is a tech enthusiast, entertainment buff, and avid traveler who loves exploring Linux and sharing unique insights with readers.