Being a PC Gamer can be an expensive business. You spend hundreds on your hardware and then you have to buy the games to play. So, how do you reduce the cost?
With PC games retailing for between $30 and $100, PC gaming can be an expensive hobby. Especially if, like me, you have a gang of grandkids also into PC gaming.
So, I set out to find cheap and free games that wouldn’t need me to become a pirate or to drop the quality of the games I play. On my journey, I found a surprising number of sources of cheap and free games that are there just a click away.
Over the last couple of years, there has been a war raging between the major publishers. They are fighting over where you get to buy and download your games from. As I write this, there is a massive legal battle between Epic and Apple over how much you pay each of them to buy Fortnite in-game items. Epic wants all the money and Apple wants a 30% cut. It has just resulted in Epic’s Fortnite game being booted from the Apple platform.
The good news for us PC gamers is these publishers are now falling over themselves to get our business. Some have resorted to regularly giving away free PC games! Most of these are slightly older, evergreen, games, or games from smaller independent publishers. However, there are some real hidden gems to be found along the way.
These free game offers can appear and vanish in as little as 24 hours, so it is important to sign up to their newsletters, so you are automatically notified when they happen.
If you see a game you only slightly fancy playing, I suggest you order them, regardless. You don’t have to download or install the game there and then, but if you order them, they will be ready for you when you fancy them again.
The main platforms we will look at here are Epic, Uplay, Origin, and Steam. There are far more platforms out there, these are just the main ones. To access the games they offer, you will need to download and install a small branded game launcher first.
Epic Games Store
By far, this is my favorite platform for free PC games. I have had an Epic Games Store account for just over a year and in that short time, I have acquired over $850 of games.
These include Sid Meier’s Civilization 4, Grand Theft Auto V (Premium Edition), Badlands 2 (The Handsome Collection), World War Z, and Ark Survival Evolved. All premium, slightly old, but evergreen games.
These are just some of the free games that they offered that I fancied playing. If I had bothered to download every free game they offered, I would now have a free game collection worth well over $2,000.
Unlike other platforms, the Epic Games Store is not tied to a single game developer. So, they can call on a much wider selection of games to give away.
Ubisoft Uplay Store
The Uplay Store is not the biggest provider of free PC games, but when it gives away free games, they are normally top quality.
Some games I have had for free include Watch_Dogs, The Crew, Far Cry 3, and a handful of Assassin’s Creed games. At the time of writing this, they are giving away a free copy of the brilliant Tom Clancy’s – The Division.
The downside of the Uplay Store is that it is limited to games from Ubisoft, so you might find the choice limited.
Of the 3 platforms looked at here, it is the one that gives away the least amount of games. As Origin is the platform of EA Games, it is probably not much of a surprise. Origin used to have an “On The House” section that gave away games regularly. However, that was dropped in 2018 and free games have been in short supply ever since.
Although I have not had a lot of luck getting free games out of Origin, Origin is still worth keeping an eye on. The competition between gaming platforms could force EA to reconsider and include more free games. Plus, it occasionally has special offers that hard to ignore.
I believe that they have stopped giving games away, to force more people into their subscription service. Just a theory, though.
Steam can also be a good sauce of free games, but it can be very random. Unless Steam is holding one of their famous sales, it is up to individual game developers to offer their games for free.
Giveaways happen regularly, but the quality of the games given away will vary, as will the frequency of the giveaways. On Steam, giveaways are driven by the marketing needs of the game developers themselves. So, the ‘Specials’ section of the Steam store is well worth a regular visit.
Game Subscription Services
While not free, game subscription services are a great way to get more bang for your buck. They are gaming’s equivalent to Netflix.
For $14.99 (or less) you can access over 100 high-quality games for a month, which is a bargain if you usually spend $50 for a single game.
Like Netflix, you only get access to the games while your subscription is live. If you stop paying, the gaming stops. However, for your subscription, you get access to a collection of 100+ games that regularly gets updated with new games.
There are 3 main subscription services available to the PC gamer.
EA’s Play service, Microsoft’s Game Pass service, and Ubisoft’s UPlay+. The beauty is you don’t have to be loyal to any of them. If you fancy playing FIFA subscribe to EA Play for a month or two. If you then fancy playing Gears of War, cancel your EA Play subscription and take out a Microsoft Game Pass subscription instead. Swap back and forth as you need.
