There's no such thing as a free lunch, as economists like to remind us, but you can get something pretty close to one from a company called Free Lunch Design. It's pretty much a one-man shop—run by Johan Peitz, of GÃ¶teborg, Sweden—and it gives away downloadable games and pulls in no more than a trickle of revenue from the ads it hosts.
By far the most popular of Peitz's games is Icy Tower, which has been downloaded 6 million times since it was launched six years ago.
Photo: ANDERS FRICK
The game has so far been confined to PCs, but now Peitz has decided to bring it to mobile phones—and this time, he wants to make a little money. He's signed an agreement with the Austrian company Xendex, which plans to launch the game worldwide within a year, mostly by selling though such mobile telephone operators as Orange and Vodafone.
(Full disclosure: Peitz is a friend of mine. I hope he remembers that when he is rich and famous!)
The game involves helping Harold the Homeboy to climb as high up a tower as possible without falling down. It sounds easy, because it is easy; but like Tetris and other classics, it can be addictive.
Photo: ANDERS FRICK
Games generally sell well only in the first three weeks after their launch, but Icy Tower seems to have a good chance of becoming an evergreen. Reason: the free PC version has consistently been downloaded about 40 000 times a week, and its wide distribution and fanatic fan base ought to stoke demand for the mobile version.
The game has been available not only via the Internet but also on magazine cover disks, bringing the total distribution to more than 20 million. Not bad for a few years' work. If Peitz had charged just 5 cents a copy, he'd be a millionaire—at least until the Swedish tax man showed up.
"I don't do this for money," Pietz told me. "I always wanted to be a game developer. About 20 years ago, I made my own board games. That was before I started with computer programming."
Photo: ANDERS FRICK
Peitz, 29, studied computer science at Chalmers University of Technology, in GÃ¶teborg, and has since made his living as a game designer and researcher at Interactive Institute, based in the same city. The institute, a research outfit, is mainly sponsored by the European Union. Peitz says his inspiration was Shigeru Miyamoto, the guru of game development at Nintendo. "He is my idol in terms of doing fun games," he said. "Miyamoto is really great at thinking in new ways, on all levels."
Icy Tower is perhaps not as multimedia-fancy as some other games, but I'd love to have it on my mobile phone, to kill some time on my way home from work. Xendex better hurry up!
Newsletter Sign Up
Sign up for the Tech Alert newsletter and receive ground-breaking technology and science news from IEEE Spectrum every Thursday.
Self-Healing Transistors for Chip-Scale Starships
Transistor design would help "chip ship" survive radiation of 20-year trip to Alpha Centauri
Graphene-based Antenna Still Looking for Path to Commercialization
It does everything a metal antenna can do and more, but it hasn't been adopted yet
First Graphene Photodetector To Operate in the Microwave
New photodetector is 100,000 times as sensitive to light as previous graphene photodetectors
Germanium Can Take Transistors Where Silicon Can’t
The material inside the first transistors could have a new life at the cutting edge
Beyond Touch: Tomorrow’s Devices Will Use MEMS Ultrasound to Hear Your Gestures
Touch screens are on the way out; piezoelectric gesture control is on the way in
What Makes a Good PV Technology?
Comparing maximum efficiency is a good place to start, but it takes more than that for a commercial breakthrough
Interactive: Record-Breaking PV Cells
The world’s leading PV research labs use this chart to track record-breaking solar cells. New champs appear as soon as they are certified
Highest Performing Tungsten Disulfide Yet Brings Flexible 2D Circuits Closer
New process will lead to large-area synthesis of device-quality tungsten disulfide that could be good enough for flexible and RF circuits
Nanostructred Transistor Enables Glucose Sensing Contact Lens
Eventually the contact lens will both detect glucose levels and communicate to a pump to inject insulin
Printable Electronics That Self Heal Before Your Eyes
Magnetic ink enables super fast self-healing materials that makes printed electronics more robust
Leading Chipmakers Eye EUV Lithography to Save Moore’s Law
Intel, TSMC, and other chipmakers weigh extreme ultraviolet lithography, which may be ready by 2018
DNA Scaffold Self-Assembles Into Single-Electron Device
Self-made DNA scaffold could make the production of single-electron devices far more scalable
One-Nanometer Gate Dimensions for Transistors Have Been Achieved
Two nanomaterials join forces to give a little reprieve from the 5-nanometer theoretical limit for transistor gate dimensions
Google Science Fair Finalist Invents Cheap Lung Cancer Screening Breathalyzer
Finalist hopes his research increases the rate of lung cancer screening and reduces the use of CT scans
Teens Rock Google Science Fair With Flexible Supercapacitors and Smart Bandages
Google Science Fair finalists demonstrate the power of flexible electronics
The Next High-Performance Transistor Could Be Made From Lateral Nanowires
A potential FinFET successor comes into focus
Cheap Lidar: The Key to Making
Self-Driving Cars Affordable
Startups and established players think they have the key to inexpensive lidar
New Technique Reveals Black Phosphorus's Properties and How to Control Them
Researchers can turn the mechanical anisotropy of black phosphorus "on" or "off"
New Material Offers a Revolutionary Approach to Power Electronics
Two insulators become an amazing conductor when joined, promising efficient power electronics
Nanomaterials Begin to Blur the Lines Between Industrial and Hobbyist 3D Printing
The enabling of 3D printed electronics through nanomaterials is changing 3D printing and electronics