Gaming Your Way

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Where exactly is the Cash for Flash ?

An awful lot of our blog posts are questions recently, we need to change that.

Anyway, where exactly is the Cash for Flash ? There's a very in-depth article on the always excellent gamasutra about Flash gaming and the money it can make ( Where's The Cash For Flash ) to which I see quite a few blogs have linked to already.

As a developer you're constantly aware that Flash games are seen as a very disposable medium. They're free and there are thousands of them, a lot of portals have no concept at all about copyright because swfs are just so ubiquitous now, they're moving jpgs aren't they.
If you're a fellow dev. reading this, I'm sure more than once in your life you've had to actually try and explain the value of a Flash game to a client, that good work takes time and money, that just because there is already a lot of content out there it doesn't mean it's all of the same quality. Basically, that Flash isn't actually disposable, that very cool things can be done with it.
If that's the case, if there's this near constant battle to validate Flash and Flash games worth ( To the point that if someone from EA quotes Flash as a valid gaming platform our hearts go all a flutter ), why the fuck do so many developers shout from the rooftops what they earn ?
I don't want the tax man knowing what I earn, never mind a 100,000 strangers. What's that all about ? If it's a full time job, a living, keep it to yourself. If it's a hobby with benefits, then it's just re-enforcing the whole Flash games are just a disposable something to do on the weekend and earn "$20k" from it view.

By now I'm guessing you've figured I'm not a 100% pro this article.

I suppose I should caveat things now to avoid a ton of hatred coming my way. I'm a big fan of what Adam and Chris have done at FGL ( I remember chatting to Adam only last year I guess and him saying "I've got this crazy idea that I want to try out" ), and all the game authors quoted in the article, in terms of their work, excellent.

If that's the case, what's the point of me writing this ? Am I just writing venom for the sake of writing it ? Am I bitter 'cause I'm not had my $40k indy hit yet ? Or is it because every article about Flash and it's commercialisation paints an even rosier and skewed picture than the one before it ?

Figures, let's stick with them, as everyone is so keen on them ( Me too if the truth be known ).

In the article there's mention that 25% of all games on FGL are sold. That still leaves 1,500 games unsold. That's a lot. I imagine not all of those are real stinkers.
Also the average deal brokered is quoted at $1000, but I'm guessing any >$10k deals skew that figure a hell of a lot.
( Again, this isn't a criticism of FGL, just note that spin is put on figures, everyone does it. I'm trying to highlight that when it comes to Flash and money you really need to read between the lines, I'm not digging anyone out for putting a favourable spin on their own business ).

"At a minimum, developers selling their first game ever -- if it falls into the 'good-to-great' category -- make about $500-and-up"

$500 is piss all really, unless you're 14, then you'd kill people for that sort of money. $500 really just makes it a disposable something to do on the weekend. But we all start somewhere, my first game was sold to miniclip for £350 ( There, now I'm spewing my guts on how much I earn, it's an addictive trap ).

Next up in the article is the Dino Run guys. $40k for that game, plus still more coming in. Great, really well deserved, Dino Run is one of the best games in Flash and deserves everything it gets.
Although that is 7 months development, between two people, so that's $20k per person. Still nice, $20k for 7 months, that's just under $3k a month. But... Dino Run is one of the best games in Flash right now. Have you got 7 months to develop a game as good ? I know I haven't and I wouldn't presume I'd even have the ability to make a game as good.

See these well done stories in the article are the pinnicale of where the indy market is, not the average, not the norm.

The article then goes on to say on the strength of Dino Run the PixelJam guys have got a couple of adver-game gigs that nearly earned as much as Dino Run in a much shorter space of time.
That's key. That the indy market is so far behind the industry as a whole in terms of finance that the best outcome is that you get some client based work out of it with the money that brings in. That's where the living wage with Flash is, not with mochi-ads I'm afraid.

Finally in the article they speak with Sean T. Cooper who coded the excellent Box Head series. He is very honest, and explains that you have to build up a fan base for your IP, that to get the really good money you need that fan base there, people who are just panting for the next installment. Sponsors know that, they have a very good idea of what a sequel as part of a popular franchise will bring in in terms of traffic, and will pay for that.
Keep in mind that Sean said he sold the first one for $1500. 4 games later and he's getting good money, he's in a great position, but that's at least a couple of games first that you have to sell for not a great amount of money ( If you're making games to the standard of the Box Head ones you're looking at a min. of 4 weeks, and this is if you do all the art and sound yourself. 4 weeks at 40 hours per week, that's 160 hours, which at $1500 is $9.38 per hour [ Thanks to Bryson for point out my really poor maths first time around, corrected now ]. That's best case scenerio. It really is a big investment of your own time to make it successful, don't expect to be paid well for that time. In effect your gambling on the strength of your vision if you're doing this for the money. If you're doing it for the love of the art, well, you can do whatever the hell you want and just enjoy it ).

