Earn “Money” Making Flash Games

Video game industry mag Gamasutra has published an article called Where’s the Cash for Flash?. Through a smattering of interviews with successful indie Flash game devs, the article propagates the myth that Flash game development is profitable.

Bigfoot

Pictured here, a highly profitable Flash game, which many anthropologists deem to be a hoax.

The nice bit is that they include actual numbers, which makes it easy to expose the supposedly booming industry for the sham it is. Here is the total revenue for Dino Run by PixelJam Games:

Bottom line: The three revenue streams [donations, advertising and licensing] have brought in approximately $40,000 for seven months’ work with more still trickling in.

It sounds alright, until you consider that PixelJam supports two guys who quit their day job, who spent seven months making Dino Run. Let’s ask our friends Logic and Mathematics how the fellas are doing.

  • $40k divided by 2 developers = $20k per developer
  • $20k divided by 7 months = $2857.14 per developer per month
  • multiply that by 12 months for a $34285.68 gross base salary
  • assume around 262 working days per year at 8 hours a day, and that’s $16.35/hr
  • chip off 15% for federal income tax here in Canada, for example (not to mention provincial sales tax), and your $35k annual take is whittled down to $29k

Depending on where you live, $16/hr may sound like a decent living wage. It could buy you a comfortable ice palace in Antarctica, with a wait staff of affable penguins to help you keep the place tidy. But here in Toronto, it’s piddly. You’ll find yourself renting a 500 square foot apartment in a dodgy neighbourhood, eating cold beans out of a can with a spoon. You’re one bounced cheque away from living in a van down by the river.

Motivational speaker Matt Foley, as portrayed by SNL alum Chris Farley

Matt Foley would have taken up Flash game development, if it didn’t amount to JACK SQUAAAT!!!

Commenter (and Flash game developer) T├Ánu Paldra hits the nail on the head with this comment, which deserves to be quoted in its entirety:

While this is well written article, I have a feeling that by focusing on few extremely successful developers it may give pretty skewed image of Flash game markets. There are thousands of game made every month, thousands of developers all hoping to make the next big hit. Yes, many of those games are not even very good but there are countless examples of really good games that practically do not gain any money. Because the Flash games are so easy to make, so many people are jumping in and trying it out and when they dont get sums mentioned in article, Im afraid they may feel cheated.

Its like writing a article about music business featuring Madonna, Michael Jackson and Britney Spears. The theme: look, you can make money with music! Yes, thats true but honestly, how many artists in reality are gaining such mountains of cash?

That’s right. Readers may be disappointed when they fail to pull in as much as $16/hr for their hard work and effort. i should say so.

The average freelance rate for Flash work here in Toronto is between $50 and $75/hr. Studio rates can range from $35-$150/hr depending on the experience and availability of the team. $16 is what you earn when you’re promoted to shift supervisor at Burger Picker.

If the people we hold up as our Flash game success stories are pulling down the same wage as a department store shoe clerk nearing retirement, we need to reconsider our definition of “success”. Until i hear otherwise, and as long as my own experiments prove entirely fruitless, i’m confident in writing off original Flash game development as an increasingly losing game.

30 thoughts on “Earn “Money” Making Flash Games

  1. Alessio Rocchi

    Here in Italy a developer does not earn 2800$/month, it’s rather on the line of 1500$/month (warning, while it may seem that the low salary means low prices, notice a car here costs 17000$ and a 1000 square foot apartment will cost you around 460K$).

    So here in Italy trying to make money with flash games is still profitable :D (well at least until you earn enough to emigrate in Toronto).

    Putting jokes apart (still, the figures I wrote before are completely true), I must say this rant is completely true.
    Me myself, and friends, are trying the road of indie flash developers (obviously, in our spare time).
    We are IT engineering students, and we are not quitting university because of it, but honestly we would love it turning out to be a nice job.

    Apart from studying, I work part-time for a company that sells web solutions, something like 4hours a day, 5 days a week, in the e-commerce field (creating oscommerce solutions, developing graphical themes for customers, creating (php) code to address customers particular needs, developing credit card modules for the miriad of payment gateways in Italy, managing and programming solutions that help customers migrate their old shop DB to our oscommerce-based solution), and getting 770USD/month, working in the black market (unreported employment).

