Flash Truth

…about flash gamedev and business

Crisis and Hope

I was browsing around the web, looking at games from other developers. Word on the “street” was that sponsorship and advertising money was wearing thin all over. From what I read here and there seems that crisis is hitting the flash market space.

But like I said, I was browsing around, playing games from other developers. I had some fun and I even took some notes. God! I didn’t take notes about games for a long time.

Suddenly I needed something to relax my eyes and my hand-eye coordination, so I took a look at some user comments on Kongregate and it’s getting better! I remember saying to my monitor like if I was talking to myself “I need to write about this Kongregate shift of user behavior.”

Sorry… getting lost here… crysis and playing games… right! Why the hell am I writing this? You want to know? There are much better games now! This was expected by anyone slightly awake I know, but has anyone noticed that quality is really start to sky rocket?

Kudos to you all flash game developers! Those that are making a difference and raising the bar. You (and hopefully me) will make this market better and stronger, just hang on while this crisis is making it’s damage.

Today I was playing some games… read something about crysis but I have all the reasons to hope for the best. We are doing our part.

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February 24, 2009 Posted by | flash games, General | , | Leave a comment

The ‘1’ that rules it all

planet-clock-3dI know I’ve been through this, maybe you have too. How much time does it take to make a game that is good enough to be profitable? This self-discussion that many developers face took a step with Feronato’s Experiment, like I like to call it.

The baseline of the topic is: what is more profitable, a one day game, a one week game or a one month game. I’m sorry to inform you I don’t know, what I’m sure is that the quality of flash games is rising, thus, the value for lower-end games with not that much of content or depth will be lower as time goes by.

Richard Davey commented in this blog that my view on the rate was probably wrong and reading his words I tend to agree with him since I did not take into consideration the possibility of having multiple projects going which would naturally lower the number of hours per project. With this in mind, I’m proposing, not the debunking of the flash development and marketing process but the analysis of the projected value in nowadays and future market. Best way I know is to offer you my own figures.

1 day game…

I only did a 1 day game once and it was a tech demo to show how to use some classes to some other devs. Some developers brag that they have found sponsors for games that fit in this category but I have never seen a game from any. I’m sure there are some polished exceptions, but I find hard to imagine any portal sponsoring or licensing the vast majority of 1 day games, after all, they can find better than that.

To the best of my knowledge, MochiAds with distribution enabled should give some money in the long run and if the developer can make a 1 day game every single week day, he will probably have a constant, although low-end income.

1 week game…

Been there… not exactly a week but less than two weeks. I’ve done it more than once also and my take is that the results depend a lot of the mechanic. Sure, this is true for almost any game, but it’s even more evident with 1 week games. If you have an extraordinary design, mechanic and a unique touch in your game, you can have a winner with a very small amount of time consumed.

I’ve experienced great success with this and grand failure. Both took around 10 days to make.

The great success granted me around $3000. It was a twist on a well known mechanic and I didn’t have any major expectations with it but it turned out to be a exception in terms of 1 week games.

Others have been a failure, best I got was $650. Although I cannot generalize I would say that 1 week games already have a hard time competing for offers and this will only get worse.

1 month games…

…or dare I say 1+ month games? Never did one month games although I’ve started some. All the projects that are supposed to take one month usually get 6 to 8 weeks because I take the time to make it better and better.

This is, in my opinion, the most fascinating thing about projects that are supposed to take more time, I polish and polish and polish again and the games grow, take more time but it is worth it.

The lower figure for a 1 month game was $1500 and it’s an exception, the lower end of the offers for these games. Unlike the 1 week games, 1+ month games are getting higher offers as market matures.

Conclusion

Take your time, make the best game possible. Sometimes we are aiming for the quick sale of a quick game when everyone would be happier with a bigger, better and more polished one.

If you aim for 1 day or 1 week development, be sure you have some extraordinary but keep in mind that sometimes what we think of our games is far exaggerated when compared to what other people think, and more important, to what portals are willing to pay for it.

