All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, but paying for everything make Jack rather poor. Here's a look at the most popular places to score free games online for some cheap end-of-year fun.
Photo by sqback.
Note: If a web site feature exclusively Flash and HTML5 games, it got a Web-Based designation. If it offered a mixture of web-based games and downloads, we're calling it Cross-Platform. Some resources feature a mix of free games and commercial games; those sites are designated as Variable Price.
TIGdb (Cross-Platform, Variable Price)
The Indie Game Database (TIGdb) is a huge index of games from independent developers. Not all the games are free, but of the 700+ games currently in the index, over 70% are free (and those that aren't, such as runaway hit World of Goo, have demos and are more than worth paying for). You can browse the games by popularity, recent submission, ranking, or drill down through the database with the custom filters.
Kongregate (Web-Based, Free)
Kongregate is a fusion of a social network and gaming platform. People don't just go to Kongregate to play a Flash game or two and leave; they network, earn badges and points, participate in site-wide challenges, rank games, and more. Kongregate actively encourages independent game development by offering weekly and monthly cash prizes to encourage developers to submit new games. You can browse games by genre, rating, popularity, and release date. You don't need an account to play the games at Kongregate, but you'll need to sign up if you want to take advantage of the badge/achievement system and other social network features.
MMOGame (Cross-Platform, Free)
MMOGame has the smallest selection of games among the Hive Five contenders (15 as of this article), but don't let that fool you. The emphasis at MMOGame is on high quality multiplayer games with great graphics and depth of play (rather than indexing a high volume of trivial Flash games). At any given time you'll find hundreds of thousands of players online immersed in the games (500,000+ were logged in this morning). The offerings at MMOGame are free and range from European market games to World of Warcraft-style adventure games to intergalactic empire building games.
JayIsGames (Cross-Platform, Variable Price)
JayIsGames is a blog devoted to casual gaming. Every weekday they review new Flash-based games and on the weekends they review downloads for Windows, Mac and Linux. The Flash-based games are almost always free, and the downloads are a mix of free with demos and commercial (but still light/casual) games. The reviews are thorough, the screenshots plentiful, and if you're looking for great casual games without having to slog through downloading and testing them yourself, it's a great first stop.
Armor Games (Web-Based, Free)
Armor Games might have one of the more spartan looking sites among the Hive Five contenders, but don't let that fool you. They have a huge index of games and a very active community—in fact their staff and developers are almost all active players. You can sort games by popularity, rating, and date of release. Each game entry has additional information, like the number of times it has been flagged as a favourite, a detailed description, and a mini guide to the controls and game shortcuts.