    After all, I don’t know which is worst! :D

    Reply
  2. Ryan

    Thanks so much for your perspective, Alessio. You’re confirming what i’ve suspected: Flash game development can be profitable if it’s a) a hobby, rather than a full-time job or b) if you live in a country with a lower cost or standard of living. Not that Italy qualifies as having a low cost of living, as you pointed out.

    Do you know what freelance Flash developers earn in Italy? i’m curious.

    Reply
  3. Alessio Rocchi

    Ryan,
    about the freelance Flash developers in Italy, well, seems like you can aspire to 65USD/hr if you work for one of the greatest web agencies in Milan.
    A programmer with 2 years of work experience on Flash gets around 15USD/hr.

    Did you check out Emanuele Feronato blog?
    Our first experiment has been motivated by his flash games monetization experiments, even if that were roughly one year ago.. we will let you know about our results, for sure :)

    Reply
  4. Ryan

    Yes – for sure. Emanuele linked to us a few weeks ago. i checked out his blog and found it very strong, so i put him on our blogroll.

    The people here in Toronto who earn $50 and up are senior devs with at least 3-4 years’ experience, with many titles under their belts. They can code in AS3. There’s a rift widening between those who can and those who can’t – unforuntately, AS3 is leaving some talented developers in the dust.

    So the Flex and AS3 guys are making good money, but it’s always for fee-for-service contracts. i don’t know anyone in Toronto who’s making a living on original Flash stuff. Well … maybe this guy:

    http://bunnyherolabs.com/

    Reply
  5. Squize

    Nicely written article mate.

    I did one in response to the original one too,
    http://blog.gamingyourway.com/PermaLink,guid,7b3c73a9-00a6-4f48-94a4-372d17dd8775.aspx
    ( Hope you don’t think that’s too spammy, I will link back to this page ).

    Rather than drawing comparisons in wages ( As that’s tricky, as it’s all so relative. I live in London so my costs are greater than someone who lives just 50 miles away ) my problem with the article was it makes it all sound so easy, just get yourself a copy of Flash and you’ll be sleeping on a bed of cash wearing a crown in no time.
    In effect in cheapens the hard work which actually goes into making a game. Yeah Flash is easier than assembler on the C64 but it’s hardly drag and drop and it’s done, that’s $40k please.

    Reply
  6. Ryan

    Agreed, Squize. The reason i’m getting my back up about cost of living is because i know companies who are in more remote parts of the country (or even, like you say, 50 miles away), who don’t have the same big-city worries that i have. It makes me wonder if i have to move to a rural area (or Bangalore) to compete.

    And i can’t STAND rural areas. Here in the city, if i fall down and scrape my knee, i can pull myself with one arm to the nearest hospital, which is often about seven feet away. In the country, i’ll be mauled by a mountain lion, and i’ll slowly bleed out over the course of a long lonely winter. Then they’ll discover my corpse when they go to sow a new crop of beets. No thanks.

    Reply
  7. pcheddar

    I took a stab at making flash games last year when I heard all the hype as well. I was in college, so I had nothing to lose.

    My experiences in the “flash game industry” have basically lead me to the exact some conclusions you made Ryan. The success stories touted around on fortunes made with flash games are but of the few rare examples. There are thousands of flash games being made that will earn MUCH less than $16/hr, and more in the range of $0/hr.

    For anybody considering entering this market, you must understand it’s very competitive and the quality of the games are improving at a rapid pace, as more people jump on the bandwagon. You’ll need, at the very least, 1 skilled artist and 1 skilled programmer, or your games won’t even get a second look now-a-days. It’s also a very risky venture, as even well made games run the risk of fading into obscurity (meaning next to no money earned for a lot of hard work spent).

    I think one of the reasons why all this flash game hype exists is there are special interests out there that benefit from the never-ending stream of low-cost content. Namely the top gaming portals, but also online ad companies. They are feeding off the life long dreams of many who always wanted to make games for a living. Who doesn’t have that dream;)

    Learning AS3/Flash is great as a resume stuffer and showcase to potential employers, but unless you live in a country where you can feed a family of 4 on $100 American dollars a month, don’t plan on making flash games as a full time career. Keep it a hobby only. That way, making flash games will be more fun, and when you do earn a few bucks, it will be all the more satisfying.

