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When Did CS:GO Become Free-to-Play?

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) became free-to-play on December 12, 2018. Before then, it had an upfront cost ever since its initial release back in 2012.

As a fellow gaming enthusiast, I wanted to give you a detailed look at the history behind CS:GO‘s pricing shift. In this guide, we‘ll cover when it went free-to-play, how the change impacted the game, and why it was so important for CS:GO‘s continued success. Let‘s dive in!

The Initial Release and Upfront Cost

CS:GO first launched on August 21, 2012 for Windows, macOS, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360. At the time, Valve Corporation priced the standard edition at $14.99 USD. There was also a more expensive deluxe edition for $29.99.

This meant you had to pay an upfront cost to access the full CS:GO experience. All game modes, matchmaking, and core content required purchasing a copy.

CS:GO‘s Pricing Pre-2018

Standard Edition $14.99
Deluxe Edition $29.99

Valve kept this paid model in place for over 6 years. During that time, CS:GO built up a loyal player base of hardcore FPS fans willing to pay the initial fee.

But this pricing also limited the game‘s reach. Some players were unwilling or unable to pay the upfront cost, especially in developing markets where $15 is a substantial amount.

Transitioning to Free-to-Play

On December 6, 2018, Valve made a surprise announcement – CS:GO was going free-to-play! They made the official switch on December 12, 2018 alongside the release of the new "Danger Zone" battle royale mode.

This was a huge change after 6+ years of requiring an upfront purchase. Let‘s look at exactly what the free-to-play shift entailed:

What Going Free-to-Play Meant

  • CS:GO was now free to download and play for everyone
  • All game modes were opened up, including matchmaking
  • A new "Prime Status" system was added for existing players
  • Cosmetic items and loot boxes became the new monetization model

Existing players were automatically upgraded to Prime Status. This granted exclusive bonuses like souvenir items, CASE loot drops, and Prime-only matchmaking queues.

For new players, cosmetic skins and unlockable chests/keys became CS:GO‘s new way of generating revenue without an upfront cost.

This shift to free-to-play combined with the new Danger Zone mode led to a huge influx of new CS:GO players. Let‘s look at some numbers:

Increase in Players After Going Free-to-Play

  • +348% increase in average monthly players (Nov 2018 vs Jan 2019)
  • +327% increase in peak monthly players (Nov 2018 vs Jan 2019)
  • Almost doubled total monthly active users

As you can see above, the impact was massive. Removing the $15 entry fee made CS:GO exponentially more accessible.

Prime Status vs Non-Prime Accounts

With CS:GO now free, Valve introduced a Prime Status system. This aimed to reward previous CS:GO owners and improve matchmaking quality:

Prime Status Benefits

  • Exclusive souvenir item drops
  • Guaranteed rare special items in CASE openings
  • Prime-only matchmaking queues
  • Paired against other Prime Status players

Those who purchased CS:GO before Dec 2018 were automatically upgraded to Prime. Players could also upgrade with a one-time $14.99 purchase.

In contrast, free accounts had Non-Prime status by default. They did not receive exclusive loot drops and could be matched against anyone.

Prime Status vs Non-Prime Accounts

Prime Non-Prime
Exclusive Loot Yes No
Matchmaking Prime Only All Players

The Prime matchmaking system aimed to limit cheating and toxicity by segregating new free accounts. Overall, this incentivized early adopters while ensuring a welcoming environment for new players trying CS:GO.

Ongoing Popularity and Updates

Since going free-to-play in late 2018, CS:GO has maintained its spot as one of the most popular games on Steam. As of 2022, it still sees over 500,000 concurrent daily players – a true testament to its lasting appeal.

Valve continues supporting CS:GO with new cosmetics, loot cases, and gameplay improvements. Some notable updates since December 2018 include:

Key Post-2018 Updates

  • Danger Zone Battle Royale Mode
  • New wingman game mode
  • Over a dozen new maps and map reworks
  • Panorama UI overhaul
  • Updated player models and textures
  • Ongoing new cosmetics: agents, stickers, gloves, knives

The combination of going free-to-play and continued evolution has propelled CS:GO to new heights. Let‘s reflect on why this pricing shift was so pivotal.

Importance of Going Free-to-Play

Transitioning to a free-to-play model in December 2018 was absolutely instrumental to CS:GO‘s ongoing popularity and financial success. Here‘s a summary of its impact:

  • Removed financial barrier to entry for new players
  • Doubled active monthly players within 2 months
  • Unlocked new potential markets where $15 is substantial
  • Let friends play together easily without upfront cost
  • Incentivized early adopters via Prime Status perks
  • Ongoing revenue stream via cosmetics vs one-time purchase

In closing, I hope this guide gave you a detailed look at CS:GO‘s history with pricing and how the shift to free-to-play occurred. Let me know if you have any other CS:GO related questions! I‘m always happy to chat more about one of my favorite games.