Comment & Opinion

Why are people still playing Garena Free Fire?

A first-time player tries to explain the battle royale's appeal

Why are people still playing Garena Free Fire?

Somehow, in a market that holds both cultural behemoth Fortnite and original trendsetter PUBG, there is still room for battle royales to breathe.

Garena's Free Fire is one such game, yet another mobile battle royale that sticks X number of players on a big island and tells them to murder each other for fun.

But Free Fire is thriving, having recently hit 80 million daily active users and surpassing $1 billion in revenue last November, just two years after it first launched.

So, why exactly are people still flocking to Garena Free Fire when bigger, more culturally-impactful games are available? Having never played it before, I was eager to find out.

Lock and load

And to begin with, I couldn't quite see what the appeal was. It is, in essence, a smaller, quicker take on PUBG, with a similar aesthetic and core gameplay to the originator of the battle royale craze.

You drop onto an island, pick up weapons and armour, and move around a map to avoid getting killed by an ever shrinking circle of death. Sometimes a new, red circle of death starts travelling across the battlefield. Sometimes a supply airship drops off parcels. Every time, someone is left as the last one standing.

Elements such as automatically picking up and equipping weapons and items when standing over them are also present in Tencent's smaller-screen PUBG Mobile, while the game controls much in the same way too.

But for all its similarities, Free Fire has a few key differences, which I think explain both the high number of active users and the impressive rate of revenue growth.

Keep it quick

For starters, player numbers are halved. While Fortnite and PUBG throw 100 combatants together, Free Fire keeps it at a more manageable 50. And where the bigger games feature bigger maps, Free Fire's battlefield is comparatively tiny and quicker to traverse.

All of which combines together to make a far quicker, more accessible game. Other battle royales can last for close to an hour - Free Fire usually takes no more than about 20 minutes to find a victor.

For Free Fire, it seems to care less about offering what the most customers want, and instead offering everything Garena can think of that each and every customer would consider buying.

It's also a far more aggressive game than its rivals. Where other games encourage slower, more methodical play, Free Fire's shorter times and smaller map mean that you're almost always in the middle of a firefight, and the number of living players dwindles rapidly as a result.

On top of that, Garena has helpfully introduced a lock-on mechanic for every weapon, so you don't need to carefully line up shots to be sure you're hitting your opponent - spray-and-pray is a perfectly reasonable tactic here.

Free Fire therefore allows players to casually drop in for a quick fight or two, safe in the knowledge that they won't be caught up in the match for too long, and that they can probably get at least one or two kills in per match. And that, I think, is why people keep coming back each day.

Make your choice

As for why revenues are so high, this one's fairly easy - there's simply a lot of things to buy in-game.

Free Fire uses two main currencies - gold, a soft-currency used largely for a single gacha, and diamonds, the hard-currency which are used to buy basically everything else.

There's also a bunch of other token-based currencies, earned through certain in-game events and actions, such as trying your hand at the gacha or performing well in ranked matches.

But what I think makes Free Fire more enticing is how it breaks down its gacha. Alongside your central diamond and gold gachas, you've got weapon and character gachas, depending on which you care about more.

Then you've got the now ubiquitous battle pass (here called the Fire Pass), the "Incubator", and a host of other chance mechanics at play, many of which appear to be hosted outside of the game and accessed through an in-game browser, possible to reduce download files when they inevitably change.

And if none of that takes your fancy, there's just a plain old storefront to buy exactly what you want, when you want it, at a considerable markup. Throw in an array of weekly subscriptions, VIP subscriptions, and weekly bundle offers, and you've got so much choice for spending your money you hardly know where to begin.

For Free Fire, it seems to care less about offering what the most customers want, and instead offering everything Garena can think of that each and every customer would consider buying. And hey, it certainly seems to be working.

Overall, it's not difficult to see why Free Fire continues to hold popularity

Take it or leave it

You can, quite easily, ignore all of this and just jump into the battles. Or, if you're investing your time, you can fall down a rabbit hole of offer packs and gachas and spend your money almost exactly how you like.

Free Fire isn't exactly stingy either, offering up free spins of low-level gachas pretty regularly through tokens and the like, and providing even more rewards if you take a spin enough times.

The choice on offer is honestly mind boggling, and it's little wonder that any time we write about this game, people spam our comments begging for free diamonds - there's so much to get and only enough cash in your real life bank.

Overall, it's not difficult to see why Free Fire continues to hold popularity and stand tall among the big boys of Fortnite and PUBG. It may never achieve the same cultural status in the Western markets, but who cares? As long as it's making money, Garena certainly won't.


Ric is the Editor of, having started out as a Staff Writer on the site back in 2015. He received an honourable mention in both the MCV and Develop 30 Under 30 lists in 2016 and refuses to let anyone forget about it.