How to make money with Flash games
Following on from the sterling advice on how to break into this hectic industry for nothing more than the price of sending me a thank you PayPal donation (because I like to buy consumables), I'm going to try and outline some of the ways in which you can use your talent to actually make yourself some money.
Is it actually even possible to make a living making Flash games? Happily yes! And I don't even have to lie about the figures. A few months ago, Mochi Media (who you'll become intimately entwined with later) did a survey into the current state of the Flash game industry. The actual presentation is an interesting read, but to jump straight to the point, this is what you can expect to make each month:
Yes, that's right; 1% of devs make $25,000 or more each month. My conscience is also going to make me point out that 56% make between nothing and $500. However, even though $500 would just about buy you a Mars bar in Paris, it's still a start towards being financially independent. This makes you irresistible towards women.
"Some people say life is a game, and that love is the greatest game of all. Me, I'm a game designer."
What sort of game should I make?
The answer to that is obviously one that brings you wads of moolah.
A good rule of thumb is to make games that you want to play. Not only will you actually be more enthused about the project (which works wonders when it comes to getting off your arse and finishing it), but that passion will likely reflect in the final product. Or at least it will if you have a passionate artist.
Also keep in mind the audience that's going to play your game. You're looking to steal work hours from employers or keep the employment-challenged contingent busy between bouts of Farmville. Don't design the Flash début of Final Fantasy. Keep it short, sweet, and addicting. Learn from the best.
Another type of game that won't exactly challenge you mentally, but could be useful for quickly filling your girlfriend's wallet, is the news game, or current affairs game. These are games based around what's going on in the news at the minute. By nature, they're the result of a brief love affair between a weekend and lots of Red Bull. They cash in on publicity around the event before flaming out. Remember when Bush nearly got a shoe in the face? Game & Ebay = $7,818. And the guys that bought it made their money back through ads in just 2 days.
Speaking of ads, how can you use them to make yourself some money? If you're super cool and have your own website like this one, you can host the game on your own site, set yourself up with Google AdWords, and watch as your beautifully crafted style is mauled.
On the other, and better, hand, you can add ads into your game. This is much easier than it seems. You can use the Mochi Media (cough) API and set them up in about 2 minutes. There are other services, including Adobe and Google themselves, so search around if you don't trust me.
Which is not very nice.
Ads come in different forms such as preloader ads (the most common), in-game peel-away ads, or inter-levels ads. Use whichever seems natural and doesn't border on spamming the crap out of people.
For ads to truly be effective, you need to get your game out there. Which brings us to:
Making cocaine in Flash form and filling it with the most psychologically seductive ads available won't help if no-one knows about your game. Distribution is almost an article in itself, so I'm just going to sum it up with some snazzy bullet-points like this is PowerPoint (lol).
- For this to work properly, your game needs to be one file. No external loads – embed everything you need.
- Mochi Media et al also offer a distribution service (and the ability to update it). Unless you have a specific reason not to, you should be submitting your game to them all.
- FlashGameDistribution is the sister site to FlashGameLicense (which I'll talk about in a bit) and is set up to help get your game out there.
- Use the social channels. Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Buzz: use them all. Better yet, include share links in the game itself, so people can just click a button to share it.
- Use the different indie sites available to you. If your game is good, a review in one of these can send gajillions of people your way. A write-up from someone like Kotaku is not bad. Like, OK really.
Licensing & Sponsorships
Your best resource to find out about all the different types of licensing and sponsorship deals available is to head to FlashGameLicense and read their FLGopedia.
In a basic sense, you can find a sponsor, who will pay for you to develop your game in return for sticking their logo in there. You can also sell non-exclusive licenses, which means you have a primary sponsor but you're not disallowed from seeking others. Secondary sponsorships obviously don't pay as much, but there's no real limit to how many you have.
You can also get a small amount of money for implementing a site specific API from sites such as Kongregate etc. This can be a bit of extra work, but if you're smart, you can stick it through a class that you can just copy-and-paste into your games.
How much are you likely to make? Well, that depends on your game and how many people are bidding for it. Andy Moore, one of the developers behind SteamBirds posted a Gamasutra article detailing how much they made from the game; roughly $34,000.
