When we say Free-to-Play most of you think of throw-away browser games like QWOP, Canabalt or One Button Bob; or money-grabbing Facebook titles like Farmville. And there is, admittedly, a lot of free clag out there. However, Free-to-Play has come on leaps and bounds in 2012 - free games are pushing close to AAA standards in some cases, and there are loads of 'full games' you can play in your browser - or via a reasonably small download - for little or no investment.
So, with money tight around Christmas, and with the economy flatter than month-old Tizer, here's our guide to the 30 of the best free games available right now. 10 of them require a download, 10 of them are playable in your browser, and 10 are free for mobile phones and tablets. Have we missed your favourite? Share it in the comments.
1-5 - Full games
1. Planetside 2
What is it? MMO first-person shooter
Part MMO, part FPS, all awesome - Planetside 2 is the standard all new Free-to-Play games will need to meet. It takes the Team Fortress 2 approach of giving players the whole game for free, then charging for quicker unlocks or more specialist kit. Not better kit - just different. Crucially, this means you can get stuck in and really find your feet in the game without feeling like a second-class citizen, and chances are you'll want to spend a bit of cash after that to make your experience truly unique. The only real problem is that the barrier to entry is high. The war here is vast and intimidating, so our advice is to take a few friends with you. It won't cost them a thing either...
What is it? Mech shooter
When you think 'mech shooter' the first words that spring to mind are 'lumbering' and / or 'slow'. Hawken changes that, by offering the customisation and versatility of walking tanks and combining them with the pace of a proper PC shooter. It's lead many people to dub the game 'Walking World of Tanks'. That's definitely a compliment, by the way. It's in open Beta now, and there's plenty of game to play through before you need to spend a penny.
3. Star Wars: The Old Republic
What is it? Sci-fi RPG
This online RPG - which cost millions to make - was subscription-based for a year. However, following a relatively underwhelming number of sign-ups, it's now free. Well, to an extent. To get the full experience (which includes modern marvels like the 'sprint' ability) you need to pay, but crucially the story missions can be tackled for nothing. This isn't the totally free fix you're looking for, but as a low-investment entry into a massive, involving MMO that you'll probably enjoy... it's a bargain.
4. League of Legends
What is it? Arena battler
It's the biggest game in the world, so you've probably heard of it. It's also hugely competitive, and very strategic, attracting pro-gamers from all around the world. What that means for new comers is a huge amount of choice (there are currently 107 champions to choose from) and an intimidating array of options. Still, with so many players, there are always people to compete against at any skill level, so you can ease in gently. Ish.
5. World of Tanks
What is it? Multiplayer vehicle combat
WOT succeeds because it's simple. Pick a vehicle, join a team, rumble into some standard deathmatch modes. The more you win, the more you can upgrade your machine. This is basically Pimp My Ride, only with huge mechanised vehicles that can destroy small towns. And, of course, you can always spend money to get better parts and accessories quicker, or access different types of tanks.