Search “free Steam keys” on Google, and you’ll find countless websites claiming to offer codes you can redeem on Steam to get a new game for free. Of course, many of these are likely malicious sites preying on the gullible, desperate or opportunistic, but some of these websites are legitimate.
Granted, you’d be hard-pressed to find websites that genuinely provide Steam game keys for free. And if you do find one, there’s almost always a catch. Video game developers, publishers, marketers, and retailers won’t simply give away free keys without getting something in return. Anyway, if outright buying the game is out of the question, here are your options:
Participate in Beta Testing
In 2021, Back 4 Blood, Call of Duty: Vanguard, and other games that were still under development then called for interested players to sign up and receive beta keys. This allowed players to try the games at no cost, so long as these players agreed to game telemetry and other conditions.
Note that beta keys are meant for testing purposes to help developers gain valuable feedback in a production environment. So, when the game has its proper launch, it’s likely that you’ll lose access to the beta version of the game. You’ll also likely lose any progress you’ve made in the beta version and will have to start over should you play the release version.
Join Giveaways, Contests, and Surveys
Some websites will have you join contests for a chance to win free Steam game keys. The contest mechanics can be as simple as creating an account, but some contests will have you follow the game dev studio on their social media channels, post a shoutout on Twitter, and answer surveys, among other tasks.
Steam itself holds its own giveaway events. A memorable one was the Epic Holiday Giveaway, where the grand winner got every single game on Steam for free and other winners were rewarded with games they had added to their wishlist. But that was in 2012. Steam-sponsored events in the following years have become less extravagant in comparison, but the chance to win games is still there.
Members of the gaming community may also give out keys whenever they receive extra game copies that they don’t need. So, watch out for posts in gaming forums by users who are feeling generous. You can check Twitch and subscribe to streamers who do giveaways to increase audience engagement.
Before participating in any of these events, check if the tasks and steps involved are worth doing. You might be assigned to do something grueling in exchange for a measly amount of virtual currency that you can then use to redeem Steam keys. Some events only entitle you to a chance, instead of a guarantee, of receiving a key. If too much effort is involved for little to no reward, you might as well work in a proper job and earn the money to buy the game.
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Ask for a Review Copy
Up-and-coming indie developers will want some publicity for their games. One way to do that is to give away Steam codes to Steam curators and YouTubers. If you’re something of an influencer yourself, you can contact the devs for a review copy of their games. Heck, you don’t even need to have any credibility or reputation, as apparently, some devs will readily give away codes. But for goodness’ sake, do keep your word and write a worthy review.
Wait for Sales and Deals
Every now and then, Steam has games listed on its Specials tab with a full 100-percent discount. There are no keys needed since the games are directly added to your library after checkout. Other digital distribution platforms and storefronts like HumbleBundle also put up occasional events with games that are obtainable for free.
Steam and these other websites may not offer you a clear way to be notified whenever a game goes free for a limited time. For that purpose, check the hobby project called SteamDB.info. It regularly tracks free promotions on Steam for which you can receive alerts via their Discord channel. On Reddit, you can also subscribe to r/GameDeals and r/FreeGamesOnSteam, among others. Users on these subreddits share good finds and deals, including games that are listed 100% off.
Taking the Risk
If there’s an unfamiliar website claiming to offer free Steam keys that you’d really like to check out, remember to take precautions. For starters, use McAfee WebAdvisor and similar tools to know the online reputation of the website. Create a dummy social media account if the website asks you to use a Facebook or Twitter account to register and login.
Set up a virtual machine or spare computer without any of your personally identifiable information and use it to visit unfamiliar websites. This may be overkill, but at least you won’t lose any important data when a website turns out to be a hotbed for ransomware or other malware attacks and manages to infect the computer.
Free Games outside Steam
While we’re on the topic of free games, and if you don’t mind having additional game launchers on your computer, don’t forget to occasionally check the Epic Game Store. Roughly every two weeks a paid game is posted with a 100% discount. Ubisoft Connect, IndieGala, and GOG.com have similar promotions too.