Minecraft is one of the most popular videogames ever made, with more than 176 million copies sold across PC, consoles, and mobile over the past decade. "Sold" is a key word there: Minecraft isn't free. On the PC, it costs $26.95, for either the modern "Bedrock" version or the classic Java version. If you're searching for free versions of Minecraft online, you're mostly going to run into crappy browser game knock-offs.
But there are some ways to play Minecraft for free, or for very cheap. And while most free Minecraft clones aren't worth your time, there are some that you should actually take a look at. Below I've assembled a collection of the best free Minecraft-style games, and clarified how you can actually play the real thing for free.
How to get Minecraft for free
Mojang offers a free trial of Minecraft: Java Edition on its website. This won't let you play for long, though. As Mojang explains: "This version of the game lasts five in-game days, or about 100 minutes. Playing the demo mode is also useful for seeing if your computer can run Minecraft before you decide to buy it."
The only other way to legitimately play Minecraft for free is with the Education Edition, which Microsoft is offering to teachers who sign up to gain access to Minecraft for their classrooms. This is available through June 2020, and includes special features not available in the normal version of the game.
In the past, Microsoft offered a free version of the Bedrock Edition of Minecraft to anyone who had purchased Minecraft Java prior to October 2018, but that promotion is no longer active.
Free games like Minecraft
Okay, so you're dead set on getting something like the Minecraft experience without spending a dime. What's out there? Searching for "Free Minecraft games" will return a lot of junk—browser games that shamelessly steal Minecraft's voxel look, but don't truly offer any of its depth. Many of these also insert ads before you can play. Here are some genuinely good free Minecraft-style games you should spend your time on, instead.
Creativerse - A free to play voxel sandbox game that lets you build massive custom worlds—yup, this is definitely a Minecraft clone! But Creativerse is far better and more expansive than any of the browser-based knock-offs you'll find out there. As in Minecraft, there are public worlds you can join, or you can play solo or with a select group of friends. Best of all, it has Steam Workshop support, meaning there are thousands of mods and items you can add to the game with a single click.
Roblox - Roblox is hard to describe, because it isn't exactly a single game. Rather, it's a platform that lets players create their own 3D games, which has made it popular with millions. Like Minecraft, there's definitely some inspiration from Lego here (Roblox actually predates Minecraft!). Because players can create their own games, there's an immense variety of experiences to be had within the Roblox universe. Games are free, and there's an avatar shop you can buy cosmetic items from. Roblox may not be exactly like Minecraft, but it hosts many, many games that allow for similar multiplayer, creativity, and exploration.
Unturned - "You're a survivor in the zombie infested ruins of society, and must work with your friends and forge alliances to remain among the living," says the description for Unturned on Steam. This game is a bit like classic zombie survival game DayZ, but with more of a Minecraft aesthetic. The creator was just a teenager when he launched Unturned, and several years and hundreds of updates later, it remains free to play on Steam and far deeper than you'd expect. It's not exactly like Minecraft, but it has crafting and multiplayer, which can keep you and a crew busy for a long time. And it'll run on even a low-end PC.
Trove - A free to play voxel MMO with years of development behind it. Trove has added a battle royale mode, Steam Workshop support for mods, and mixes Minecraft's destructible environments and crafting with RPG classes you can spend hours leveling up. Like other free MMOs, though, expect Trove to feel pretty grindy if you don't spend any money.
Terasology - If you like seeing how games change in development, the free Terasology is a good choice. This voxel sandbox game was inspired by Minecraft, starting life as a tech demo before turning into something bigger. It's an open source project in active development, so you could even get involved and help make it better.