"Which means that one person can -- with a lot of hard work, meaning every day of the year -- expect to bring in close to $400,000 a year, I think."

This is the core of why I've written this article. I don't want to pick a quote apart from one person, but come on mate, $400k ? I'll be happy doing half then, 5 games for $200,000.
It's things like that, the come on everyone, get Flash, it's like getting paid for having a laugh, then just rubs me up the wrong way ( Obviously ). It doesn't do anyone any favours.
Ask yourself this, if that sort of money is possible, is Sean or anyone else, earning it via indy games ? If I said to you, work hard for a year, and you'll earn nearly half a million dollars, you'd bite my arm off to do it, like I would yours.

Be realistic in what you think you'll earn, don't get your head turned by the Bloons or DTDs. They're great games, but there are other great games which have fallen by the wayside. Do it for the sheer joy of making something cool out of that untitled.fla, and if you make a couple of quid, then sweet, better in your pocket than anyone elses, but please don't fall into the Flash trap of timelines paved with gold.
With a lot of effort and maybe a bit of luck you'll get the $40k game, and then by all means post in the comments and let me know you wear a crown when you code now and I'll be gladly put in my place, and keep that as an objective ( The money, maybe the crown wearing, not the rubbing my nose in it ) but take all the quotes with a slight pinch of salt.


Comments (14) -

  • John Cotterell

    2/10/2009 4:37:20 PM |

    It's like talking about how much money you can earn playing a guitar or painting a picture. It's totally meaningless to do the sums until you have the masterpiece sitting in front of you.

    The problem is people (even people in the industry) aren't broad-minded enough to see that this is an art-form, albeit a decidedly technical one in places.

  • urbansquall

    2/10/2009 5:29:48 PM |

    Excellent analogy, John. Simply excellent.

  • Jeff Fulton

    2/10/2009 5:38:32 PM |

    >>Which means that one person can -- with a lot of hard work, meaning every day of the year -- expect to bring in close to $400,000 a year, I think.<<

    How did I not see this quote? I'm flabbergasted. $400k for indie Flash games? 40K * 12 for Bloons is $360K. That is the MOST SUCCE$$FUL game so far and it is still under the $400K mark. There are some devs doing just ads and licenses that make a decent living, but the norm is probably close to $10-20K per year for full time work on indie games.

    Thanks for pointing this out, Squize. I linked to this article on my site because I wanted newbees to read it and see how much work it took to be a success. I must have missed that quote about $400K being easily attainable with a lot of hard work.  What a joke.

  • Squize

    2/10/2009 6:25:55 PM |

    Hang on, John writes 4 lines and gets two "excellent"s ?


    Jeff I didn't want to single Sean's quote out too much, but yeah it's not the greatest to be honest. It just sends a disproportionate message to a lot of young developers.
    I mean I don't think I'm giving too much away in saying that gyw hasn't made that much in two years, and we've turned around quite a lot of games in that time.

    The Flash market is what the mobile one used to be years ago, people just latching onto it and seeing it as a infinite source of pots of money. That everything is easy, all you need is a great idea and a bit of a hard work ( Like the guy who's going to earn a $100k in a year, anyone checked his blog recently ? He's not quite there yet surprisingly enough ).
    There's this great flood of over the top hype about it all, that article being the biggest so far.

    On paper the amounts seem large, in real life, are they ( Ignore Bloons from that question, that really is an insane amount of money if it's accurate ) ?

  • Jeff Fulton

    2/10/2009 6:57:08 PM |

    By the way 40*12 is = $480K. Basic math problems aren't going to help me in the 4K game comp.

  • Squize

    2/10/2009 9:15:36 PM |

    Mate, you could actually be earning those sums, just not realising it ;)

  • tonypa

    2/12/2009 6:12:34 PM |

    I am probably stating something very obvious but recently Flash games have changed so much that you cant compare them directly with situation 3-4 years ago. It used to be much more about "making things for fun" and each new version of Flash brought new toys to try or at least speed improvements. I am not saying games itself were bad in any way but not much attention was payed to presentation. Things like sound on/off button that was missing in most games and really not many people cared. The standards are much higher these days: good professional quality graphics, music and sounds, menu system, saving progress, multiple modes, highscore etc are all pretty much expected from even moderately popular game now.

    All these things take time and effort, and if you aint some sort of multi-talented wizard who can code and draw and create music yourself, may require multiple people. So its normal that people who invest in Flash games these days are more interested to earn back the money. You could always point out some exceptions but I doubt the successful games are made without proper design documents and target audience testing (something I have always avoided).

    You can still make Flash games for just fun and ignore everything, just you cant expect those be hugely popular anymore because there are so many games that look better, sound better and have all these helpful snippets that your justforfun game is missing.

