Anti-Valentine reviews PC games and writes about the video game industry.
As we all know, things have gotten very rough with the economy over the past several years, and most of us are looking to save each and every dollar that we don’t have to spend on something necessary. Games, unfortunately, are a luxury and not a necessity, so they are probably going to be one of the very first things to consider when deciding where you need to cut back on as far as your budget is concerned. Now, you have options here: I’ve previously covered some ways you can get games by working for them, and some of the methods talked about in that article are covered here too, but probably not as extensively.
This article delves into a few other ways of getting games without having to pay any money – several of them where the games are completely free and don’t even require that much effort – certainly not even as much effort as earning them in some or other way.
Note that in addition to this article, and the aforementioned one, I also have an article on saving money on games. This particular article does not cover beta key applications (which are typically free anyway), F2P titles, mods or freeware. This is about getting games on Steam and other digital distribution services like GOG.com, where you would usually have to pay some money in order to purchase them.
1. Greenlight Bribery
This is a term that has become more commonly used over time, and refers to the act of asking people to visit their game’s space on Steam Greenlight and help them get onto Steam so that they can actually start selling their game on the digital distribution platform. This is a major step for an indie developer, and no doubt they’ll do anything to get there – even sell their soul to the devil himself. But instead, they often appeal to gamers to vote for their game, and in return they are given a free Steam key once the game is on Steam. Sort of like Kickstarter but there’s no money involved.
WGN, or whosgamingnow.com often has Greenlight requests on its website, and you just vote “yes” for the game and reserve a key for later. Once it’s on Steam, your key will be emailed to you. You can also find these Greenlight requests organised by the developer himself/herself. But one essentially needs to have proof that they’ve voted, otherwise people could just scam the developer into giving away free keys without a Greenlight vote. And likewise, developers can scam people by asking for Greenlight votes and not give people Steam keys. If someone promises Steam keys but doesn’t ask for an email address or some other way or contacting you, then beware.
That’s why, whether you are developer or a gamer, it’s best to do it with WGN or a similar website seeing as they can regulate it – people sign into WGN using their Steam account, and they can therefore only ever receive one key per game, and if they are caught trading it or selling it, they will be blacklisted and unable to participate in any more Greenlight giveaways.
2. Check Out AMA on Reddit
On occasion, you’ll find developers hosting an AMA, or Ask Me Anything, on Reddit, and they often give away keys for their games on Desura or GOG to help entice people to attend and ask questions.
Not everyone actually does this – often people just want the free games, and it usually involves sending a private message to a bot account and then receiving a reply with your key. Other times they might have a list of keys posted somewhere else off-site, like Google Docs, and you can pick a key and activate it.
3. CVG Golden Joysticks
Once a year, CVG (Computer and Video Games) hosts the Golden Joysticks, which is an award ceremony for games, sponsored by Green Man Gaming, and it asks that gamers vote on their favourites in each category. At the end of the voting process, the respondent will be able to pick one of two games as their reward.
4. GOG Speed Test
Once a year, GOG.com hosts a Speed Test, which aims to find out what the average download speed is in each region across the world. At the end of it, you stand a chance of getting a free game.
5. Game Giveaways
Valve has been known to give away the odd game – usually one of their own such as Portal or Left 4 Dead 2 – through its own Steam digital distribution service, but since they have made it possible for developers/publishers to determine their own sale prices on Steam, there are more frequent giveaways organised by developers, particularly during franchise sales.
GOG.com gives away two or three games away per year at least, for 48 hours each, usually.
Origin hosts the On The House Promotion, which gives gamers almost a whole month to pick up a game for free. So far they’ve had games on offer like Dead Space, Plants vs. Zombies GOTY, and Battlefield 3.
Green Man Gaming also has a monthly giveaway where they offer a free game while stocks last.
Developers on Desura give the odd game away now and again too.
Most of these giveaways are regulated so that only 1 game per account is given away, except with the GMG giveaway where they send you a Steam key, so that can be given to someone else, say in the even that you already have the game. With GOG, if you already have the game on your shelf, you receive a gift copy instead.
6. Competitions for Games
Websites, often distributors or gaming blogs, have competitions where you stand a chance to win a prize, which might be a Steam game. Other times it might be a Steam Wallet code which will enable you to buy games without having to spend any money. Otherwise steamgifts.com, galagiveaways.com and several subreddits often have giveaways, and to stop just anyone from entering, they can be hosted in private groups too.
7. Free Games for Signups
Some websites offer you free games just for signing up on their websites. Gamesrepublic.com is offering free Steam keys for Anomaly: Warzone Earth, and DLH.net is offering free Steam keys for Enclave and East India Company Gold to everyone and anyone who signs up. Often because you’re a member you’ll also receive first access to other game codes, beta invites, and so on.