February 15, 2009 Posted by | General, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

My experience with Flash Game License

From time to time something special happens. Something that can change the face of the world, or at least one specific world. Flash Game License changed the way business is made in the flash market. The idea itself is pretty simple, the implementation is pure genius.

It seems everytime I write about FGL, I have something against it. Let it be written that I don’t have anything against FGL, I am a happy FGL user and I am happy to do business there and pay for it.

But the comments on the last post seem to hit a nerve, one that I didn’t want to be hit. Unfortunately I think that will happen more often because FGL has grown bigger and its creators aren’t close to us as they used to be.

It is pointless to say that it is not so, I feel it personally. Each and everyone of them was at a distance of an email or MSN and it was obvious that they did take the time to help. Their presence in the community forums was refreshing, nowadays they usually appear to address some serious question, raise a discussion about a new feature and say how nice CPMStar or Kindisoft is.

Well… I can understand that and I really don’t take the distance as bad as I would with other people. I also understand that there are more things to attend and so on…

The numbers on FGL show growth, more sales and more money, like Chris stated in the last comment, but the hard truth is that it is more difficult to sell a game on FGL and that I personally rely much more on my business skills than on FGL to sell my games and I’m not alone on this. Many developers spoke with me about how less motivated they are because of lack of attention on FGL. These are developers that have done business there and that know nothing about marketing themselves and their games, therefor they will loose in the battle of FGL listings. How many are there that think this way? I don’t know, I can tell you that all the developers that I speak with complaint more or less in these lines. Why isn’t there any public discussion? I don’t know… but I’ll ask them. 🙂

So if there are developers that feel this way how are numbers growing? In my opinion, if there are more developers and more games there and the percentage of games that make a sale stands, obviously there’s a growth.

Should I present ideas to help with this? After reading Chris’ answer I really don’t feel like it. FGL creators answers to criticism are starting to look as cliches that I really don’t want to argue with. I agree that they have to protect their business, but the most important asset of FGL are the developers, especially quality developers and it really kills me to see FGL becoming more about quantity than about quality. The advertising in the top right corner only holds because of quantity… more developers, more audience, better advertising. It’s like FGL is for developers what portals are to players. The bigger the better. Am I the only one that finds this contradicts the spirit of helping developers?

What I’m hoping is to see a defensive stance, debunking what I’m writing here with statistics and how good FGL is to developers but what I would like to see is a slight change in this trend even if it’s just a simple gesture of understanding what is going on. That, because I really think that FGL is important, would mean the world to me. At least in terms of flash development.

February 12, 2009 Posted by | General | | 5 Comments

My expectations for 2009

I think that 2009 will bring some movement to the flash game market. Some are good, some are bad.

The quality of flash games is growing. This trend was easily spoted in 2008 and I believe that the bar will keep rising. Portals such as Kongregate and services (or dare I say “The Service”) offered by the Flash Game License crew really pointed many developers the right way: Quality over Quantity.

Although this is good news, it can also be the beginning of the end of money making hobby developers. It was easy to notice that quality developers are becoming full professional game development companies while existing game development companies make their way to the flash market.

What does this mean? Will we have publishers? Thus killing the flash game development risky and yet wonderful game design? Will we have more and more exclusive content to the established portals making the traffic wars less sponsor based and more content based? Will there be any other portal with a view for the midcore market?

Will see…

January 15, 2009 Posted by | General, Portals | , , , , | 2 Comments

Understanding the flash game space

In my most humble opinion, most developers are clueless about where they stand in the flash game space from a market point of view. This leads to wasted time, bad business and bottom-line: low money. This only applies to developers that want to make a profit from flash games, to all others that live up for their passion, it’s pointless, although, maybe, educative.

