Flash Truth

…about flash gamedev and business

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…

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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

5 Questions to Badim

I really hope you know Badim. He is the creator of the Elite Forces IP and a force to be reckoned and an example to be followed. He is well known for the stats he continuously updates on his site regarding the money made from flash games. He is the owner of Elite Games portal and a success story to be cheered and watched.

Taking the event of his first indie aniversary, I sent him an email asking if he could just answer 5 questions, which he did. So here goes a brand new category 5 Questions to… Badim.

You have just completed one year of Indie development with considerable success. What do you consider that success to be based on?

I think, because I`m making games that I like – and I like military games like Contra or Starcraft. Besides that I like to read what other people think about my games, and beside reading I like to improve them.

What’s your workflow at the moment? Do you work alone? Hire? or do you have a team?

I`m now developing five new games, few of them alone, one in a team of three, few others in team of two.

Elite Forces is your strongest IP. Do you have plans to develop other IPs or will you focus on EF?

Yes, indeed! Joe’s games are also doing very well. And I do not like to put all eggs in same basket. But one should have the focus and that is EF games for sure.

A lot of aspiring developers read your blog and dream of that kind of money. What’s the best advice you can give them?

Make games that you like, but for others. Listen, improve your games, improve your skill. Reward best feedback.

And finally your portal. Do you have plans for your portal or will it be secondary to games?

It will always be secondary after developing games, but I’m going to improve it anyway, and I’d like to achieve more with it.

Thanks to Badim for taking his time to answer these questions!

December 5, 2008 Posted by | 5 Questions To..., Monetizing, Portals | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Nonoba

One of the subjects I want to bring to this blog is a vision of the pros and cons of several portals. I considered several of them to start up this category, all pretty obvious, like Kongregate or Addicting Games, but I wanted something more… Nonoba provides that something more I was thinking.

“Why?” you ask… or don’t ask. First and foremost, Nonoba is a great site. It has the basic condiments of that make a modern gaming site: developer profiles, a ton of APIs, great social implementation, lots and lots of things to have both players and developers entertained for hours.

More, developers can make money from it. First and most obvious, Nonoba allows advertising, such as Mochi Ads or Game Jacket. Not that much traffic to make it an extraordinary portal to monetize from ads, but that’s always a good add-on for developers. Second, it holds weekly and monthly competitions, based on number of plays with some juicy prize money. Third, Nonoba has a micro-transaction API which allows players to win money from in-game features, like objects or extra content.

Sounds really juicy but… Don’t you hate when someone says “but” right after something really good is showed? What is the problem with Nonoba then? A developer can see Nonoba in two different ways.

The first is the typical one: you create a game, put up some APIs and hope to get some traffic. This is where the problem starts since most portals pay to have their APIs integrated and Nonoba does not. So, the developer has the trouble of putting their APIs up, testing it and hope the game does good enough to get some money from advertising. You don’t need a lot of math to see this is not worth the trouble most of the times.

The second route is to go for multiplayer and transaction APIs which Nonoba supports fully. First… the APIs are wonderful. Really easy, really good. But the problem with traffic stands again since you won’t be able to sponsor your game or even to distribute it because both APIs are heavily branded with Nonoba logos and worst, Nonoba register user buttons and so on. No portal is interested in having that kind of branding, therefor, the game will not be sponsored or even distributed, bringing the problem of traffic up again.

So… Nonoba is a terrific idea that will go really bad if they can’t build the traffic up. The only developers interested in doing some real work there will be the ones aiming for the prizes (some are really pros at this) or contracted ones, since the rest is almost pointless. Ok, there are developers doing it for fun, but most good developers are pros or getting close to it. All other developers will simply upload the games, hopefully get some hits and that’s it.

Good things: Technology, social aspects
Bad things: Over branding, no payment

November 1, 2008 Posted by | Portals | , , , , | 1 Comment