i’ve been talking and posting a LOT lately about Flash microtransactions. i’m at the point now where if i had just spent the same amount of time developing that i’ve spent flapping my gumholes, i’d have published some solid content by now.
But i’m hoping that all of this research and planning and thinking and fretting will pay off for our company. One of our bidness goals this year is to release at least two products that will earn us some residual income. “Some” residual income is our barest minimum goal, with “lots” as a preferable target. (All estimates are approximated.)
This, i believe, is roughly half a pile.
If you’ve been with us all year, you’ll know that we’ve been working sporadically on a fun crime-themed puzzle game called Kahoots™, which we’ve modelled entirely in clay. After a lot of reading, attending conferences, and talking to you, our awesome readership, we’ve developed an ambitious publishing plan for Kahoots™ that is both revolutionary AND awesomepants. As many of the readers here are game developers themselves, i encourage and entreat you all to comment on this release strategy, give us your feedback and input, and help us handle the launch of Kahoots™ later this year with the utmost amazingosity.
Our Three-fold Release Strategy
With Kahoots™, we’re attempting something that i think no one’s ever done before. If i’m wrong, please correct me. i’m not trying to get into Guiness or anything – i’m just trying to maximize our ability to profit from the game. We’re going to try to make Kahoots™ available in three forms at launch:
- On casual downloadable portals
- On free-to-play Flash portals
- Via direct sales on the Untold Entertainment website
A casual downloadable portal is one where players download a time-limited trial version of the game – usually an executable (exe) file. At the end of the hour-long trial, the player can opt to purchase a license to play the remaining x hours. The big players in the casual downloadable space include Big Fish Games, iWin, WildTangent and RealArcade.
The big fish in that pond is definitely Big Fish. After a recent price war with Amazon Games, Big Fish has tuned its pricing down to $6.99 for all of the titles it distributes. (BFG also has a free-to-play section on the site, but let’s keep this simple.)
Since BFG has such enormous distribution, they should be a major factor in any release strategy in the casual downloadable space. When i heard the gents from 2D Boy (World of Goo) speak at the Game Developers’ Conference 2009, they strongly advocated a worldwide simultaneous launch with a consistent price tag. Since BFG are rock-solid on their pricing, that means that for better or for worse, the full version of Kahoots™ will cost $6.99 USD, everywhere.
Shut up, fish.
(Naturally, we’ll have to develop a different release strategy when Kahoots™ is published to the iPhone, as gamers there refuse to pay more than seven cents per title)
Why not have our cake and eat it, too? Since companies like GamerSafe, MochiMedia and HeyZap have released virtual payment platforms specifically for Flash games, we can also monetize Kahoots through the free-to-play networks.
The process on free-to-play portals will look identical to the casual downloadable portals, except without the exe download: play a limited version of the game, and pay a one-time fee of $6.99 for the full version of the game using a Flash virtual currency transaction. i cooked up this plan when it dawned on me that microtransactions didn’t actually have to be micro.
One of our readers, Paolo (AKA GameDevigner), gave me the idea of building a downloadable AIR app to better mirror the experience players would have on the casual downloadable portals. Pay your seven bucks, and you can “have” the game. This is certainly something worth considering.
Kahoots™ will be available on UntoldEntertainment.com for $6.99 USD. i’m still not sure how to pull this off. The trouble is with DRM (digital rights management). i can very easily just provide the exe link and put the game behind a PayPal wall, but that does nothing for me if people want to share that exe around.
So there are a number of companies who offer “wrappers”, which are like digital soft taco shells that you roll around your content, and they take care of the whole serial number/version lock/DRM thing for you. The trouble is that these wrappers are either
- hella expensive in the short run, requiring large up-front fees
- hella expensive in the long run, taking a 6-10% cut of profits (in addition to the payment provider’s fee)
- both. Some products charge the fee AND take the cut. Then they slap your mama in the face.
Another intriguing and inflammatory thing the 2D Boy guys said was that you should not worry about DRMing your game. They said you shouldn’t waste precious time and money cooking up a protection scheme, because every game in the history of foreverville has been pirated, and once the protection layer is cracked, it’s like having your unprotected exe floating around out there anyway, so why waste your time?
When i see the business models for a lot of these sharky wrapper companies, i’m tempted to follow 2D Boys’ advice.
Yo yo yo – ima take my twelve percent now, boyeeeeee.
i’ll Buy THAT for $1.00 (plus $5.99 USD)
So the other part of the direct sales equation is payment provision. There are a great many payment providers out there who will hook you up, enabling you to offer a myriad more payment options to your site beyond your standard PayPal offering (and those of you who aren’t in North America can attest to the fact that PayPal is not an international phenomenon). The trick with these payment providers is, again, money. The percentage they take on each purchase starts high, and goes down as you sell lots of stuff, but between the wrapper sharks and the payment sharks, you can wind up giving away a good chunk of your gross income before the money even hits your account.
If you don’t go with a payment provider, the other option is to roll your own service by getting an Authorize.net account and an SSL certificate. But the problem there, again, is money. i know i want players to be able to buy Kahoots™ right off my site, but i’m obviously struggling with the logistics. If you want to chime in on this, now is the time!
