Path Of Exile As An Award-Winning, Free-To-Play ARPG: Is The Model Still Working In 2017?


It’s been four years since the release of Path of Exile, Grinding Gear Games’ action-RPG that was notable upon its launch for its proudly free-to-play model. While this would have been good news for gamers tired of having to pay real money in order to gain an edge over the opposition, many had wondered what the move would mean for Grinding Gear’s bottom line. Fortunately, everything appears to be running smoothly now that PoE is four years old, with the old “ethical” model remaining in place up to the present.

What Is “Ethical” Free-To-Play?

Path of Exile didn’t become popular just by being an award-winning, free-to-play action RPG, or ARPG. For years, Grinding Gear pushed the game as an “ethical” free-to-play title, meaning the exact opposite of pay-to-win games where you need to pull out your credit or debit card each time you need an important, game-changing item, upgrade, or character. That also meant no advertisements popping up and ruining your gameplay, or cloyingly asking you to check out related games, new characters or game features, or whatnot.

As of 2014, one year into Path of Exile’s existence, there were more than 5 million registered PoE players, with the number of active players at any time of the day oftentimes reaching hundreds of thousands. A year before, Grinding Gear also got $2.2 million USD worth of crowd-sourced contributions. That’s a lot of players, and a lot of money, and as the developers had said in a 2014 Polygon article, it would have been so easy to make so much more if they took the pay-to-win route like so many others do.

“But the game is doing very well,” lead programmer Jonathan Rogers continued.“We paid off our development costs, the company is making enough money to expand.”

How Is PoE Doing Today?

Fast forward to the present, and Path of Exile’s award-winning status has continued, with the free-to-play ARPG still reeling gamers in. The ethical free-to-play model continues, as old-time gamers and newer ones alike tend to appreciate PoE for accurately evoking the feel of Diablo II and other old-school dungeon crawlers. Up to this day, there’s no need to pay to make your characters or weapons better, and you don’t need to pay for expansions either. Other game makers will charge you for DLC, but that’s still not the case with Grinding Gear and PoE. Sure, you can pay for aesthetic items and extra slots, but other than that, you can play the game for free and not have to worry about premium purchases to get ahead.

Truth be told, the bulk of Path of Exile’s awards were won in the game’s earliest years, when the free-to-play ARPG was still relatively new. But the reasons for the title’s warm reception remain the same up to the present day — its Diablo 2 and Dark Souls influences, the developers’ connection with the gaming community, the prompt and reliable updates and bug squashes, as well as the “ethical” free-to-play model we’ve stressed repeatedly in this article. The model is definitely working four years onward, and while it would be too much to expect all games to follow in PoE’s footsteps, it’s a good thing that games like it exist, and continue to be popular in the ARPG gaming community even up to the present day.