Category Archives: Blog

Feast Your Eyes on Fingerprints

We’re full steam ahead on our next game, codename: Fingerprints. The game is not actually called “Codename: Fingerprints”. You see – it’s a game, and it has a real name, and the codename is Fingerprints. We can’t reveal what the game’s actual name is (note: it is NOT “Codename: Fingerprints”), but we CAN share with you this tantalizing taste to tickle whet your gamelust:

fingerprints teaser

Let’s see … what more can we say? Fingerprints is a puzzle game (but NOT a Match-3 game) with multiple modes and variations. It’s being built in plasticine, as you can see.

The game will be released for the browser in Flash initially. Then we’re porting it to the iPhone and iPod Touch. Click the fingerprints tag to keep up with progress on the game, or for the ultra secret inside track, follow our tweetage on Twitter. We’ll be announcing our alpha test phase soon, and you won’t want to miss it!

The Case Against Free

Having built my fair share of online advergames (read: far too many), and generally being frugal with my game purchases (i buy all my games used), i’ve long been a fan of the free-to-play game model: play the game as long as you like, and maybe you can kick in a buck or two for a new hat.

Or the free trial game: play the game’s first level for free, and then pay (or not) for the full experience.

Or the advergame: play a decent Arkanoid clone with Toucan Sam whispering sweet nothings about sugar cereal in your ear the whole time.

Or the ad-supported model: stare blankly at a text-only plug for Viagra or U.N.I.V.E.R.S.I.T.Y. degrees for fifteen seconds before the game starts.

A Clockwork Orange

Buy now, and we’ll throw in the chamois!

David Frampton at Majic Jungle Software makes a strong case against devaluing your software. In his experience, lowering the cost of entry brings out the worst in people:

… a $0.99 app will get MANY one star reviews, even after increasing the price. Two months later reviews like this will still show up:
“…i vot it for 99cents and now its a wopping 5bucks woow…”

LESSON LEARNED:
If you price your app too low, you will get bad reviews.

Beholden to Quick-Fix Fun Junkies

We see the same phenomenon with online Flash games. There are countless portals hosting scads of games, and nearly all of them are free. The customer can just flit from game to game like a fun-hungry hummingbird, making up his mind about the entire product in a fraction of a second.

Rocket Robin Hood Friar Tuck

Friar Tuck from Rocket Robin Hood only takes one bite of that chicken leg before throwing it away. Free Flash games are wastefully sampled in much the same way.

The result is that customers develop loyalty to the portal (miniclip, addictinggames, pogo, etc), instead of being loyal to the game or the developer. That’s a messed up model. Think of a world where TV viewers are fans of ABC, instead of being fans of the actual shows that the station airs. “Are you watching ABC tonight? i just love ABC! i wonder what offerings ABC has for me this evening?”

Don’t Love the Game Aggregator – Love the Game

Customers should follow content, not content aggregators. Contrast the iPhone App Store and online Flash game portals with a service like Xbox Live. The brilliant Achievements system was designed to increase loyalty to the Xbox 360 platform, sure. But developers are able to leverage those customers with the way they structure their game’s Achievements.

20 gamer points for trying the online mode. 15 gamer points for designing a custom character. Developers can move players through the game by dangling gamer point carrots in front of them, ensuring that players experience everything the game has to offer before deciding to stay or move on. Games like Catan make no bones about where they want players to spend their time, with tantalizing Achievements set for playing hundreds of Catan games online over Xbox Live.

Doing Lines

i’ve seen the free/ingrate phenomenon rear its ugly head in other areas of my life. i’ll never forget a trip to Disney World where a friend and i got into the park an hour early as a bonus for staying at the Disney camp ground. We knew we’d have time to jet through an empty line-up and be the first to ride anything we wanted. For whatever reason, i suggested Peter Pan, so we made a beeline for it.

Just as we’d hoped: there was no line-up, and we cruised through all the chains and cordons and hopped into the first pirate ship carriage in line, unbelievably giddy because we hadn’t languished in a mile-long queue.

It was the worst ride of my life.

Suddenly, all the animatronic characters looked stupid. The sets were dull. i was not entertained. i did not have fun. i gave the ride one star. i kept thinking about some other ride i’d rather be on.

Peter Pan's Flight

i guess some things are better when you’re six?

For the rest of the day, we found ourselves sitting on the barricades at ride after ride after ride, waiting our turn for up to an hour. And all of those rides were great.

Investment, be it time or money, favourably increases expectation.

Higher Quality Products Attract Higher Quality Customers

My mother runs a singles group. Unmarried adults pay her a membership fee to attend different social events that she organizes, from bowling and mini-golf to fancy dinners and dances. The less she charges, the more unsatisfied customers she gets. The more she charges, the higher the “pedigree” of her customers becomes. She sometimes gets worried about turning a profit, so she’ll run a less expensive event and hope to make it up in volume. But time and time again, this strategy bites her, to the point where some of her ultra-cheap customers just refuse to pay. Her most successful events are the ones that cost more money. The quality of her patrons improves, their satisfaction ratings improve, and the business turns a profit.

Of course, we’ve all experienced this. A fifty dollar steak will generally taste better than a six dollar steak, even if they’re the same cut and are prepared by the same chef. Humans are funny that way.

All this is enough to make me rethink the benefits of free-to-play models, as both a business owner and a consumer. Maybe i’ll start buying high-quality furniture rather than kindling from that Swedish place with the metal pegs and the allen keys? What if i start ordering all my clothes from the LL Bean catalogue? This could be a problem.

Is pricier really better, or am i just slowly turning into an old white guy?

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) Tõnu 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.

Get Rich Slow

The crew at AppCubby has posted another excellent entry, titled The Experiment, where they agonize over the state of the iPhone App Store. The company dropped the price of their application to the supposedly mandated 99 cent mark, and compared total sales against revenue, concluding:

I was starting to think the $0.99 price point might actually be sustainable given the increase in volume … [but] it quickly became apparent that the $0.99 price point wasn’t going to work long term. The harsh reality is that very few apps can “make it up on volume”.

This piece is far less ranty than their other posts, which featured a lot of fist-shaking at God/Jobs and impotent fuming over why Apple wasn’t mailing them thousand dollar checks every day.

Droopy Dog

App Cubby watches its iPhone millionaire prospects fizzle.

Faced with banging out cheap and dirty fart soundboards and other unsavoury apps of limited utility, the developer courageously decides to charge what he feels his products are worth, and ignore the Klondike-style race to an overnight iPhone fortune.

i hope that this novel concept of earning money for hard work and earnest, quality development catches on. Meanwhile, for the month of March, please look forward to 99 cent sale price for Untold Entertainment’s JiggleTits 2.0.