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How do I get games for my mobile phone?

October 10, 2006, Victoria, Canada: This has to be the question I get asked the most. Even today, when we’re told that 16% of phone owners are regularly playing games on their mobile phones , it seems that everyone else has no idea where to begin. It’s no wonder really, the process is more complicated than it needs to be, but not impossible. This article will get you started and enable you to enjoy games on your mobile phone.

Mobile phone games started with embedded games like Snake built into the handsets. These games were simple and small, and were inserted almost as an afterthought when the developers realized they had a little extra unused space in the phone’s memory chips. To the surprise of the phone manufacturers and mobile operators, such games were very well received. Usually played when the phone’s owner was bored, the unique quality was that the mobile handset was available to the user when nothing else was – when waiting for a lunch partner, on the bus, and wherever people are when they are bored. The games were a convenient distraction. Such games were very simple, but were fun to play, in short bursts.

Today, games can be downloaded to your mobile phone, played, and deleted when no longer required. Game quality varies, but game complexity and graphics have evolved at a breakneck pace. Now 3D graphics are available on many handsets, and most modern game titles are ported to mobile devices. This is the world of Java (J2ME in the official nomenclature) games. Modern phones have space for multiple games, sometimes hundreds, and you can pick and choose which games you are interested in.

Typically, a game will cost $5-$9, considerably cheaper than a console game’s $50-$60 price tag. However, the game experience is considerably less as well. Let’s just say it doesn’t yet make sense to compare a mobile phone game with a console game; the reason to play each is quite different, and if I’m able to play either, the choice is always the console. The point of mobile is, you don’t always have that choice. And even today, mobile phone games are usually played when people have nothing better to do!

Sounds great, but where can you find these games?

The phone operators provide games via the phone’s mobile browser. Most operators maintain an initial website (called the “portal”) wherein users can find games, news, and other interests. By browsing to the games section, users are provided a select list of games compatible with their phones that they can download, for a price.

Over the past five years, mobile operators have been pretty much the only source for games, but that is now rapidly changing. In what is called “off-portal” sales, consumers can now find content directly from game publishers or distributors. Often the operator is still involved in the purchase, as the game is usually billed directly to your mobile phone account, but other choices like PayPal or VISA are sometimes provided. The advantage of going off-portal is a much wider selection of games and possibly a better price. Indeed, some off-portal sites, like http://www.mobilerated.com, offer games for free and derive their revenue from on-site advertising. This is a great deal for consumers, especially first time consumers, who wish to try before they buy. This is particularly important for mobile phone games because there are a number of pitfalls that can prevent you from being able to play the games you want, regardless of whether you go to a carrier or off-portal site.

Firstly, to play Java games, you need a Java-enabled phone, and while most modern phones support Java, not all phones do. You can find out by contacting your mobile operator, or carefully checking your user manual (if you can still find it!).

Secondly, you need a way to download the game to your phone. There are two standard approaches: download “over the air” (OTA) or download to a PC and then to your phone.

The former approach requires a data package with internet access and may require text messaging (which is used by some sites as a payment method). Some operators provide this with basic plans, but many do not. This is the most convenient method as you can browse for games directly from your phone, purchase them from your phone, and download them directly to your phone. At MobileRated, for example, you can download directly to your phone browser from http://mobilerated.com/wap, and because the games are free, you do not require text messaging services.

Besides the purchase price of the game, you may incur data charges for downloading the game. Many operators charge a “per kilobyte” usage fee for data transfers, but this is likely to be a very small amount ($0.00-$0.50 per game). See your operator's terms and conditions for how data sessions are billed in your plan.

The latter approach requires PC to mobile connectivity, which is usually a custom data cable, but can include Bluetooth. Several newer phones come with data cables included, but many do not, and cables can be expensive and may require special PC drivers and thus may be difficult to work with. Bluetooth is easy to use but not all PCs support it (mostly laptops do). This approach saves you the OTA charges, but most carrier and off-portal sites do not allow for this, partially due to worries about controlling who has access to the game after it is sent to a PC. For free sites, this is not a concern, and games are readily available for download this way.

The final question is, will the game work with my phone? Just as an X-Box game won’t work in your GameCube, a game designed for one phone may not work for another phone. There are literally hundreds of different handsets and hundreds of ports of phone games to support them. Therefore, when you go to a website offering java games, you will be asked for your phone brand and model. Often people forget this shortly after purchasing their phones, but it is often included during the start-up process or available within your phone’s menu structure. If all else fails, a call to your operator will reveal your identifiers. When you browse with your phone, most sites can identify your phone identifiers directly, so you are spared this worry.

So, you have now downloaded a game to your phone.. where is it and how do you play it? Games are stored in phone-specific folders, usually with names like games, applications, or downloads. Find the folder with your game from your phones menu structure and click on it to play. If you cannot find the game, it may not have been downloaded correctly. You should have seen an error message during the download. Typical reasons are that you are downloading the wrong version, that you do not have space available on your phone (and you need to delete other content to make room), of that the download failed due to a dropped connection (very similar to a dropped voice call).

Do to the many concerns facing the first time game purchaser, it often makes sense to start with a free site and verify you can download games successfully. Look for sites that offer reviews or ratings, as game quality varies wildly, and even branded content can be less than appealing. That said, the best mobile games are truly wonderful, and when you have some downtime, nothing is quite so enjoyable as a good game. Have fun!

About MobileRated:

The MobileRated free mobile phone app store offers over 55,000 games and applications to over 6,000 mobile phone models. As an independent, open market business, MobileRated's app store is available globally without restrictions in English, Spanish, French, German, Italian and Portuguese. MobileRated offers a mix of open source, demos/trials, ad-supported, and totally free products in over 20 categories. All products are searchable, ratable, reviewable and sortable, providing our customers with powerful tools to easily find exactly what they are looking for.

While content is always free to customers, MobileRated technology such as FreePlay™ and AppPromote™ enable MobileRated partners to generate indirect revenues and maximize customer downloads. MobileRated partners with hundreds of mobile developers around the globe.

The MobileRated app store is owned by Kalador Entertainment Inc.