R.I.P. Free Cellphone Games

The age of free cellphone games is dead, killed by the greedy profit gluttons in charge of major cellphone companies. One ambitious Slate writer set out to find a phone with “a good selection of games.” He failed, even after visiting five carriers.

In the early part of this decade, cell phones started to become less about the phone call and more about the ring tone. Mobile-gaming types began to realize two things.

First, if kids were willing to pay $3 for a 10-second snippet of a 50 Cent song, they’d probably be willing to pay some nonzero amount for a game. Second, consumers aren’t going to buy the cow when they can play Virtual Milkmaid for free. It’s obvious where this line of reasoning leads: Goodbye Tetris, hello $7 Tetris. But Tetris isn’t the industry’s endgame. Established gaming companies–images of a potentially multibillion-dollar market dancing in their heads–have bought out mobile-game studios and set to work manufacturing slimmed-down versions of full-platform games. (Electronic Arts paid $680 million for Jamdat Mobile in December 2005, for instance.) If you’ve felt a primal need to play Age of Empires II in an elevator (just $19.95 on a Windows Mobile Smartphone), your long and burdensome wait is over.

One acquaintance has a stubborn but effective workaround; he repeatedly plays the bundled trial versions over and over, content as a hamster on a wheel.

Can You Play Me Now? [Slate]
(Photo: Hu.lag.way)