i’m taking Two by Two from the Untold Entertainment library to see how various online monetization methods for Flash games pan out.
Part 2: Kongregate
This is a website hailing itself as “the Youtube of video games”. Upload your game to the site to participate in their revenue share split – as the developer, you earn a portion of the advertisting money. Kongregate also has weekly and monthly contests to attract new games on a regular basis. The site offers a bigger portion of the revenue pie to developers who integrate their more “hooky” features like high scores and statistics, as well as making your game exclusive to their site.
i first heard about Kongregate at Game Developers’ Conference 2007. The founder, Jim Greer, spoke on a panel or two about how he was going to revolutionize the Internet by creating the “Youtube of Games”. You might be tempted to say that massive flash portals like Miniclip or AddictingGames have already laid claim to that title, but one thing sets Kongregate apart: the ability to upload content to the site is in the hands of the masses, in exchange for an automatic, built-in share of the advertising revenue pie.
Mmm … pie.
Power to the People
Kongregate’s premise is simple and direct: you upload a Flash game to the site. In exchange for the free content, Kongregate will give you a cut of the ad revenues. The more you incorporate the site’s unique player-hooking features, the more revenue percentage they’re willing to part with.
It breaks down like this:
25% of ad revenue – default
+ 10% – incorporating Kongregate’s APIs (there are currently two: High Scores and Statistics)
+ 15% – making your game Kongregate-exclusive (you can still host the game on your personal site)
So developers can earn between 25 and 50% of ad revenues. Since the name of the experiment is Pimp My Game, i automatically had to kiss that exclusivity bonus goodbye. But it was time to see if integrating the APIs was worth my while, or if it would only add aggravation to the upload process.
It’s Apparent It’s a Parent
When your game is played on Kongregate, it’s presented in a special wrapper that houses your game, a high scores page, and a communal chat room common to all games. Within the chat room, you can make friends, ask for help with the games you’re playing, or see what your pals are playing and hop over to those games. Based on flagrant disregard for proper spelling and grammar and reckless abuse of acronyms, i would put the Kongregate player base at an average of twelve years old, and very, very male. Clearly, a Biblically-themed flip n’ match game is what these players crave.
The parent Flash movie that houses your game can easily be tapped into by typing on your keyboard thusly:
From there, you can access the High Scores and Statistics APIs.
The whole point of statistics is to record every significant action a player performs in your game so that they can be checked against the site’s Badges. Badges (of which we don’t need none, particularly of the stinkin’ variety) are Kongregate’s homage to Achievements on the XBox Live service, or Sizzling Hits of Solid Crack on EA’s Pogo.com. The twist is that you don’t actually set these badges up yourself. This is to prevent someone from launching a popular game that just hands thousands of easy points to players. *cough* Avatar *cough*
You have only to integrate Statistics into your game and report on things like Zombies Killed, Levels Defeated, Potions Earned, Sweaters Knitted, etc etc. Once your game has garnered enough plays and positive reviews, Kongregate staff may shine on you and build Badges for your game, utilizing the Statistics you set up back at Upload Time. If they don’t decide to build any Badges, you guessed it: integrating the API helped earn you that rev share bonus, but it was otherwise pointless.
On the up side, Statistics are extremely easy to integrate:
That’s it. Just pass some custom stat name to the container movie. The second parameter keeps track of how the stat should be tallied – additive, replacement, replace if maximum, etc. Simple. The only other step is to create identically-named Statistics entries on the Upload page. The site instructions weren’t very clear about where and how this happens, but it becomes obvious when you take a leap of faith and click the “UPLOAD” button.
At this point, i was absolutely loving all the effort that Kongregate put into making the process dead-simple for its content providers. And then i hit the High Scores Wall.
Not ‘API. Not ‘API at all.
You can do two things with Kongregate’s High Scores API: fire a score to the container clip, or request a list of scores and display them in-game. i thought i’d go whole-hog and display scores in-game in addition to sending them to the container, so i started building a new score board for Two by Two.
The disadvantage of the Kongregate wrapper is that High Scores are split across successive pages if you submit different scores for different gameplay modes. This meant that Two By Two’s scores would be split across Easy, Medium and Hard score pages. The in-game board i was building would therefore not be redundant: it could display all three modes on the same screen, next to each user name.
i spent a few hours building and testing the new score board, and at long last it was time to upload my first game to Kongregate.
Failure to Launch
When i had entered all of my game’s information, uploaded a thumbnail and registered all of the game Statistics, i clicked the “Upload” button. Kongregate.com had a think. Then it threw an error. The worst kind of error: an error that’s worded something like this:
We’re sorry, an error has occurred.