    Reply
  8. Ryan

    Thanks for sharing your numbers, Badim. $40k annually at 4 hours a day is decent, but $40k for twelve game is not. It looks like your strategy was to shovel out sequels and spin-offs. That’s one plan, i guess, but i have to admit i don’t find it appealing.

    Reply
  9. Brennon Williams

    Ryan,

    Kudos to you for making a bible-based game in today’s world, that takes a lot of guts. I posted my 1st game this morning, and the feedback was less than friendly. I’ve made a grand total of $0.14 today, looks like I can retire early at last!

    Keep up the good work,

    Brennon

    Reply
    1. Ryan

      Thanks, Brennon. i think there’s a place for these games. If more churches had their act together vis a vis their websites, the games could live there.

      – Ryan

      Reply
  10. LongAnimals

    Ryan,
    The first trick for making money from Flash games is to make good ones (or indeed popular ones) No amount of pimping a crap game is going to make you enough money to live on.
    The second is to make them very quickly. To do this, believe it or not, you have to be pretty good at what you do.
    There is a massive gap between being professional and all the hobbyists out there. To make money at this it helps to be at least a little professional.
    As in any line of business, generally the better at it you are, the more money you will make. The trouble with Flash is that there are many many extremely bad game makers out there. You don’t see thousands of kids trying to work in a law firm without qualifications, because the barrier to entry is too high. With Flash and the mountain of information available on the internet, it’s extremely easy to make a poor game, so everyone is doing it.
    I think I’m just rambling :-)

    Reply
    1. Ryan

      LongAnimals – i agree on your first point. You can’t expect to make good money from a bad game. As i’ve mentioned elsewhere, the barrier i had in front of me was that i didn’t want to widely distribute a *good* game for free, because (as i mention in this article), even the so-called successful people aren’t getting paid enough for their work through the ad rev share model. i hope that virtual payments in Flash will correct this.

      On your second point, though, we differ. Creating more games faster is not the answer. Check out Dan Cook’s second Flash Love Letter, where he calls for Flash devs to focus on longer-term projects:

      http://lostgarden.com/2009/08/flash-love-letter-2009-part-2.html

      This is what we’re attempting with games like Kahoots:

      http://www.untoldentertainment.com/blog/kahoots-designer-diary

      i hope it looks, in your wording “at least a little professional” ;)

      – Ryan

      Reply
  11. LongAnimals

    Ryan,
    What I’m saying is that if you want to make money, you have to make very good games AND make them quickly. That’s where the real skill comes in to it.
    It’s easy to spend 3 months making the great game, but if you make the same game in one month then of course you turn a much bigger profit.
    I make extremely good money making Flash games, but then I know what I’m doing ;-)
    We’ve just been experimenting with taking a lot longer over a game (CycloManicas took six weeks!) and will report back as to whether it is a good idea to spend this long in a few months when we get the figures.

    The thing about doing longer-term games is that there is inherently more risk involved.
    I’ve been in the console game industry for nearly 20 years, and have seen how many companies have gone under because of the drive for bigger games. It seems likely to happen in the flash business in the next few years too, as the drive for quality and size continues.

    Kahoots looks great. Looking forward to seeing that one released.

    Reply
  12. Social Gaming Guide

    I gotta agree with you. The money for flash games isn’t there right now and I don’t know if it will ever be enough to really make anyone rich. The ones making the money are the places like AddictingGames who either create mass games or purchase/lease these games for their website and pull in millions yearly doing it. I think a large problem with the flash game developers is that they don’t posses any marketing skills to try to get the game out there themselves and monetize it which kills the profits all together.

    Reply
    1. Ryan

      Social Gaming Guide – i’d like to think it’s a different story if you take a developer (us, for instance) with marketing and branding chops to unleash a product in the free-to-play Flash circles. But the more i look at it, the more that i realize “free” is the problem.

      We’re giving it one more shot with Interrupting Cow Trivia, which has a $20-30k budget, with microtransactions and membership hooks that will hopefully pull players back to our site and help us to grow an audience. i’m skeptical, though.