8. Rewards for Social Actions
Sometimes developers/publishers give Steam keys away to those who like their Facebook page or to those who follow them on Twitter, for a limited time only. Otherwise by doing this one might be entered into a draw for a chance to be randomly selected as a winner.
9. Check Desura Library for Extra Keys
The great thing about Desura is that they often offer keys to activate games on other websites like Steam and GOG.com.
It pays to check your library every now and again to see if you indeed have any keys available for other websites. Once indie games on Desura have been greenlighted and appear on Steam – this would be the best time. If you don’t have any extra keys, you can also choose to email Desura staff about it.
This is why you should always add those free games on Desura to your client’s library seeing as one day they might not be available for free any more, and as a bonus, you might get those extra keys.
10. Activate Retail CD Keys on Digital Distributor's Services
Also check to see if you can activate some of your retail copies on Steam. Some games don't utilise Steamworks, but the CD key can be activated on Steam. Here is a list of games for you to look through that might offer you this choice.
You can try activating EA games on Origin (nothing older than 2008 will work however), and Ubisoft games on Uplay. The Witcher and The Witcher II retail copies all have CD keys that can be activated on GOG.com for a free backup copy.
11. Steam Games That Can Be Activated on Origin
There are some games that when bought through Steam and activated there can also be further activated on Origin. The reverse cannot be done as far as I know.
12. Ninja Giveaways
On various websites, you’ll see codes for games being dropped (code drops), as in being copied and pasted on the forum for all to see.
Usually, those who grab the codes and use them first are the winners. Other times, people will disguise parts of the code to make it harder for cyber ninjas aka bots to pick up the codes and activate them on the account of the person using them – this is a bit like breaking up publicly visible email addresses to prevent them from being harvested. They might make a puzzle out of it to make people work harder for it.
The code holder might ask for anyone interested to send them a private message and receive the code that way to prevent it being picked up by bots or greedy game collectors who sit and wait on forums for code drops.
13. Ask the Developers Nicely
On occasion, a giveaway isn’t public, or they haven’t actually made the game free for any length of time, but it somehow becomes known that the developer will give away keys to certain people if they ask nicely through email or private message. You’ve got more luck with indie developers with this one.
14. Ask a Friend
If you’re strapped for cash, you could ask a friend and they might buy it for you. The accepted thing to do here is to pay them back somehow, but if they’re especially nice, they might not ask for anything in return.
It pays to make connections online, seeing as people often buy bundles and have spare keys to give away. Humble Bundle, for instance sometimes has regular DRM free copies of a game that can be download from their website as well as Steam keys. And seeing as the HB ones are often DRM-free, they often opt to give the Steam keys away to a deserving person.
15. Become a Game Reviewer
Some distributors might give you free games in exchange for publishing reviews of them on a website with a lot of a traffic, or perhaps in a well known magazine. GOG.com has been known to do this for extended visibility. Otherwise, if you happen to own or work for a website or magazine of sorts that reviews games, game developers and publishers might give you free review copies.
16. Rewards Programs
There are various rewards programs online, most notably Playfire’s Rewards Program in association with Green Man Gaming, which gives you store credit for launching games for the first time and getting specific achievements.
You can then use this store credit to purchase games and you essentially pay nothing at all for them. This deal is made even sweeter by the fact that even F2P games on Steam often end up being listed as titles eligible for Playfire Rewards during a certain period of time – this and new releases on Steam also often end up here too. So all the games you’ve helped Greenlight and received keys for through Greenlight Bribery programs – which you paid nothing for – can all earn you money!
And as a bonus, they may even have Steam Trading Cards as well, so you can then sell those in order to receive some extra Steam Wallet credit to spend in the store.
I’ve covered these reward programs in more detail here.
17. Capitilise on Bitcoin Opportunities
There are several ways you can earn Bitcoins online, just by visiting websites, or on occasion a website will run a promotion where you can grab free bitcoins, which might involve a social action of sorts, or just getting them on a first come first serve basis.
You can use bitcoins to buy games from Humble Bundle, Groupees and Indie Gala. You can even buy Steam wallet vouchers with bitcoin.
To sum up, there are several places you can grab free games. You should subscribe to at least one or two gaming blogs (for two reasons – one they might cover news of giveaways on various websites, and two because they might host the odd giveaway every now and again), and subscribe to a few subreddits online, as well as visit steamgifts.com and whosgamingnow.com on a daily basis. You will more than likely get a few freebies and you could win some competitions too!
© 2014 Anti-Valentine
John on February 03, 2018:
I think you mean whosgamingnow.net, not whosgamingnow.com
Danilo664 on August 29, 2017:
Tnx for information :)
Kritter on April 13, 2017:
Best bitcoin sites?
max on January 30, 2016:
good stuff ill try this out sooner or later love ya
cfin from The World we live in on August 06, 2014:
Humble bundle is close enough for me :)