You can add games to your Steam library without paying by grabbing free-to-play and outright free titles, by keeping an eye out for promotions and giveaways, or by redeeming free games you get as part of other memberships.
Steam is the world’s biggest online gaming marketplace, but that doesn’t mean you always need to open your wallet. There are plenty of opportunities to get games for free on Steam, you just need to know where to look and have patience.
Some Steam Games Are Free to Play
Free-to-play games, often abbreviated as F2P, have been designed around a “freemium” business model. The game was designed with a free price point in mind, with publishers looking to capitalize on it using in-app purchases.
These purchases often take the form of premium currencies used to buy items (often cosmetic) from the in-game shop, so-called loot boxes, or a battle pass system that rewards players with items as they progress through a season of events. While there is no need to pay any money to play a free-to-play game, players may feel pressured to do so.
The free-to-play model has been criticized for its at-times predatory nature, where games target certain types of gamers and use fear of missing out to drum up sales. There are research papers and countless thinkpieces discussing this issue in-depth., Keep in mind that even if a game is free to play, it was designed with a profit motive in mind.
That’s not to say there aren’t some compelling free-to-play experiences to be had out there. Some examples of free-to-play games on Steam that you might want to check out include:
- MultiVersus: A multiplayer online beat ’em up in the style of Super Smash Bros with a varied set of characters from the Warner Bros. universe.
- Counter-Strike: Global Offensive: Valve’s classic first-person tactical shooter, with updated maps, weapons, modes, and more.
- Apex Legends: EA’s entry in the crowded battle royal first-person shooter space, from the team that brought you Titanfall.
- Warframe: Quite possibly the best deal in gaming, Warframe is a free-to-play shooter that you can play alone or with friends.
- Halo: Infinite: The multiplayer component of Microsoft’s flagship shooter is completely free to play, with an optional battle pass available for additional cosmetics and boosters.
- MARVEL SNAP: A strategic card game set in the MARVEL universe with a focus on fun, varied, three-minute rounds.
You’ll find these games have their own category on Steam. Simply open the launcher then hover “Categories” then select “Free to Play” from the menu that appears.
Legitimately Free Games Exist on Steam Too
Many games are available on Steam for free, without the kinds of in-app purchases you’d associate with free-to-play experiences. Often these are also designed with a profit motive in mind, with many “base” games released for free in the hope that you’ll buy expansions and downloadable content to keep playing.
Some games are just free, outright. Other free games were once full-priced items that have since been expanded upon. Here are some examples of both types of free games:
- Destiny 2: Bungie’s hit action MMO has been growing steadily since 2019, with the base game now playable for free and massive optional expansions for purchase if you desire more.
- VR Chat: A social experience for users with or without virtual reality headsets.
- Crusader Kings II: Historical strategy set in the medieval period, a free base game with optional expansions available for purchase.
- The Sims 4: EA calls it free-to-play but the entire base game is now free.
- Doki Doki Literature Club: Cutesy anime visual novel meets psychological horror in this cult classic. Upgrade to the “Plus” version for an optional fee.
- DELTARUNE: A story that runs parallel to the one told in UNDERTALE, enjoy the first two chapters of DELTARUNE for free in this quirky RPG.
- A Raven Monologue: A completely free silent indie game about a raven that doesn’t know how to croak that has glowing reviews.
In terms of categorization, Steam doesn’t differentiate these titles from standard traditional free-to-play, so they too can be found in the “Free to Play” category (even if they lack purchases altogether).
Look for Steam Game Giveaways
There are a few other ways of scoring free games that don’t involve stealing them. The first is to simply keep an ear to the ground for giveaways. It’s not uncommon for games to go free for a short while, in the same way that many games go on sale in Steam’s famous winter and summer sale events.
You can use websites like SteamDB to track these promotions, or make a habit of checking the r/FreeGamesOnSteam or even r/steamdeals subreddits. Promotions usually only last a day or two but include full-price games that you can keep forever as if you’d bought them for full price. A Google News search for “free on Steam” or similar is also worth a look.
You can also check the Humble Bundle website for heavily discounted or completely free Steam keys from time to time. Amazon Prime members may also be eligible for free game keys as part of their membership on Prime Gaming. If you’re already paying for the service, picking up a few free games is a nice bonus.
Lastly, giveaways also exist on Twitter and other social media platforms. Searching for “steam giveaway” on your platform of choice is bound to yield some results, but many of the accounts giving away Steam keys require that you respond, retweet, follow, and more to be in with a chance of winning. The best sources for legitimate giveaways on Steam are the developers or publishers promoting the game.
Be Aware That Scams Exist
As is often the case on the internet, if it seems too good to be true it probably is. Many websites promising free Steam keys are there simply to scam you. At best they’re offering something that doesn’t exist, at worst they’re trying to steal things like personal information, payment details, store logins, and more.
You should also avoid “cheap” Steam keys sold via reseller websites. Many of these vastly reduced Steam keys are purchased with stolen credit cards. The keys to any purchases may be revoked without a refund and in the worst-case scenario your Steam account could be banned (though this is unlikely).
Much of the time it’s the company who distributed the keys (developers and publishers) who lose out when the credit card companies refuse to honor transactions. Some indie developers have even gone as far as telling gamers to pirate their games instead of buying them on reseller websites, since stolen keys may end up costing the company.
The Epic Games Store Frequently Has Free Games
If we can tear you away from Steam for a moment, the Epic Games Store has a free game every week that’s yours to keep forever. Past titles have included Death Stranding, Metro: Last Light Redux, Alien: Isolation, and Sonic Mania (to name just a few).
Despite launching as a threadbare alternative to Steam, Epic’s store has since added basic game achievements and now processes refunds too. It’s also the only place you can play Fortnite on a PC, which might be worth another shot after the Unreal Engine 5.1 upgrade.
Want free games on the go? Netflix subscribers can also now access a catalog of decent games as part of their membership.
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