The comma splice just adds insult to injury. What’s a 12 year old developer supposed to do with a message like that? The error kept popping up every time i tried to upload my swf.
i hit the reasonably active message boards and poked around. One user said that he tried uploading from another computer and he didn’t get the error. Was that really the solution? i transferred the game over to my laptop and gave it a try. Lo and behold – it worked. Sheesh. i wonder what i would have done without that extra machine? Probably abandoned Kongregate.
Scores of Problems
Uploading my game to a test page was like opening Pandora’s Box – Pandora’s Box of Crappy Programming Problems. Kongregate’s High Scores API was working just fine. i could submit a score through the wrapper and it would show up. But when i tried to pull down the high scores list into the game to display it on my shiny new scoreboard, i got nothin’.
i spent a few days posting to the board and waiting for a response. i could have sworn i’d seen a post where people said you could trace actions out to the Kongregate chat window to test your game. When i finally got a response, i learned that server reports could be seen in the chat window, but i was on my own if i wanted to actually trace information out of my game. The eventual solution was to enable debugging in my game file, and to upload the swf file and the debugging swd file along with it.
Unfortunately, Kongregate started throwing me more Mystery Errors whenever i’d upload a swd file, so my process went like this:
- Make a change to my game file.
- Upload the swf and the swd
- Check five checkboxes.
- Crash the site.
- Go back to the upload page and re-upload the swf.
- Check five checkboxes.
- Test the game. No worky.
Now matter which court officials you bribe, these bastards always default to “unchecked”
It got so that i would STARE at Kongregate’s sample High Scores code, eyes straining to see any subtle difference that i was missing, or maybe to deign the Secrets of the Code by having a pure heart and wishing on the morning star.
Eventually, i wrote a test file. It had buttons to submit scores, and a button to refresh the scoreboard. i pared it down to its barest essentials and … nothing.
All the while, my posts languished on the Kongregate message boards. i had written a few different messages appealing to the site staff for help, but nothing came through. In their defense, the middle of the week saw a hack attack where the top games’ thumbnails were replaced with pics of Michael Jackson and Tom Cruise, and the boards filled up with messages screaming about PIRATE HAT CATS. The site operators and moderators had their hands full. (But judging by the time it took them to clean up their boards, they didn’t have efficient moderation tools.)
Toward the end of the week, days later, i finally received my answer from Kongregate staff:
Sorry about this, we had to temporarily disable this functionality as the query was occasionally killing our servers. We should be re-enabling this service soon.
Dotcom silicon valley sons of bitches.
Off i went, undoing all the work i had done to integrate Kongregate’s high scores system at their behest. Finally, i had a functional game that was ready to upload to the service.
Win Jim Greer’s Money
Once you decide to forego Kongregate’s busted High Scores API and publish your friggin’ game already, page three of the upload page is a delight: Where do we Send the Cheque? Site founder Jim Greer churned up a ton of money from angel investors, and he’s not whistling Dixie: every game that’s uploaded to Kongregate is entered into Weekly and Monthly popularity contests to win even more cash. The best part is that these prizes are doled out based on how highly Kongregate players rate your game, so if you’re a people who knows people, you could sleaze your way into a cool hundred bucks by emailing a million of your friends. Kongregate, of course, is okay with this.
One weekly prize could put Two by Two well over my initial Pimp My Game estimates, but i know it’s not going to happen. Aside from being far too short, as Armor Games already pointed out, Two by Two does not contain any zombies, boobies, shooting, techno music, dinosaurs, or any other touchpoint of the twelve year old zeitgeist. i think realistically, the most i can hope for is a fluke week where every other entry is lacklustre. Reach for the stars!
Within moments of uploading my game, seven people played it and i received my first comment. Kongregate member Carados called it “decent”. A brief assessment of a brief game. How fitting!
i announced to the players in the chat channel that i had just uploaded a new game. One player said “Which game?” Another player replied “Two by Two.” Kongregate’s integration tools were working.
Despite the hiccups with the disabled High Scores functionality, i enjoyed the process of uploading my game to Kongregate. The APIs couldn’t be easier to integrate. The site was clearly laid out, the upload process was straightforward, and the site got down to business right away by asking me where to mail the cheque. i wondered how much of this was just empty promises.
i clicked the intriguing “My Ad Revenue Report” on my Kongregate profile page. Within half an hour of uploading the game, and at the time of this writing, Two by Two hard earned its very first revenue: two cents.
At this point, we haven’t quite recuperated our development costs.
time spent: ~ 8 hours (your mileage will definitely vary)
result: successful upload to the service – immediate game ratings, comments and revenue balance
cash earned to date: $0.02
Let’s take another look at our graph and see how much money the game is earning, shall we?
While posting the first comment, it appears that Carados literally put his two cents in.
Kongregate starts paying out at $25.00. YOU can help that happy day arrive.
Keep watching this feature for more info on monetizing your Flash games!