Here’s how most developers face business assuming there’s a sponsorship deal for a small game…

1. Developer makes a game in a week;

2. Developer shows game around to get a sponsorship deal, although not full time, it can take two weeks easily;

3. Game is sponsored, let’s say, for $500 and developer takes a couple of days to include sponsor stuff;

4. Developer puts ads on game and distributes it which generally means at least another week;

5. Game spreads and traffic goes to the sponsor thus generating money;

6. Developer gets an average of 15% (from my personal experience) from ads, so an extra $75;

Let’s crunch the numbers…

First and most obvious there’s no such thing as one week games, or one day games, since build to market time is always bigger, but I’ll dedicate a post to that one of these days, but the hard truth is that a one week game can easily be a 22 business days game, meaning, a full month. All of that for $575 if you are lucky. Assuming you work 8 hours a day, that’s a $3,26 per hour rate, which, let’s face it, it’s pretty bad.

And why did this happen? Let’s follow the money now…

1. Developer makes a game;

2. Sponsor picks it and sponsors it for $500;

3. Most sponsors don’t actively spread the game, thus, no distribution costs;

4. Sponsor gets pass-through traffic that will generate around $1 per thousand visits but it isn’t that important;

5. Sponsor gets traffic that sticks from users that register and visit the site and play their games continuously, which can generate a lot of money if the site is good which the large ones are.

6. Advertising networks keep a huge chunk of the money generated.

The Truth

1. Has I have said before, developers have nothing to win from distribution itself. Portals and advertising networks get most of the profit from the plays and the traffic games generate, still, developers are worried about distributing their games like if it was the most important thing of their, second only to sponsorship. In fact, the most important thing is THE GAME! A good game will attract good sponsorship deals, not to mention extra licensing if you are smart.

2. Developers waste too much time, thus loosing money, doing things that will make others win money. Mochi Ads is a class act in this department. They do handle distribution but they do it at a low cost for themselves since they have an established network, which is good for both Mochi and the developer.

3. Smaller portals do make a huge effort to distribute the games they sponsor but most of the bigger ones simply don’t care. And they don’t care because they usually get the high profile games that will, sooner or later, wide spread on the web, usually at the expense of the developer or, if they allow it, Mochi.

Understand where everyone fits and make everyone do their job

1. Developers should make the best game they can. They should also strive to make all necessary arrangements to fit their sponsor and licensing portals needs, which is something I often see developers lacking: professionalism. Developers should not distribute games since game spread is not their income source or investment return.

2. Portals should either spread the game themselves or allow ads on games thus leaving the distribution for the advertising network since both have direct income from game spreading wildly. Using advertising would then be an extra incentive to the developer, not a need, a badly paid one.

3. Advertising networks should be the major spreading force since they are the ones that get the most of it. Most bigger portals already have a considerable user base, thus making licensing more interesting as a model.

4. Bottom line: each part does what it’s profitable for their core business: Developers make games, portals manage content and advertising networks manage advertising inventory.

Wow… this was a big one…

Still there? Ok… What matters here is that there’s a culture of “roles” in the flash game space and it’s the developer that takes the toll. Why? Well, most are naif and the big guns take advantage of it. I’m not saying portals are bad or good or that advertising networks are bad or good, what I’m saying is that the developer is the small guy that can be easily bullied if he acts alone while the herd is following a different direction.

We must rethink all of this, together. Us, portals and ads networks are partners in this, not enemies, so we need to sort our act together so that the market continues to grow based on quality, not a dogmatic approach of how it is handled.

January 8, 2009 Posted by | Advertising Networks, General, Monetizing, Portals | , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Addicted to the number of plays

Just stumbled on a thread in the Mochi forums where a developer proposed to rank other developers by the number of plays their highest played game achieved. Seems logical doesn’t it? I personally disagree and it seems I’m not alone in this. Badim spoke wisely when he said that average playing time, earnings and time spent to develop the game is also relevant and I partially agree with him.

There was a time where all people wanted was to have their games largely distributed. Nowadays, that’s a bit pointless. You spend countless hours making a game, countless hours finding a sponsor, a bit of time integrating the code from an ads network and then countless hours distributing, creating thumbnails of different size and shape only to appeal to the portals.