Two cents – give yours! (plus $6.97 USD)
Big Fish rules state that your game has to exist within their “walled garden” – that means no injected ads, and no server calls. And no server calls means local (same computer) high scores only.
If i play my cards right, people who buy Kahoots™ from our site will be funnelling more money directly to us. So there’s an incentive to make a direct sale worthwhile for our customers. Since it’s our site, and we can do as we please, we can offer a version of the game with high scores in it. Come to it, we can offer the same to customers on the free-to-play sites as well.
There’s no reason why the demo version on the free-to-play sites shouldn’t be prefaced with CPMStar or MochiMedia ads. It’s not going to pay any big bills for us, but it makes sense to include ads.
Online ads: because people love buying boner pills.
As long as we’re implementing one or more microtransaction services into Kahoots™, we may as well add a few more ways for players to pay. As it plays out, it appears that games that make the most money on microtransactions are the ones that a) offer multiple items at varying price points and b) sell items transparently, and at the moment when engagement and investment are at their highest.
The currency in Kahoots™ is called munnypence. You earn munnypence by playing levels, and you can spend munnypence on items in the Curio Shop. These items are essentially cheats that help you get through the more difficult levels (if you need the help). A lousy player won’t be able to beat the more difficult levels, so he’ll be forced to grind earlier levels for more munnypence to buy cheats.
He can buy munnypence.
And dig this: Kahoots™ also has “QuickPlay” modes, which are the same game types that you find in Story Mode, except the rules are tweaked slightly and the games are tied to high scores. i want prospective players to experience all the relevant content in the game, so i don’t want to lock them out of QuickPlay. So i’ll make QuickPlay cost munnypence. And each time you play a QuickPlay mode, it gets exponentially more expensive to play next time. So the non-purchasing players (or “hobos“, as i like to call them) can either
- grind the early levels in the demo to earn munnypence to play QuickPlay modes
- pay their $6.99 USD to unlock the whole game and play the QuickPlay modes for free
- buy munnypence with real-world dollars so that they can keep playing the QuickPlay modes
Kahoots™ was designed from Day One to support EFIGS languages – English, French, Italian, German and Spanish. (No Southeast Asian languages, because they frighten and confuse me). This will enable us to get a much wider reach for the game than an English-only version.
(yes, i’m still seriously considering releasing the game in Esperanto)
Since Kahoots™ is being developed in Flash, we can produce Mac and Linux downloadable versions fairly easily (he said, never having done it before). Multiple platforms and multiple languages will hopefully translate to multiple money.
Being on multiple platforms never hurt Mario. (Oh … wait. Now i’m confused on multiple levels.)
i want to donate 10% of the profits on the game to charity. It’s partly because customers may be more likely to buy a game if some of the cash goes to charity, and partly because i’m a Christian and i want to help the helpless. But to that end, i don’t really know how to handle the charity-choosing … i don’t want to offend or scare people off by choosing a Christian charity, but i’m also uncomfortable sending the money to DonorsChoose.org, where the it could go God-knows-where. (For example, i’m far more sympathetic to charitable causes that benefit humans rather than animals. Sorry, puppies and kitties.) i would likely want to send money to an organization like Compassion International, a child sponsorship program.
And let me just say this: if folks are so hung up despising Christianity that they’d rather see a child starve to death than see him clothed, fed, and taught Bible lessons once a week, it’s all up for humanity. Many opponents of Christianity themselves were clothed, fed, and taught Bible lessons once a week, and they somehow managed to escape the seductive power of a faith that demands a difficult, disciplined lifestyle. Don’t worry: sponsored children in Haiti have all their lives to reject Christianity just like you have. Let’s please make sure they survive to see that day. Buy them some rice, for God’s sake.
Please note, lest i be accused of shady dealings, that i’m committing 10% of profits on Kahoots™ to charity. The game has to break even first. 10% of any money we receive after that point will go towards charity. If we break even, we live to code another day, and can pull in more money for charity with our next game.
The Game is Afoot
This is a chart of how the money (roughly) flows.
So that’s the publishing plan in a nutshell. i’ve kept my cards close to my chest regarding numbers, because as it turns out, Kahoots™ really was a rather expensive game to build. i don’t want people to see the budget and to say “for what??” Suffice it to say that our Art Director was very fond of gold-dipped fruit, and that i would commute two blocks to work every day in my private jet because city sidewalks make my feet itchy.
But when Kahoots™ is released, i am committed to maintaining a thermometer on the site to keep you abreast of how close the game has come to hitting the break-even point.
A simultaneous release across casual downloadable and free-to-play portals, with an identical price tag attached to both streams. Has that ever been done before? If it has, please clue me in! i’d love to know whether it was a good idea or a bad idea, and whether we’re marching to meet our doom.
And if you have anything to say about or plan, for good or for ill, please speak up! Now’s the time for you lurkers who have their Masters degrees in finance to come out of the woodwork and post.
To read more about Kahoots™, be sure to check out the Kahoots™ Designer Diary.