Finally, if you have a super successful IP, but don't have the time to continue to develop on it (because you're too busy changing the world with your next effort), or you want to port it to another device but don't have the time/skills, you can also license the rights for other people to develop games based on your IP. There's obviously a lot more legal-wise to this part, but in the traditional game world, IP is king. Entire companies have been bought just to get access to their backlog of IP, so guard yours wisely.
Micro-transactions & Virtual goods
This is selling stuff that's not real...but is. Mochi Media (I should seriously get a kickback for this) include Mochi Coins in their API. Your game needs to be vetted before you can use it, but once you pass, it's easy to let people start giving you money. Adobe also have their version, so take a look at that as well.
What people will pay for is a whole field in itself, and it's deeply rooted in human psychology. You need to really like people and finding out why they do things to be successful at this. Or just follow and learn from the examples of others.
While the holy grail for this is social networks and Facebook, even the humble solitary developer can make this work. Dino Run give you hats for your dinosaur if you donate any amount to the team. Micro-transactions in games also happily peak around the holidays so think about having some themed goodness in there. Play your cards right and you could end up the pround owner of a whale.
Selling physical goods
Goods aren't only confined to the virtual world. If your game has a brand identity, then you can use that to sell physical stuff like soundtracks, t-shirts, posters, mugs, whatever. At the Farmville store, they sell pretty much anything that your mother could want. Again, this isn't limited to big companies; the team behind Bunni: how we first met sell t-shirts on their site.
The key to all this is to have an original, identifiable brand identity. Gamers can be very passionate about the game they love. Having a fan base will also help when you launch other games as well.
Downloadable games / other versions
Flash has long been able to export as an .exe that people can download to their computer, but with the introduction of Air, you can now take it to a whole new level of system-wiping installable goodness. Learn from the masters at PopCap; use an online web version as a demo to sell people on your concept, then provide a full downloadable version for the low low price of $19.95.
With the latest Flash update (10.1), there's also the option of taking the mobile route and developing for Android (and iPhone, when Apple stop being losers). Each new platform lets you use different features and explore your game in different ways.
In fact, one of Flash's strongest features is the ability to support web, PC, Mac, Linux, Android and iPhone with minimal coding. There's not many development platforms that can say that. As any self-respecting indie knows, supporting Mac and Linux can have excellent benefits.
Some indie devs actually sell custom versions of their game. Daniel Benmergui, the developer behind the excellent Today I Die offers different rewards for individuals who donate different amounts. For example, $27 will get your name and a link in the credits for his next game, while for $995, he would create a custom game based on one of his games, with characters of your choice and a different ending if desired (he's since stopped offering that).
Custom games aren't something to set your mortgage payments up on, but they can be a nice supplementary income.
Occasionally, if you keep your ear to the ground, you can enter different competitions that you see around. Sometimes they're worth it and sometimes they're not. Sometimes the prize money offered coupled with the restrictions as a result of the rules make it not worth the while of a good developer (so be sure to read the small print). Other times, winning a competition can give you a much needed publicity boost and help get your name out there.
Of special mention is the Experimental Gameplay Project. This site, run by some of the indie heavyweights, runs a friendly competition every month around a specific theme. While you can use any language you like, not just Flash, it can be quite fun to challenge yourself around a theme for a few days. Not only will it make you think outside the box, but you can learn a lot by playing the games of the other developers as well.
Get a job, you bum
Finally, the simplest way to making money through Flash is to get a job (btw, we're hiring, so if you want to make Flash games in Paris, let me know). With the explosion of gaming on social networks – especially now that MySpace, Hi5, Bebo, and the yet unconfirmed GoogleMe are all focusing their networks around games – there's never been more opportunities to get a job as a game developer.
Not only will actively developing games as a living vastly improve your abilities, but the regular paycheck doesn't hurt either.
To get a job in the industry, it's essential to have some sort of portfolio, and for that, you need to make games. Try selling them on the way. Maybe you'll be in a position where you don't need a job after all. Autonomy is a powerful motivator.
There's a myriad of ways to make money through Flash, and more ways keep appearing every day. With perseverance, a good idea, a lot of polish, and the ability to appear like a respectable company (business cards help), financial independence is yours for the taking.
Also, the beautiful thing about Flash is that, once it's on the web, it never stops making you money.