And what do the tasty high traffic portals do? They don’t want the ads in your game in their site. Isn’t that a killer? Your game will not generate YOU any revenue unless you license the game to those portals, which is fine by the way, but that means you will loose potentially millions of plays because of that. Well, think about it… if you have nothing to win from it, why should you even consider having your game, generating revenue to the said portals and you getting nothing from it?

Flash game developers are too addicted to the number of plays. In reality the number of plays is meaningless if the developer as nothing to win from it. You, as a developer, should not upload your game to any site, even if very high profile, if you don’t have anything to profit from the upload, simply because portals count on your addiction to increase their revenue and most of them, not sharing it with you.

December 10, 2008 Posted by | General, Portals | , | Leave a comment

A flash game in Time

Time Magazine online just released their Top10’s of 2008. You can find GTA IV at the top as many would have anticipated, or even Spore at #10 as many probably couldn’t predict. But the most fascinating figure is #8. Hunted Forever is the game that was born just before Towering Forever from Pixelante Game Studios, which I already pointed out in the blog.

I’m amazed. Not by the fact that there’s a flash game in the list, not because it’s above Spore, but because of the recognition. I thought no one had ever noticed us, but I guess I was wrong. Right beneath it, I noticed there’s a DTD game… for the iPhone and I smiled.

December 9, 2008 Posted by | General, Outstanding Games | Leave a comment

Contests or how to trick developers to work for free

Contests have been a big part of flash game development since… ever I guess. Back in the days where portals got all the cash and flash developers worked for the simple love of the (usually awful yet addictive) game that having contests was a way of pushing some coins to the developers.

Right now (and let me remind you that this is the end of 2008) a lot of developers look for ways of making money from their games. Either pocket change to buy the next console game or to make a living from their flash creations. This is simple economic evolution of business model. The portals attracted users and for that reason, money was generated. Along the way, portals shared their earnings through investments in sponsorship deals and later on licensing deals.

Contests haven’t followed this evolution. Contests still exist based on the fact that developers want fame and glory, not money. It’s fair to say that the prize is usually money, but it’s a contest, not a business decision. It’s ok to have contests for developers who do it for fun, as long as the developers understand that someone will be making a load of money at their expense.

I’m writting this because Mochi Ads and Arcade Town joint forces to put up a old-school contest. The winners of the contest get sponsorship deals from Arcade Town. Here’s why this is tricky…

1. To enter the contest the developer has to distribute the game using Mochi technology. By definition, a distributed game has no sponsorship or primary licensing value, so by entering the contest the developer hands over the possibility of getting a deal. Mochi Media on the other hand, has a bunch of games to distribute and Arcade Town has the exclusive right to sponsor the games, since no one else will want it.

2. To enter the contest the developer must use the tremendously bugged version control system from Mochi. The reason is simple: As soon as the winners are announced, to have access to the prize money, they have to brand the game with Arcade Town’s logos. Without the version control in place, the already distributed versions wouldn’t have Arcade Town’s branding, therefor this wouldn’t be interesting.

3. In the forums, where the discussion piles up, some Mochi’s employees use a sentence that really gets on my nerves: “You’ll have bragging rights if you win!” What these folks are saying is: it’s not important that you are potentially loosing money as long as you can brag about it.

The problem with contests is that it’s a way of getting the usual stuff (traffic) to the usual people (portals) with less money to the same guys (developers). Almost all contests are based on this: you have to brand to the contest holder or you cannot launch your game or you’ll loose any chance of a sponsorship deal. Contests are a way of tricking developers to work for free.

November 20, 2008 Posted by | General | , , , | Leave a comment

Developer versus Artist

A recurring discussion I’ve witnessed is the developer versus artist. It is one of the dumbest discussions that ever existed and it will be here forever. It does become more intense with flash game development. Why? Well, there aren’t many (if any) development or publishing deals. This means that unless the developer is established, he won’t have any budget for hiring. Therefor what the developer expects is that the artist agrees to a sponsorship/license split. That slipt is usually the start of all problems since it’s quite difficult to quantify how much did each side work in order to determine the split.