      Reply
    1. Ryan Henson Creighton

      This series was written long before Facebook games became a thing. i can add FB to the list of places to try to monetize. but my biggest problem with the platform is that they can (and do) change the rules without notice, and to the detriment of developers. i don’t have the time or resources to revisit my content every 6 months to respond to the shifting sands of Facebook policy. Do you?

      Reply
  13. creative agency in london

    Hi! I know this is kind of off topic but I was wondering which blog platform are you using for this site? I’m getting fed up of WordPress because I’ve had issues with hackers and I’m looking at alternatives for another platform. I would be fantastic if you could point me in the direction of a good platform.

    Reply
    1. Ryan Henson Creighton

      This one’s just a heavily modified WordPress blog. i know what you mean, though … i’ve had a lot of trouble with hackers in the past few months. i don’t really know the solution to that, but i quite like WP despite the difficulty.

      Reply
  14. Celtic Dragon

    A few points I’d like to gesticulate wildly at whilst jumping up and down and making meowing noises for no apparent reason:

    I’ve played Dino Run, and, while fun, it doesn’t exactly seem like a 7-month project for two developers to me (not without a lot of lounging around, extreme sports, and waffling about details/implemenations/etc (with butter and syrup)). Chances are it was either not the only thing they were working on at the time, or they weren’t working full-time on it (which would change your $/hr calcs)… but even if it was, they quit their jobs to do something that they enjoy and get paid for it (surely the most relevant point, considering ~$30,000 is not exactly chump change, even if it isn’t the height of possible incomes).

    How much of the 7 months encapsulates the design phase (the phase where people sit around and get smashed and do such strenuous work as think of ideas, write them down, scribble them out, get more smashed, think of other ideas, pass out and forget what they were because they didn’t write them down, wake up with a hangover, take the day off (still part of the design phase, so “work”), and repeat until they run low enough on funds to dig one of their scribbled-out ideas from the bin and actually attempt to make it)?

    Also, at some point, enhancements and porting suffer from diminishing returns, I’m sure (where they are more than minimal tasks). If a significant amount of time was spent porting (re-coding), the question should re-focus on what the relevant returns for each port is per relevant amount of work input, since it my skew the results otherwise. No?

    Reply
  15. Simon Walklate

    $16/hr sure does suck, especially when you consider EVERY game they make needs to be that successful to maintain that rate, otherwise it’s taking a nosedive. Creating your own Flash games and relying on ad-revenue/sponsorship is always going to be a massive gamble, obviously more so the longer the project.

    I don’t necessarily agree on the quality point made by LongAnimals, from my experience the market is extremely unpredictable. Yes, if the game is genuinely rubbish then it’s unlikely many will play it, but at the same time, spending months refining a game (both artwork and code) doesn’t guarantee any success either.

    From my personal experience, out of 10 Flash games the one that was by far the most successful (earned about $5k so far) was the 2 week quickie experiment project, not the 3 month, much more polished and much better gameplay project (which incidentally has barely made $500). I think quality is important up to a point, but it’s only one of many factors. For a start (in terms of ad revenue) you can have a game that gets a couple of million plays outperform a game that gets 20+ million plays. Everyone in China might love your game, but you’re not going to earn much ad revenue from it unless you get the right people playing it.

    As for making a living from self-published projects, I totally agree. If it wasn’t for commissioned projects I’d be living in a cardboard box.

    Reply
  16. Paul Kinnunen

    I am just starting out in this business, but why not also be aggressive with marketing in the sense that you actually would go out on the streets, and give flyers to people, hang creative/atttention drawing posters around the city. Plus of course putting up a facebook page, a teaser on YouTube and such before actually putting out the game, so you can measure by the amount of followers/ friends, etc if there even is a point in finishing/making the complete game. Im a graphic designer in profession. Just thinking…

    Reply
  17. Paul Kinnunen

    Just to add, of course a bad game is just a bad game, but the probabilities of people giving atleast a glance/test of your game rise in my opinion if your standing in flesh and blood and presenting your work to people, of course depending on if you can stomach the social aspect in the matter. I couldnt care less about a zombie kill game ad dropping for exampel into my email. Just be creative….

    Reply

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