If you are a PC gamer who is tired of the same old games on Steam and Epic Games Store, look no further as we present the best indie games that aren’t on Steam. We are living in an age where there are countless games available to us. Yet, the major storefronts present only a fraction of what games are out there.
Despite not being on large storefronts, many of these creators are still spending a lot of their time creating work and deserve to be rightfully compensated. Unlike larger storefronts, a lot of the pages for games you find on this list will offer the option to pay what you want for them. While this lets you play many of these games for free, consider how much it would help a creator work on their next project if you decide to pay for their work. For other methods to support these devs, I suggest checking out game bundles such as the Queer Games Bundle 2022, Indiepocalypse, Locally Sourced, and others.
We shared the best PC games, the best PS5 games, and the best Xbox Series X games. Now, we look beyond – where art and experiments are transcending boundaries and expectations (this list is not ranked in any particular order).
The best indie games that aren’t on Steam
1. First Land by fotocopiadora
You are trapped in an underground dome of secrets. As you wander around, you end up in tunnels with entrances you can’t find a second time. Portals to other worlds present themselves. There is no one directing you where to go; you just need to feel the walls of the caves and wonder where exactly you have ended up.
Wandering around the tunnels of First Land, searching for hidden passageways and worms feels claustrophobic. The sounds of the ocean clashing against the outside and the visions of a world with a visible sky rings inside one’s head. Low synths moan upon entering rooms, as if you aren’t wandering through a cave that’s alive, responding to your actions.
First Land looks and sounds like a lost Sega Saturn game. Yet, to categorize it as such neglects the game’s ambitions. First Land aims to provoke the player through space and text to think about language, place and time.
2. Seek Magician by Moss Salamander
In the smaller independent game scene, the 2D RPG aesthetic has remained popular due to the accessibility of development software such as RPGMaker and RPG Paper Maker. While this aesthetic can be seen in popular titles such as Omori and Undertale, the range of possibility expands so much more beyond popular storefronts, from experimental emotional subversive titles to colorful worlds of wonder.
Described by the developer as an RPG inspired by Space Funeral about creatures they would like to hang out with, Seek Magician is a game of joy and wonder in the 2D RPG genre. The player follows Pax the frog magician as he aims to become the best magician while his little demon pal Lincoln tags along. Over the course of the journey, the aquatic creatures fight and hang out in skeleton-filled caverns and neon critter 80’s arcades. It’s a game about enjoying the good times — and all the friends you make along the way. What more could you ask for?
3. Decay by Freya Campbell and Grim Baccaris
Independent game engines and frameworks rarely make it to storefronts like Steam, but the accomplishments which they achieve in experimentation and style deserve equal, if not more, appreciation. Decay brings together the talent of two seminal authors in the world of interactive fiction, bitsy and Twine to create a game exploring histories, libraries and witchcraft.
Decay is a library of words that asks the player to question the construction and reconstruction of history and the ways we come to understand ideas of evil. In the background, a twinkling soundtrack plays over a low humming tone, leaving a haunting feeling as they continue to learn of this world of magic. Over the course of the game, the player reads more about the world and you may begin to question just what part you have played in it all. One could take as much away from Decay’s world as we can about our own.
4. A Star Called Sun by Cecile Richard
Speaking of seminal authors in interactive fiction, Cecile Richard is another who has consistently released bitsy titles that absolutely astound. A Star Called Sun is one of Richard’s best works and one of the most emotionally resounding titles made with itch.io. It follows someone who is all alone in space going through their daily routine and thinking back on their memories of loved ones. As you water plants, sit in the elevator, and look out into space, you may start to look back on your own memories of the people you cherish.
The game can be played within 10 minutes, however, those 10 minutes are densely rich. Each frame of the game is packed with an emotional atmosphere that is unparalleled. A Star Called Sun is the perfect argument for how lo-fi games uniquely express their emotion and tone in ways that higher fidelity games cannot.