Let’s take a look at some common arguments used and make fun of it, ok? Ready?! Good!

Developers take longer to create the game than artists to create the assets!

The opposite of this setence also applies in case you are wondering. This argument is really a tug of war. But isn’t it dumb? Well, of course it is! It is not possible to assume what will take longer for every single developer, every single artist and every single game. Some games, for instance, a puzzle game, take way less art and the logic underneath it usually needs a lot of tweaking for a good result. On the other hand, an experienced coder can make a shooter in no time and have tons of assets.

I don’t have the money to pay for an artist!

Really, kid? Borrow it from your family, save some, don’t buy that console game (or the console really!) but don’t assume that the other guy needs to make you a favor because you don’t have money.

It’s my idea, I should have a bigger split!

Now… this makes some sense. Not because of the “idea” but because the creation of a game means someone wons the intelectual property of the game. BUT!… In that case you should pay the artist the intellectual property portion that is related to his work and considering how important that can be, you would do better NOT to have a split, but rather an upfront payment.

I only work if I receive full upfront payments!

Even if you were the last artist in the world, paying fully upfront is as bad as paying nothing upfront.

I don’t know how much my game is worth so I’m not for paying in advance!

This is really pointless! I’ll translate this to english: I have no idea what I’m doing, but I want to do it as big as possible and have someone else take the risks of make it grand.

… my own final thoughts …

I’ve been on both sides of the argument. I can understand that the developer thinks the artist isn’t rooting for it like him and I can see why an artist shouldn’t take the risk. The problem here is that both artists and developers are taking opposite sides and that’s never good for anyone. Both should understand the problems the other guy faces.

More important, both should understand they are on the same side: to make the best game possible.

Developers should really consider making an effort to get the right artist for the right job for the right budget.

October 23, 2008 Posted by | General | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Are you a greedy bastard?

I started this blog a couple of days ago with only one subject in my head: this one. Problem is I didn’t know how to write it without slapping the wrong people. And the wrong people in this case would be the guys behind Flash Game License.

Flash Game License

Flash Game License

So, before moving forward, let me start by saying that this post is not about FGL as a community, a service or a company. It’s not about the people that started it and maintain it. This post is about the wrong mindset that has been created by the possibility of quick cash… and do people love quick cash.

The outstanding success of FGL has made a large amount of developers join the FGL community. I don’t have numbers, but I believe that the growth was at a certain point exponential. The success of one developer brought two. The success of two brought four and so on. We have to understand that this success didn’t arrive by accident. What FGL allowed that was never seen before was to have a standard for both developers and portals. A standard place to show, a standard place to look, a standard set of information to use. The downside of it is that the huge developer community gathered arrived there with a purpose: get their games licensed and either you like it or not, that means they arrived there to make money.

As FGL grew bigger and moved more money, more sponsored games; the community grew eager of achieving the same goals of the more successful developers. At FGL and Mochi forums, questions were repeated ad-nausea. “How much is my game worth?” some asked, many times receiving an answer, from a developer, that finishes his post making the same question. This threads by developers for developers caused a constant feedback of false expectations because, truth be told, most games are worth $0.

Yep, that’s it… zero. Funny fact… many developers think every game is worth something and waste enormous amounts of time thinking more about money than about the product that will allow them to get money: the game itself.

So are you a game developer or a greedy bastard? The game developer in its essence is a hard working person. His next game is his most precious possession and he will strive to make it as perfect as it can possibly be. It’s that passion that creates something between good games and masterpieces.

A new breed of greedy bastards are now thinking day after day how much their 1 day game will profit. Game developers are spending one more day to achieve something grand. Money will smile to the developers.

October 17, 2008 Posted by | General | , , , , , | 4 Comments