It’s a golden age for free video games. Every year, thousands of games – created by individual developers or small teams – are released for free online. These are not “free-to-play” games that get you in the door only to try to extract money; these are 100% free labors of love, available to anyone with a personal computer.
Yet these games tend to fly under the radar. In this guide, we’ll show you where free games are distributed, and point you to some curators to help you find games that match your interests.
Where To Find Free Games
Many game developers release games on their own website, but the majority of games are released on a few big community sites.
The newest and most prominent of the free game sites, Itch.io is a primary alternative to mainstream distribution sites like Steam and GOG. The vast majority of games are either outright free or pay-what-you-want (where you can optionally give the developer a few dollars in support). There are an enormous number of games on the site, but it has useful filters by genre, highlights featured games and also hosts the results of a multitude of game jams (design competitions where individuals or teams make a game from scratch in just a few days). Additionally, Itch.io features many games still in development, so you get the opportunity to play interesting prototypes and give feedback for future versions.
Launched in 2004, Game Jolt is one of the longest-running ‘alternative games’ sites and specialized in offbeat, amateur works. While the site has recently added the ability for developers to sell their games, the vast majority of titles are free, and many aren’t available anywhere else.
Kongregate features a massive array of Flash and HTML games, meaning everything on Kongregate can be played directly in your browser. While primarily focusing on accessible action, idle, and puzzle games, Kongregate also features a number of offbeat narrative adventures.
Game Jam Sites
The biggest game jams have their own website, where all entrants into the game jam are uploaded upon completion. Most jams will also have a voting period where games are ranked by the contestants or a jury, which can help sort the wheat from the chaff in jams with thousands of entries. The two biggest game jams are Global Game Jam (an annual game jam that takes place every January) and Ludum Dare, a jam that takes place every four months and has been running for over 12 years. Each jam has a theme that developers riff off of; recent examples include “Ritual,” “A Small World,” and “”We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”
How To Find The Right Game For You
Those with an appetite for adventure will enjoy searching for treasure on free game sites – but what if you don’t have the time, or worry about missing the game that’s just right for you? That’s where curators come in, and there are a number dedicated to highlighting the best and most interesting free games on the web.
Warp Door’s staff provides a constant stream of minimalist recommendations, letting the developer describe their own work rather than providing commentary or critique. A wide array of genres are represented, and it’s easy and quick to browse through the archive to find ones that sound interesting.
PC Gamer, the oldest still-running PC games magazine, rounds up the best free games of the week every Saturday. Rather than being broken into separate posts, new games are added as ‘pages’ on the same post, so the archive is easy to explore!
Rock, Paper, Shotgun
One of the longest-running PC Gaming blogs, Rock, Paper, Shotgun has covered otherwise-ignored free games since its inception. You can find all of their free games coverage at https://www.rockpapershotgun.com/category/free-pc-games/. The weekly column highlighting free games, Free Loader, is on hiatus, but the Free Loader archive is a treasure trove.
As you can see, there is no shortage of free games, and the diversity of the field means there’s a game for everyone. From throwbacks to Nintendo platformers, to deeply personal narratives, to experimental games that challenge our conceptions of the medium, the free game scene is stronger than it’s ever been, and these resources should equip you to find all the games you’ll ever need.