  • Bryson Whiteman

    2/18/2009 11:21:13 PM |

    Good read. It's interesting to read about success stories as the problem with Flash has been legitimizing the medium. If money's involved, it must be legit, right?

    Just as you say, the article does go too far and paints a rose that's redder than red. There has to be some balance by at least acknowledge not to successful entries. I'd liken it to playing a slot machine.

    I actually think it's a good thing that people have been releasing figures, I believe it's been beneficial to developers to actually get an idea of how prosperous the industry can be. Back when I started I had no idea. People are making more now than they were before (like your first £350 sale).

    Nitpick... 4 weeks at 40 hours per week, is 160 hours, not 800. I'd have a really hard time passing the days by if that was the case... haha.

  • Squize

    2/19/2009 11:43:53 PM |

    "Nitpick... 4 weeks at 40 hours per week, is 160 hours, not 800"

    Ha, cheers for spotting that mate. I was either going to be a coder or an accountant ;)

    I'm still not a lover of people saying how much they earn, I mean it's all so relative. As an example, the biggest project I worked on was "Signs of Life", with a £800,000 budget ( just to show it's knowledge in the public domain rather than me spilling the beans ), or $1.14448 million according to google today.
    That's for a Flash project. Ok, it's a huge one, but that's the sort of budget a lower-end / mid-range DS game gets.

    Now people knowing that doesn't really help anyone next time they're trying to get sponsorship, or wondering if gameJacket will be better than mochi.

    Taking my Space Invaders game as an example, £350 in 2003. The pinball game we did, we couldn't get sponsored. It had one offer, $300, and for that they wanted the source. So 5 years later I'm being offered less for a much much bigger and better game.
    Knowing that Dino Run has earned $40k + doesn't really help that much. We're back into a buyers market ( Did we ever leave ? ) so benchmarks aren't that great a help.

    I think for the indie industry to improve in terms of cash flow we need to move on to the next step, which will either be ad firms making more money per ad and that being passed back to the developer, so we have more control ( So we don't need to suffer the really huge portals not allowing us to have our own ads in our own games as they interfere with theres, which is so wrong ) or games getting bigger and better so the demand is for quality over quantity.

    Neither of those is going to happen any time soon though, we've all been speaking about them for years ( as3 was meant to kill off the crap games ) so we've just got to stick with the slow, but still welcome, growth in the industry and not share how much we earn :)

  • Chris

    2/23/2009 8:10:05 PM |

    Thanks for the great article and props for FGL.

    I definitely see why Flash game devs would have some issues with this article.  And in the defense of all those interviewed they are only being quoted on a portion of their message.  I know I was interviewed for half an hour and out of that I got a few quotes.

    But I think we should all be focusing on the positive.  I spoke at GDC last year and I was extremely happy with the response the Web game industry received.  Especially for the indie scene.  But this year when I inquired about speaking again (since things had gone so well last time) they told me they were no longer as interested in that space.  When I asked why they literally sent me links to blogs and some other articles where developers were claiming they were made $.76 off of their games total.  The games and developers they linked to were in most cases horrible and in some cases great but all the dev did was put the game on newgrounds!  The fact that this gamasutra article shows the other side of reality (the side involving people who are experienced and knowledgeable in the field) is great in my opinion.  

    I totally see why it is frustrating to see such large numbers being thrown around (and in reality, the $400k number wasn't a statement of an ACTUAL amount someone has made) but again I think you need to look at it in context.  Could you code up a game right now and sell it for $400k?  Almost definitely not?  But could you build up a successful brand and IP and make a series of hit games that not only earn you money through the traditional channels (sponsorships, licenses, ad revenue, etc..) but also have an inherent worth in and of themselves?  Absolutely.  And Sean is a perfect example of this. We have worked with him quite a bit (I had no idea he was interviewed for this article) and his statement is NOT out of the ballpark of what he could do.  And he started right where most indies start.. selling his first game for a sponsorship and getting underpaid for it (last part is my opinion).  In fact, I personally would not be surprised if NinjaKiwi's or Sean Cooper's IP were worth something in the millions. And this could probably even be backed by historical data in other industries since many companies who invest in IP pay for that IP based on a multiple of yearly revenue.

    To me, the article is absolutely flawed, but it is the best article I have read on what a small sample of successful flash developers are making and some business models that have proven to be successful.

    And as for not talking about money.  That is tough.  I will say that talking about money is one of the main reasons that sponsorship prices have ballooned in the past year.  When FGL started making this type of info available more readily, developers had more power. And when other developers are posting about their whopping $.76 it's hard to bring in bigger companies who are willing to invest in games since the market looks extremely small and unprofitable. And it makes it much easier for companies to take advantage of developers. Though I agree that only focusing on the top numbers gives an equally unrealistic view of the market if not taking everything else into account.

