Making Money From Your Game
We want to build up this part-time game development gig into a successful business, so we have to think about how to make this profitable from the beginning! Here's how we are going to monetise the games we are working on – if you are a game developer (or thinking of becoming one) this should be very helpful to you too!
Casual Flash Game
The first game we are building is a casual flash game: playable within a browser without a powerful gaming PC and immediately ready to play without a big download. There is a huge, huge market for flash games with literally hundreds of millions of people playing them every day – in fact more people play games online than on consoles! The downside is that while console gamers are used to shelling out giant wads of cash for games (or even measly extra controllers), online punters have gotten used to getting things for free. Despite this there are still opportunities to make some serious cash:
Wherever there are eyeballs looking at something, there are brands paying to advertise to them. Online gaming is a natural fit for this. One way of ad-enabling your casual game is to add in-game advertising (companies like MochiAds, GameJacket or CPMStar make this very easy), while another good way is to host the game on your own site and serve ads beside it using Google AdSense. Both ways will make you good money, but only if you can get millions of people to play your game. The most popular games have made tens of thousands of dollars from advertising alone – some of which were games made by a single developer in a couple of months! Have a look at these examples of cash made from ads in casual games:
- Bloons (2 developers) making $30,000 a month
- MochiAds forum thread about revenue totals
- 1 developer, over $4,500 in 1 year
- 1 developer, over $1,700 in 1 month
If you do make a super-popular hit you can make a lot of money this way, however it's not easy and the payout for less popular games is hardly enough to make you quit your day job! Have a read of Ryan of Untold Entertainment's excellent Pimp My Game series of articles where he puts a game he made in 48 hours through the various ways of making money – I think it's up to $17 of sweet, sweet profit so far.
The most popular gaming sites (called portals) are making money hand over fist from advertising; so much so that they are willing to spend a pretty penny to sponsor games. A game sponsor will generally get their logo and a 'more games' link back to their portal inside your game, and in return will give you an up front cash payment (from $500-1000 for a very simple game to thousands or even 10k+ for something really good). If your game is popular they will get many more visitors, making their portal even more valuable to their advertisers.
Portals need the games developers are building, particularly the good games that get players coming back again and again. So much so that many will license your game for their site, paying you a fixed fee to get to host your game (and sell ads around it). Between sponsorship and licensing many casual game developers have reported matching the earnings they see from in-game ads (all three methods can and should be done together). FlashGameSponsorship is a great site that explains in detail how sponsorship and licensing your game to portals can work for you. The same people have also built FlashGameLicense which lets you show off your game and invite sponsorship/licensing offers from game portals; I've heard great things about it and we will be using it when our casual game is ready.
Selling To Customers
The above revenue channels all rely on giving your game away; how about the traditional, proven method of asking gamers to buy your game? Some developers are doing just that. Naturally you need to make a pretty good game to justify the cost to a market of gamers used to getting things for nothing. How about the best-looking arcade game I've ever seen in Flash, RoboKill? They have a demo playable online and you can unlock the full version by paying $10. I'd love to know how successful this has been for RockSolidGames!
Be A Portal
If they are happily paying out large amounts in sponsorship for simple games you can bet your right arm they are making even more money themselves! So you could certainly try hosting other people's games w/ advertising and see how it pays – we may even try it down the line. MochiAds give you access to free games for your site as long as the developer gets to show their in-game MochiAds – this would be an excellent source for games if you wanted to try being a portal without spending too much up front.
Persistant Game World
Our long term plan is to build a multiplayer tactics game with persistent units hosted on our site. This will make for a much more compelling, exciting game – and it also gives us way more ways to earn money from our happy gamers:
The game should be free to play for everyone as you need to grow a community around a multiplayer game or it will never get anywhere (particularly with our generous marketing budget of 2 shillings and an old shoe). You can use ads on the site to get a little bit of revenue, but practically speaking you will not get the millions of players you need to make you those fistfuls of hot, sweaty cash.
You then offer an enhanced version of the game at a price for people who are really into the game. Enhanced can mean extra functionality, or new races/ingame stuff only available to subscribers, or even just cosmetic bonuses like getting an 'I Rock' badge on their profile. One thing that is important to us is to totally avoid making players who don't subscribe be unable to compete on a fair playing field in the multiplayer game – we will never make it so you feel you have to pay to be able to do well. That said many online games do exactly that so it certainly is a (slimy) way to encourage subscriptions.
Sell In-Game Thingies
That's right, thingies. One very interesting alternative to subscription-based revenue is to use micro-transactions to directly sell in-game stuff to your players. This can be anything from enhanced items to the ludicrously popular cosmetic stuff- special pirate hats for your players, or a custom badge for your profile. This model of providing the game for free and then selling extras to enthusiasts can really scale up moneywise and there are a lot of examples of it doing extremely well. Just look at Maple Story which made over $30M in 2007 from selling in-game clothes and hair makeovers! We'll be thinking very carefully about this model vs subscriptions when we are getting ready to launch our persistant game.
Alternative Revenue Ideas
Those are the most obvious ways of earning money from your game, but that's not quite the end of the story.
Sell to Other Developers
Once you have a lovely, polished game engine you have the option of licensing this out to other developers for a tidy fee. You could also do this with smaller components, like a map editor or similar. Flex in particular doesn't have much in this space but must have a large amount of prospective customers. We may consider this, depending on just how lovely, extensible and useful our work ends up being!
Blog -> ???? -> Profit
Writing a blog can directly (eg ads) and indirectly (referrals to your game, free PR, getting 'noticed') make money for you. We don't intend to ever directly try and make money from this blog but it will be interesting to see what else comes up!
Sell The Company
You can't really plan for this one or count on it happening, but sometimes small independent game companies get bought out by bigger companies, making their founders filthy rich and smug to boot. I'll let you know if it happens to us!
Have any other ideas about this topic? Post a comment!