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 Göteborg, 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.


A MAGISTER LUDI: Johan Peitz is the father of the popular Icy Tower game.

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.


HOPPING HOMEBOY: A screenshot from Icy Tower, where Harold the Homeboy climbs upwards.

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."


MUSE GURU: Peitz's inspiration came from Shigeru Miyamoto, game guru at Nintendo.

Peitz, 29, studied computer science at Chalmers University of Technology, in Göteborg, 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!


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