Game On

New gaming innovations let you play more and pay less. By Scott Steinberg

Tired of paying $50 to $60 for a single video game? Just change distribution channels. New advances in game delivery, which cut production costs and allow for more innovation, are suddenly bringing players thousands of titles — and at rock-bottom prices. Here are some of the freshest innovations.

Digital Downloads
Android and iPhone handsets already offer countless on-demand games in every genre. But computers and consoles are suddenly featuring an abundance of first-rate down-loadable originals, as well, such as Puzzle Agent and Hard Corps: Uprising. Don’t feel like letting last week’s hits collect dust, either? These days, it’s also common to give your existing titles new life by retrieving new adventures, missions and map packs online.

Episodic Outings
After several false starts, serialized games — delivered in small, regular installments like TV shows — are making a comeback on all platforms, from PC (The Silver Lining) to Wii (Pearl Harbor Trilogy). Consider it a sign when even well-known franchises like Sonic the Hedgehog suddenly start going to pieces.

Free-to-Play Titles
Who needs cash? Sites like Newgrounds, Shockwave and Kongregate feature thousands of zero-cost titles in every category for play right in your browser window. Free massively multi-player online titles, including Free Realms and MapleStory, even offer sprawling virtual worlds you can explore alongside thousands of fellow gamers.

Social Games
Casual outings including FrontierVille, Pet Society and Happy Aquarium aren’t just drawing tens of millions of players on social networks like Facebook. They also don’t cost a penny, require no gaming experience and are designed to be enjoyed in short, five to 15-minute spurts. Small wonder office productivity continues to plummet.