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)


Edit Your Comment

  1. INconsumer says:

    i downloaded dopewars for my cell for free.

  2. this explains so much.

    @INconsumer: Dopewars! I had that on my calculator in high school! Want! Give to Spidey!

  3. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    I’d pay $3.00 for a 10-second chance to b-slap the guy who invented Sudoku.

  4. INconsumer says:

    go to http://www.3gforfree.com. you can browse and download from your phone or pc.

    btw. i have dopewars 2.2 for pc at home. got it from http://www.isohunt.com (torrent downloader needed). that game is a pure classic.

  5. INconsumer says:

    3gforfree also has screensavers and ringtone downloads for all for free.

  6. dasunst3r says:

    Still no phone that does just what it needs to do: Make and receive calls… *annoyed look*

  7. Raziya says:

    Holy crap, I remember Dopewars on my graphing calculator…hah!

  8. Zombietime says:

    My motorola q makes and receives calls just fine. It just happens to do a lot of other stuff too.

  9. TMurphy says:

    Maybe someone just needs to add a cellphone app to graphing calculators and all our problems will be solved. For me, graphing calculator games consisted of Blockdude and Phoenix.

  10. bigdirty says:

    GameJump.com offers games “for free”, but they’re sponsored by advertising. Being that I’m on the dev side of the games industry, these games aren’t made for free, and the price of them needs to reflect that.

  11. mr_jrdn says:

    The really sad part of this story is that many cell phone companies are trying to force consumers into buying these games and ringtones. My last cellphone could play all sorts of games, but in order to get them for free I had to spend a bunch of time trying to unlock the phone’s ability to play non-purchased games. Don’t get me wrong though, I think it’s great that a service provider offers it’s customers games to purchase. I just don’t think that they should be locking phones to only be able to use purchased games and ringtones.

  12. helloitabot says:

    I work for jamdat, now eamobile and I’m always surprised that people actually buy cell phone games. It’s shocking to me that cell phone games are popular enough to employ thousands of people from their profits, when you can play way better flash games online for free. With the advent of the iPhone and other phones with access to regular old websites, cell phone games will become ad-supported and free once again. Bejeweled, one of our best sellers already has a free web based version for the iphone from their developer popcap. We are probably doomed.

  13. kostia says:

    There’s plenty of decent free Palm OS games. I’ve never hurt for entertainment on my Treos.

  14. DarthSensei says:

    @INconsumer: Oh yeah dude, great site. Except that if you click on “Games and Apps” you get the message “Coming Soon!!”

    I’m speechless.

  15. eys says:

    I’ve gotten a fair amount of stuff from zedge.net However, I think most of their games are now “ad-supported,” meaning that you need some sort of data plan so the ads can be loaded wirelessly on the phone.

    If you have a treo or a symbian device, there are websites devoted to palm and symbian freeware apps. Try googling for something more specific than mobile phone games–include the OS (palm, symbian, windows mobile, etc) or something.

  16. wring says:

    this is why i have a ds lite.

  17. Jim C. says:

    “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.”

    Anybody remember DOOM? Lots of people played the 6 demo levels repeatedly before buying the game. The first level is burned into my brain and I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.

  18. INconsumer says:

    @wring: i have ds lite and psp slim. i love em both! but i play psp way more than ds lite. plus the new psp slim has cables to hook up to you t.v. to view you pics/movies/games on the t.v.. the quality of graphics still amazes me.

  19. INconsumer says:

    *sorry ‘r’ button was sticking.

  20. darkclawsofchaos says:

    … just get a nintendo ds… I only got bought two games for a mobile phone because they were exclusive and ACTUALLY fun, even a crappy $20 game on a ds is the equvalent of 5 decent $7 mobile games, the value difference is just that evident, a good $35 ds is worth a ton more than $100 of mobile games

  21. BugMeNot2 says:

    One of my favorite games is Dungeon Dweller. It’s a rogue-like game (think nethack another rogue derivative).


