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When Did CS:GO Become Free to Play? The Complete History

CS:GO became completely free-to-play on December 6, 2018. This opened up the game to a massive new audience and player base. In this guide, we‘ll dive into the full history behind CS:GO‘s transition to a free model and why it was so important for the continued success and growth of this legendary multiplayer FPS game.

As an avid CS:GO player myself, I still remember the excitement when Valve announced it was going free. Now anyone could get access to the same great game modes we had been enjoying for years. It felt like a whole new era for CS:GO.

In this guide, I‘ll take you through the whole journey – from paid release to free transition. You‘ll learn:

  • The original price and content at launch in 2012
  • How the price dropped over the years before going free
  • When Valve first started offering free modes
  • The impact of the full free transition in 2018
  • How monetization shifted after going free-to-play
  • Player statistics before and after the transition
  • The continued success and growth as a free title

Let‘s get started!

CS:GO‘s Original Paid Release

CS:GO first launched on August 21, 2012 with a price tag of $14.99. This gave you full access to all of the game modes, matchmaking, and classic CS maps.

Key Details of the 2012 Paid Release

  • Initial price of $14.99
  • Playable on PC & Mac
  • Focus on 5v5 competitive multiplayer
  • Featured classic maps like Dust, Dust2, Nuke, Train, and Italy
  • Game modes included:
    • Bomb Defusal
    • Hostage Rescue
    • Arms Race

While not considered expensive, the paid entrance did limit CS:GO‘s reach initially. At launch, it peaked at around 60,000 concurrent players. Very solid for a paid multiplayer shooter, but a fraction of what was to come.

Dropping Price Over the First 6 Years

CS:GO regularly went on sale during its first 6 years, bringing the price down to as low as $3.74. Considering the hundreds or even thousands of hours players could easily sink into CS, this made it a huge bargain.

These sales helped CS:GO gradually build up its player base into the tens of millions in the early years. Here‘s a quick look at how the pricing changed:

Launch Price $14.99
Lowest Sale Price $3.74
Average Sale Price $7.49

While never fully free, the frequent discounts made CS:GO very accessible. This was important for building momentum.

The First Steps to Free – Opening Up Casual Mode

In December 2017, CS:GO began its transition to free-to-play by opening up the Casual game mode to everyone. No purchase needed.

This gave new players a taste of CS for free. Meanwhile, competitive matchmaking still required buying the full game.

The lack of serious competitive stakes in Casual mode meant Valve could open it up without impacting the core community. It was a smart way to start the free transition.

Going Fully Free-to-Play

Just under a year later, on December 6, 2018, CS:GO went completely free to play. No purchase required, anyone could now download and play full competitive 5v5 CS for free.

Here were the key details of going fully free:

  • All game modes opened up for free
  • Free access to competitive matchmaking
  • Supported by ads and in-game transactions
  • iOS and Android versions also went free

This was a major milestone for CS:GO. Let‘s look at the impact.

The Impact of Free – Huge Growth in Players

Going free-to-play significantly lowered the barrier of entry for new players. And the results spoke for themselves:

  • Within 1 month – Average players jumped from 50k to 75k
  • Within 6 months – Average players jumped from 50k to 115k
  • All time peak in first year – 876k concurrent players

This immediate growth showed the pent up demand for a top-tier competitive shooter. CS:GO was perfectly positioned to become the leaders in the free FPS space.

How Monetization Shifted

With the game now free, Valve shifted monetization to focus on cosmetics and in-game transactions. This included:

  • Weapon skins – Rare skins sold for high prices
  • Knives – Special melee knife skins became status symbols
  • Gloves – Custom glove skins were added
  • Stickers – Decorative stickers for guns

The Steam Community Market enabled key weapons skins and knives to be traded and sold between players. High value skins created an entire cosmetic economy within CS:GO.

Ongoing Growth and Success as a Free Game

Since transitioning to free in 2018, CS:GO has seen steady growth:

  • Peak player count now regularly over 1 million players
  • Estimates of 50 – 90 million monthly active users
  • One of the top 3 games by monthly players on Steam
  • Over 1 billion total hours played logged

Now in 2023, CS:GO remains a vibrant and active game with no signs of slowing down. The shift to free access stands as a major reason the game continues to thrive.

CS:GO Remains Free-to-Play in 2023

As of 2023, CS:GO continues to be free-to-play with no required purchase. The full experience including competitive multiplayer, matchmaking, and all core game modes can be accessed at no cost.

For new players jumping in now, you get the same amazing CS gameplay that has entertained over 50 million monthly players. Cosmetic skins offer cool visual upgrades, but no purchase is ever necessary.

Going free-to-play stands as one of the smartest moves Valve made with CS:GO. It has ensured new generations of gamers can discover this legendary FPS series. And with a new CS:GO operation coming in 2023, the future continues to look bright!

So in summary, CS:GO went fully free-to-play on December 6, 2018. This opened up the game to a massive audience over the past 5 years, ensuring it remains one of the most popular multiplayer shooters available today and for years to come!