5. 10 Beautiful Postcards by thecatamites
For over a decade now, thecatamites has been creating games filled with charm and enthusiasm for the ways games can present character. 10 Beautiful Postcards is the developer’s most recent work and the charm hasn’t gone away a bit.
Thecatamites games take some of the most charming aspects of games and find ways to make them metaphorical and theoretical without making them into serious theoretical texts. For example, just making it so the player can walk through dialogue, feels like you are walking through what the characters are thinking. Or even just making it so there are nine worlds, like playing through nine levels of a retro platformer.
10 Beautiful Postcards brings thecatamites’ prowess to the flag game genre to create a series of thoughts about images, memory, capitalism, and creatures.
6. Flesh, Blood and Concrete by io
Through a swirling labyrinth of concrete and memories wrapped in flesh, Lera searches for a way home. In Flesh, Blood, and Concrete the player follows Lera as she has gotten lost in front of a creepy looking apartment building with a character wearing a maid outfit. Over the course of the game however, the apartment building ends up becoming much more connected to Lera than she initially believed.
Like many other indie RPGMaker titles, Flesh, Blood, and Concrete does not present any complex mechanics for the player to learn. It is completely made up of walking through rooms, picking up items, and reading dialogue. However, it doesn’t detract from the emotional beats or themes from the game one bit. Flesh, Blood and Concrete presents one of the most compelling and complex metaphors about depression, inner turmoil and suicide. Be careful before you play this one; it will leave you feeling heavy.
7. Madotsuki’s Closet by Bagenzo
One of the wonderful things about making games outside of a gated market is that there aren’t many restrictions on what content creators can put in their game. This means there are a ton of games outside of Steam that are adaptations, critiques, fan games, and remixes of existing games. These games bring their creators to pre-existing games to express the ways they touch us, be it literally or expressed through new ideas of what they could be.
Madotsuki’s Closet is a game essay about the game Yume Nikki. It plays like a conversation between you and the author, Bagenzo, as she recounts the history of the game’s theories along with her own. What makes Madotsuki’s Closet transcend its historical retelling is that it recognizes history is personal. It’s more than just a moment in time — it’s also how the creator experienced that moment and discovered herself.
8. The Crying Game by Sophie Mallinson
The Crying Game is a playable essay game about Sophie Mallinson’s experiences with crying. In it the player presses the simple button to continue the animation of crying on screen. This pushes forward dialogue, which is implied to be Mallinson. Each play of The Crying Game doesn’t only feel like an observation of Mallinson’s tears but a chance to be with our own.
The Crying Game isn’t the only essay game out there. If you find yourself touched by the combination of personal anecdotes and play, you should seek out others on the site. However, The Crying Game is on this list because it is so concise, relatable and poignant.
9. Curtain by dreamfeel
It follows a lesbian woman navigating and surviving through days of an abusive relationship. As you walk around the apartment, you begin to learn the story of a couple who has had their fill of good times together along with extremely unhealthy ones. Rooms are filled with playlists, guitars, music posters, and records. Midway through it, however, there is a twist, allowing gamers to see everything in a different light. Curtain specifically handles this situation by creating metaphysical hallways for the protagonist to walk through time and experience different periods of the relationship.
Curtain was the game that changed games for me. It presented a new way for me to think about how space and objects can present narrative. It set the idea in my head that games can be packed with ideas from the filters that we see the world through to the colors of the walls and the objects laid around. Curtain experiments with the idea that behind every waterfall there is a treasure, except instead of a stat increase or item, there is emotional exploration and metaphor.
10. Butterfly Soup by Briana Lei
Butterfly Soup remains one of the most influential titles on itch.io to this day. One look at the endless comments could be enough to show that. Set in 2008, it follows four Asian-American queer women falling in love with one another and playing baseball.
The story addresses the state of queerness, how homophobia and racism persists, and how each character copes with discrimination and identity. There are no real impactful choices the player can make throughout the game, but this doesn’t take away from the emotional beats that the game presents.
11. EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE OKAY by alien melon
EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE OKAY is a lot all at once, but for a good reason. It’s a game about living online and all of the ways coping — and consequences come with that. As you browse through a series of programs, unfinished text files, and pop ups, a pained series of events presents itself. Little bunny creatures beg you for answers to their pain as they are impaled on one screen, and on another, rabbits wander around questioning why no one seems to love themselves.
On top of that, poetry pops up in the midst of it all, leaving you overwhelmed. You end up with sensory overload, a couple chuckles, and a heavy feeling of pain. It all feels painfully familiar, not too dissimilar from how your disorganized browser tabs may have made you feel.
12. The Sleeping Light by Valerie of DOMINO CLUB
Funnily enough, there are actually two games on this list about long distance relationships in space. However, don’t be fooled into skipping this one.
The Domino Club is a collective of game creators that anonymously creates games under a unified theme. It’s difficult to know that many of their games are created from collaborations, conversations, and inspirations behind the scenes. However, that’s just what makes many of their games stand out. It’s a collective of game makers who already have individual style, and they come together to create these works.
The Sleeping Light follows an astronaut who manages increasingly complex systems aboard their ship. As the game goes on, it is intermixed with dialogue from a relationship that one assumes was in the past. The images of space increasingly become more lonely as you watch your astronaut juxtaposed with the light of a single star in space.
13. Homeland by Ada Rook
The protagonist of Homeland recounts the letters they have sent to a friend. They talk about everyone around them trying to convince them that their friend is gone, but they continue to write to them. We could assume we are the blur moving through the blue-violet caves of Homeland, but it could also be believed to be a metaphor representing an endless void of hope and despair.
Homeland is a sound art piece about someone who has lost a friend and is not sure how to accept that they are gone. The caves are shaped like soundwaves that you are moving through. You almost forget that you are in control of the character as you move through the cave listening to the protagonist’s voice. The voice is taking you on a journey as much as pressing the down key is.
14. BINKY IX: BUBBO I by gisbrecht
It’s hard to say which game in the BINKY series one should start with. Spanning 25 games, each with a different approach to design and genre, one could start with any one of the BINKY titles. The BINKY series each provide insight into the world of BINKY, but also a metacritique of games themselves. Each lasts anywhere between a few minutes to an hour depending on the time you decide to spend on them.
For this list, we recommend starting with BUBBO I, which is one of BINKY’s first “grand” adventures if you don’t count BINKY’s journey through the human body in BINKY VI or being stranded on Robot Island in BINKY VII. BUBBO I follows BINKY, who ends up on a mysterious island full of dragons and wizards. The distinct camp and lightheartedness that are iconic to the series return for this entry as you make friends with every dragon you meet.
15. Riba by nbmach1ne
Fishing has been a large part of games for decades and spanning across genres. However, Riba is a unique approach to fishing in video games because of the way it treats fishing as a time to wander one’s memories.
The entirety of Riba takes place inside a single frame containing a lone fisher sitting at a pond. Over the course of the game, the fisher pulls out some fish and bones, which tell the story of a loved one they lost. I won’t go into the details of it all because it isn’t too long and it works a lot better going in blind. However, with each bone fished out, another part of this fisher’s life and their loved ones become more clear. The pond slowly transforms from a place for aquatic creatures to a memorial.
16. ANATOMY by Kitty Horrorshow
ANATOMY asks the lifelong question of what it would be like to travel through the body. However, in ANATOMY, the body becomes an increasingly horrific house one travels through as they listen to cassette tapes found throughout the house. The longer one plays, the more one questions their own relationship to their body — to their own house and its rooms.
Unlike many horror games, ANATOMY does not contain any jump scares nor chase scenes to scare the player. Instead it digs deep into the player’s own fears, and creates an environment and narrative that is increasingly discomforting to navigate. With each step you take, you will be terrified knowing that you have to take another.
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