  • Squize

    2/23/2009 10:34:30 PM |

    Hi Chris, thanks for taking the time to post your thoughts here mate.

    "The fact that this gamasutra article shows the other side of reality"

    Yeah, but it could also be likened to a lifestyles of the rich and famous. There are a lot more devs making $0.76 than $40k, and it's not always a lack of ambition, a lack of a quality game or just by being a bit of a cock.
    Sometimes good games do badly ( Okami being a perfect non-Flash example ).

    I also realised that Sean didn't claim to have actually made $400k, that was one of my main points.
    Chris hand on heart mate, if I said to you just work hard for a ( Another :) ) year on FGL and you'll make $400k, you'd do it wouldn't you.
    For Sean to just make that throw away comment undoes all his good words in that article for me. It's like someone selling you a get rich scheme but not being rich themselves.
    If it's possible to make that sort of money just by working hard, do it then. Work hard for one year, you can take the next 5 off with that sort of money in the bank.

    Aside from a very tiny tiny percentage of game developers, that amount isn't and won't ever be possible to make, no matter how hard they work ( Or how talented they are ).

    Although now I'm slipping into focusing one persons glib comment to rubbish the whole article, which I really didn't want to do.
    As to the perceived value of the boxHead or Bloons IP, perception of value is an insane thing when it comes to anything web based targeting a very specific demographic, so I imagine both will be worth a hell of a lot more in perceived value than actual value ( It's like club penguin, or even Miniclip. The value based on their potential, as opposed to their actual current turn over, is vast ).

    "I will say that talking about money is one of the main reasons that sponsorship prices have ballooned in the past year"

    Can I be a bit contrary and go the other way for a second ? Openly talking about prices leads to a lot of kids d/loading cracked versions of Flash and reskinning tutorials / ripping and hacking existing games for a slice of that "easy" money.
    How many people register at FGL and post dog shit, and then sell it for $30/$50 ? If the smaller sponsors are willing to pay crap money for crap games, then that just encourages crap ( And stealing ).
    Now I'm not saying that everyone who sells a game for a really low price is using wares and / or stolen games, I'm saying everyone who sells a game for such a low price is hurting the indie industry more than blogs where people bitch about their $0.76.
    There is a danger that by being too open about possible returns you encourage a buyers market, because all of a sudden the market is flooded with people all willing to under-cut each other ( Look at any freelance site, it's painful ), or you end up with 950 games on FGL, which can't be healthy.

  • tonypa

    2/24/2009 11:49:10 AM |

    I did like how the article points out importance of marketing. Selling stuff is a skill too and to have successful game you need to invest in marketing same way you invest in programming the code or creating graphics. Lets be honest, most developers are extremely bad at marketing, they simply put the game up on the web and hope it becomes successful by magic (or submit the game to 2-3 portals). Well, it doesnt happen. Sadly, people who are good at selling things, know all the tricks and enjoy the process, probably have no interest on making games.

    Take for example Bloons. Not that I am trying to say its a bad game but it has no complex code (just one object moving with gravity and simple collision detection), no amazing prerendered graphics or hundreds of different animations, no story, no advanced settings to change color of main character. Does that mean if you make similar game with more options, better physics engine and wonderful graphics, your game will be even bigger success?

  • Squize

    2/25/2009 9:01:26 PM |

    Yeah, some games have really punched above there weight in terms of popularity compared to... well all their component parts really.

    Perhaps that's the next service niche for Flash developers ? There's FGL to sell the thing, next it may be the marketer who ensures the game gets spread, and spread to destinations that match the target audience ( So not having your dress up game on newgrounds where it's just going to be shot down in flames ).

    I know ( Not from personal experience though ) that mochi have a very good network for spreading games, and just think how many sites have miniclip branded games.
    On the other hand, gameJacket has so proved to be really piss poor with spreading games, esp. seeing how they're meant to have 2 people doing it as their full time jobs.

    It seems the way to get the big game is to fit into that very tiny margin where your game is liked both on ng and kong, those two sites seem to set the trends for pretty much the entire indie market.
    The users seem quite diverse, different sites liking different things, so a popular game on one seems to bomb or at best do average on the other. If you do get that game that they both like though, that little bit of magic, then it's going to do really well, even if the popularity is greater than the worth of it's component parts :)

    I guess people could argue that that's not magic, it's just a good game, but the user bases are so different that I've seen various great games fail on each site after doing well on the other.

    As a slight o/t post, found a good link about this very article earlier, looking at it in a slightly different ( Real world ? ) way,

  • Chris

    2/28/2009 4:40:13 PM |

    Actually, FGL already is offering a service to help market and distribute games (though it is in early beta):

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