Hey there fellow game developer! If you‘ve lovingly crafted an indie game and now want to release it for the world to enjoy, I‘ve got great news – you can absolutely publish it for free!
I know you may be wondering: how is that even possible?
Well, there are a number of amazing platforms designed just for indie developers that allow you to publish mobile, desktop, and browser-based games at no cost. In this guide, I‘ll walk you through the top options, tips to get the most traction, and real-world examples of developers who made it big through free publishing.
So let‘s get into it!
The Best Free Game Publishing Platforms
Here are the core platforms I recommend checking out:
With over 320,000 games published, itch.io is hands down the largest and most popular free publishing option. It‘s home to pretty much every type of indie game imaginable – ranging from experimental to highly polished.
- 9.8+ million monthly site visits
- 1.3+ million registered users
- Over $12 million paid out to devs
- Unlimited free game uploads
- Customizable pages with markdown
- Options for paid downloads too
- Built-in community features
- Massive existing audience
- Very crowded marketplace – visibility is tough
- Few limits means lots of low-quality games
- Very developer-centric user base
Game Jolt has been around since the early 2000s and has a super supportive community just for indie devs. They make it simple to publish your game and connect with players.
- 1+ million monthly active users
- 60,000+ indie games hosted
- 400+ game jams hosted
- Established community of passionate indie fans
- Built-in forums, chat, groups
- Free and paid game options
- Contests and events
- Old school vibe – focuses on retro pixel art styles
- Mobile support still in beta
- Less features than some alternatives
If you grew up playing flash games online, Newgrounds was the place to be. Today it remains a major hub for experimental, animated, and browser-based games.
- 37+ million monthly site visits
- Over 6+ million hosted games
- 800K+ forum members
- Strong nostalgia factor – OG fan base
- Highly influential in web animation
- Integrated art, audio galleries
- Iconic underground vibe
- Very noisy, chaotic legacy site
- Reliance on outdated tech like Flash
- Limited tools for polished games
There are plenty more options like CrazyGames, Poki, Armor Games, and Kongregate where you can publish browser games for free. But the top three here are my recommendation to get started.
Publishing Your Game on itch.io
Now that you‘ve got a lay of the land, let‘s get into the step-by-step process of publishing on itch.io, which I think provides the best overall experience:
Step 1: Create Your Account
- Go to itch.io and click "Sign up" in the top right corner
- Choose a unique username, password, and provide your email
- Check your email to confirm the account
Step 2: Set Up Your User Profile
- Once logged in, click your avatar icon in the top right
- Edit your user profile details like bio, links, location
- Upload a profile picture and header image
Step 3: Start a New Project
- In the top right, click the "+" icon and choose "New Project"
- Give your game a title, description, and upload a cover image
- Choose 1-2 relevant categories like "Visual Novel" or "Platformer"
Step 4: Upload Your Game Build(s)
- On your new project page, click the "Builds" tab
- Click the "+ New Build" button and upload your game file(s)
- Supported formats include Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, HTML5, and more
Step 5: Set Visibility
- Under the Builds tab, set whether you want your game to be Public, Private, or Password Protected
Step 6: Customize Your Page
- Use the Details tab to add lots of relevant info like genre tags, maturity rating, credits, controls, links, etc.
- Add multimedia like screenshots, trailers, development blogs
- Leverage markdown formatting in the description for bold, images, lists, etc.
Step 7: Preview and Publish
- Do a final check of how your page looks under the "Preview" tab
- If all looks good, click "Publish" to make your game live!
And that‘s it – you‘ve now successfully published your indie game for the world to play, entirely for free!
Promoting Your Game
Of course, the hard work doesn‘t stop once your game is published. The competition for visibility on platforms like itch.io is fierce, so you need to invest heavily in promotion to have a chance at rising above the noise.
Here are my top marketing tips for free games:
Share it everywhere. Post your game page to all your social channels, messaging groups, forums. Ask friends and family to share with their networks.
Email your fans. Offer exclusive sneak peeks and free keys via email newsletters. Grow a subscriber list to mobilize on launch day.
Court streamers and YouTubers. Getting an influencer with a big following to play your game can be game-changing (no pun intended!)
Run promotions. Offer limited early access, free keys, launch discounts to build buzz. Contests and giveaways work too.
Post development updates. Let people follow the journey of making your game. Build a relationship with potential players.
Join developer forums. Participate in communities like r/gamedev and TIGSource. Get feedback, make connections.
Use relevant hashtags. Include tags like #indiegames, #gamedev, #madewithunity, etc. when posting online.
Submit to events. Enter relevant game festivals, modding events, or game jams like Ludum Dare to expand your reach.
Advertise strategically. Try low-cost, hyper-targeted ads to your niche around launch.
Sell merchandise. Offer t-shirts, soundtracks, art books related to your game for added revenue streams.
I know…that‘s a lot! But the more creative hustle you put into marketing, the better chance your game has to take off amidst the chaos. Think of it as developing a relationship with potential fans long before launch day.
Making Money from Free Games
While you don‘t pay any fees to publish on these sites, there are still ways to earn money from your free game:
- Donations – Let players pay what they want or enter custom amounts
- Tips – Similar to donations, but generally smaller amounts as tokens of appreciation
- Merchandise – Sell shirts, posters, mugs, stickers related to your game IP
- Physical Releases – Produce "boxed" editions with extras like art books for collectors
- Sponsorships – Get brands to sponsor in-game characters, power-ups, etc.
- In-App Purchases – Sell virtual currency, unlocks, customizations, etc.
- Advertising – Run video/display ads via networks like AdSense
- Commissions – Offer to create paid DLC like new levels, characters, etc.
- Crowdfunding – Run a campaign to fund your next, more ambitious project
- Consulting – Get patrons via services like Patreon for dev vlogs, tutorials, etc.
While harder without a direct purchase price, there are plenty of creative ways to monetize if your game gains a big audience. Think outside the box!
Case Studies of Free Game Successes
For some inspiration, here are a few stories of smash hit indie games that began their journey being published for free:
This acclaimed freeware platformer was made solo by Japanese developer Pixel and released in 2004. As word spread among fans, it was eventually ported to consoles and mobiles. To date it has sold over 1 million copies!
The original procedurally-generated explorer was released free online by Derek Yu in 2008. The enhanced, paid remake became an indie smash hit, selling over 2 million copies across various platforms.
Toby Fox originally released this highly anticipated adventure game sequel in 2018 as a free download, which was downloaded over 1 million times within 24 hours of launch.
Risk of Rain
Hopoo Games‘ breakout roguelike initially launched as a free public beta in 2013. The positive reception helped fund the successful commercial release that spawned a franchise.
This popular hybrid tower defense game has amassed over 22 million free downloads since 2019. It was featured on itch‘s front page and steam top sellers chart.
As you can see, free distribution can serve as rocket fuel, planting the seeds for runaway indie success. Your breakthrough hit may just be a publish away!
Alright, let‘s recap the core advice:
itch.io, Game Jolt, and Newgrounds are top free publishing platforms
Follow their simple guides to upload and configure your game
Promote extensively via social media, influencers, communities
Get creative with monetization through donations, merch, etc.
Draw inspiration from successful comparable games
Use free publishing to establish your reputation and get market feedback
With dedication and hustle, the sky‘s the limit – your game could be the next indie phenomenon!
I hope these tips help you take the first step to getting your game out there. What are you waiting for? The players of the world eagerly await. Now get publishing!
Wishing you the best of luck.