I have a note of caution and a theory about the future of game subscriptions, though. These platforms split their subscriptions into more expensive multi-tiered subscriptions.
One, lower-priced, tier will give you access to games over 6 months old. Another higher-priced, premium tier will give you access to brand new games. EA’s catalog is so big they could, in theory, offer a sports subscription alongside a shooter subscription.
EA Play and EA Play Pro
EA offers two subscription levels. EA Play costs $4.99 a month or $29.99 a year, while EA Play Pro costs $14.99 a month or $99,99 a year.
The lower-priced EA Play offers the same games as the more expensive EA Play Pro, however it limits you to just 10 hours of gameplay a month. I struggle to see the purpose of this subscription. Most gamers, who would consider a subscription to be good value, would burn through 10 hours of gameplay in a single weekend.
The games on offer include Battlefield, Battlefront, Need For Speed, Mirrors Edge, Plants vs Zombies, Rocket Arena, The Sims, Mass Effect, FIFA, Madden, Anthem, Dead Space, and Titanfall. In most cases, each game’s sequels are also included. So, you will get all the Battlefield and Battlefront games as well.
Other benefits of the subscriptions are a 10% discount on digital purchases, and you will get demos of new games 5 days before they come out.
Games available are limited to games produced by EA, which is not much of a hardship as EA has a massive catalog of games covering most genres.
Microsoft Game Pass for PC
The Microsoft Games Pass easily offers the greatest value at $4.99 a month, for access to 100 curated games.
Some highlights of the games available include Gears of War, Minecraft Dungeons, No Man’s Sky, The Outer Worlds, My Friend Pedro, Ark Survival Evolved, Sea of Thieves, Dead by Daylight, Grounded, Hello Neighbour, and World War Z.
Microsoft describes this subscription as still being in Beta, so it may see considerable changes in the future, or it may vanish altogether.
If you own an Xbox, consider Microsoft’s Ultimate Game Pass for $14.99 a month. It includes a Game Pass for PC, a Game Pass for Xbox, and later this year it will include streaming Xbox games to your phone!
The Game Pass is the most “Netflix” like service of the 3. It includes 100 curated games from a wide range of game developers. Each month some older games drop off and newer games replace them.
If you are a fan of Ubisoft game franchise like Assassin’s Creed or Watch_Dogs, the $14.99 a month UPlay+ subscription is great value. If you are not a fan of their main franchises, their subscription becomes less attractive.
Highlights from their game collection include Assassins Creed, Far Cry, Heroes, Rayman, Settlers, Ghost Recon, Rainbow Six, Watch_Dogs, Splinter Cell, Anno, and Division. Sequels to most of the games are also included.
UPlay+ is limited to games from Ubisoft, so apart from their main franchises, there is very little to offer regular gamers. It is a subscription you take out for one month and then cancel again, just so you can get a quick hit of Assassins Creed or Far Cry.
Always Free Games
There is a growing number of free games available directly from their developers. They range from complete rubbish through to some exceptionally good ones (Fortnite, Apex Legends, Call of Duty Warzone, DOTA, and World of Tanks).
However, there is no such thing as a free lunch!
Every free game is a commercial venture, which means it needs to make money. So, how do they do that when the game is free? The simple answer is they spend all your playtime trying to get you to spend money. They use three main methods for this;
- Micro-transactions for in-game items (guns etc)
- Skills locked down until a subscription is taken out
- Game areas and game types locked until access is paid for (season passes)
Most game developers have been clever and balanced their games in such a way to ensure that people can’t “pay to win”. If you play these games, your skills should count as much as someone’s who has paid for all the game’s content.
Most games are also very playable without paying for anything, ever – however, you may feel you are missing out on some of the experience the game offers.
Summary and Takeaways
It is possible to get a lot of gaming for your buck or even for free, if you know where to look and have enough patience.
If you are not on Reddit, I recommend signing up and joining the r/GameDeals/ subreddit. Brand new deals and free games offers are listed here constantly. Here you will find offers from Humble Bundle, Twitch, Steam, GOG, Origin, Epic Games, Microsoft, and many others. If you are not into receiving endless offer emails, this is the only site you need to watch.
You may not get today’s triple-A titles for free or at a cutdown price, but if you are patient, they will eventually go on offer or become free at some point.
You may not be able to afford one of today’s triple-A titles, but for less than half their cost you can access hundreds of others.