  22. Mr. Gunn says:

    Yeah, plenty of freeware available on Symbian phones. These are mostly Nokias.

  23. EvilConsumer says:

    http://www.getjar.com enjoy your free games, dictionaries, accounting tools. Just make sure you read whether its demo, freeware.

    If you think that demos, are bad, now the latest from orange gives you 60 seconds of gameplay and then you have to dish out the money for the game.

    The really dumb thing, you cant get hooked on a game in 60 seconds. in monopoly that equals to a dice roll.

  24. tcm22 says:

    Yet no one has commented on this absurd statement:

    “The age of free cellphone games is dead, killed by the greedy profit gluttons in charge of major cellphone companies.”

    So anything less then something for nothing is greed? I’m all for consumer protection and a fair marketplace, but to whine because companies don’t hand out their marketing baubles for free anymore points to a bunch of spoiled, overly indulged marketplace idiots. Of course it’s about money people! It’s how the folks who run the cell companies pay their mortgages, make payroll, provide health insurance, and feed their kids.

  25. @dasunst3r: “Still no phone that does just what it needs to do: Make and receive calls… *annoyed look*”

    I have whatever was before the LG VS3450. (3150? something)

    All it can do is call and text. I can’t download ringtones, can’t play games, can’t do the internet, no camera, nothin’.

    We got it because our local courts allow attorney to carry phones but have all banned camera phones. We really had to stand firm and repeat over and over and over that we absolutely REFUSED a camera phone, but in the end we were able to get one. Our carrier, incidentally, only had TWO non-camera phones in its whole lineup, and the other was a blackberry.

  26. VS=VX

  27. MrEvil says:

    @tcm22: I don’t think it’s the charging for games that they’re calling greedy it’s the fact that the major carriers are actively FORCING you to pay for THEIR games and THEIR ringtones is what’s greedy. Thankfully my Q lets me put whatever I want on it, my own MP3s and use them as ringtones, I can even watch my DVD rips on it.

  28. RvLeshrac says:

    @Eyebrows McGee:

    Tracfone has massive numbers of not-anything-but-a-phone phones, and you can buy used/refurb phones from eBay.

    Tracfone phones are all hard-locked to the service, and eBay might not be the first choice for an attorney, but you can also purchase phones direct from the manufacturer, frequently, as well as refurb phones from “local” “mom & pop” phone stores, which usually carry import phones and unlockers as well.

  29. Secularsage says:

    I’ve never understood why people would want to play games on a cellphone – only a handful are any good, and even the standards (like Tetris and Bejeweled) are hard to play on most phones.

    I own a PSP and a DS Lite. Both are superior for games (and the PSP can even be hacked to do all sorts of other neat things), and if you get the games on Half.com or Amazon Marketplace, you can often spend very little for some great mobile gaming.

    Castlevania: Dracula X Chronicles, for example, is $29.99 retail and includes three great games. Castlevania on the cellphone is $6.99 and includes one level of the original NES game. Lame, huh?

  30. Pixel says:

    I would love a phone without games. My current T-Mobile phone came with two crappy games on it, which use up memory I could use for text messages or photos, and I can’t delete them. There is no option to get rid of the games anywhere in any menu. Waste of space.

  31. EagleTheta says:

    Buy and unlocked phone from somewhere besides your carrier. I bought an unlocked Moto RAZR that has 3-4 games (golf, billiards, etc) that are free. My wife has the same phone bought from Cingular, and all the games are demo ones.

  32. Consumerist Moderator - ACAMBRAS says:

    @Eyebrows McGee:

    I hated that — when I had jury duty, phones with cameras weren’t allowed in the courthouse. I never use the camera feature of my phone, but had to leave it in the car. Big pain in the ass. If I had to be at the courthouse regularly as part of my job, I’d be really aggravated about it.

  33. bunnymen says:

    I don’t think I’ve played a cell phone game since Snake…