If you’ve read a few of my articles, you’ll know that i’m on this lifelong pilgrimage toward that hallowed house of making money for my art. It’s a very long journey, full of winding roads and twisting paths, around the corners of which i repeatedly get socked in the junk.
Every new decision i make on this pilgrimage is informed by the failures (or swollen junk) from past decisions. We’re starting development soon on a really great adventure/word game hybrid called Spellirium. The game is filled with many different small challenges, not unlike Super Mario Galaxy, and i want to find the fun as fast as possible before spending more time and money polishing the idea. My goal is to mock these things up very quickly, put them in front of playtesters, and keep the stuff that’s the most fun to play with.
Lessons that the Cow Taught Me
i had a real hard time with Interrupting Cow Trivia. i developed that game in a complete vacuum, using only my Spidey sense and a vague notion of what i found fun. When it was finally ready for public consumption, i released it on the world: specifically, to the readers here, who are primarily video game developers themselves (most of whom started reading this blog because of my monetization experiments with Pimp My Game). It didn’t take long to figure out that video game developers aren’t the very best crowd to review your game: they’re picky, they’re particular, and as one helpful friend put it, they’ll give you advice on how to make the game theoretically better, based on game design books or blogs they read, but they won’t give you an honest, personal opinion about what they find fun and not fun.
How could this game NOT be fun?
Too often, i’d get a developer writing to me with a laundry list of things i needed to change in the trivia game. Some of the changes were vague, like “make it more green”, and others were more expensive, like “create an animated sequence for every question.” Still others were downright insulting (one developer actually told me that changing the game would be like putting a Band-Aid on a shotgun wound). Many people waited until three or four stressful emails went by before actually coming clean and saying “Well, i don’t really like trivia games anyway.” Ay yi yi! i love you developers – don’t get me wrong – but if i’m going to solicit early feedback on Spellirium, i’m either going to have to take a liking to hard liquor, or find a different audience.
i need to put Spellirium in front of an audience of people who like word games. What a revolutionary idea! My theory – and i hope it’s sound – is that if i can grab an audience full of word game fans, and i can get them playing and commenting on early Spellirium tests, then when the game is finally released, those people may actually shell out money for the product. It’s crazy, i know.
So how do i get that audience of word game players? i create a word game portal, that’s how.
i’ve talked for a long while about creating my own game portal, and now i’m finally putting my money where my mouth is. We launched WordGameWorld.com this week. It offers specific advantages to players over other free-to-play Flash game portals. The key is that the content is curated.
Typically, portal owners will just subscribe to the MochiMedia games feed, and each week they’ll get a fresh dump of content on their sites. This content is not usually screened or monitored, and the portal owners take everything as-is. This means they’re taking good games along with bad. They’re taking games that might be buggy or that don’t work properly. And more importantly, they’re taking games that are classified according to how the developers classified them. i can create a zombie shooter game and classify it “puzzle” if i want to.
The result is that on a lot of these smaller portals, players who like puzzle games hit the auto-generated “Puzzle” category, only to find crappy, broken, and not-puzzle games. That’s a lousy customer experience. If i walk into a shoe store that sells broken robot toys and no shoes, i won’t likely be back.
Most Flash game portals look like a hidden object game: a cluttered mess of crap.
So it’s a slower process, but i’m hand-picking all of the games that go on WordGameWorld.com. There are a few stand-outs and a few lemons so far, but i won’t upload anything that simply doesn’t work or that looks like utter ass. i also refuse to grab any games that clearly violate copyright, like “Garfield Word Search”, because that kind of thing pisses me off. The other thing i’m doing is sub-classifying the games on the site. “Word Game”, in addition to NOT being one of the standard MochiMedia game categories, is a very broad category unto itself. Within “Word Games”, you have word-building games, crosswords, word searches, word puzzles, hangman clones, etc etc. There’s a whole world of content within that category, the spectrum of which we hope to present on our site.
That’s what’s in it for the audience. For us, as i said, i hope to capture an audience of blue-blooded word game fans, even if it’s just a group of 100 people who find the site and who love word games. Since i control the ad inventory on the site, i can show Google ads or whatever while the site builds an audience, and swap them out for Spellirium ads when there’s something new to test. And even if i DON’T lure people to my playtests, at the very least i’ll have played every single word game on MochiMedia.com, so i’ll gain experience there. i’ll also see from the ratings on the portal which games hit with the audience and which don’t … then i’ll use that info to inform my design decisions.
i Need Multiple Showers
Let me just say that putting together a game portal made me feel dirty. i’ve long suspected that “content is king” is a mantra chanted into the ears of game developers by the people who are making money off their backs. As a portal owner, i have a vast library of FREE games that i can just pillage from MochiMedia’s site. i make a tiny cut of the ad revenue, and the dev makes a tiny cut. i can run Google ads over this content (theoretically – see below) and scrape that money as well. It feels criminal.
Beyond my customer acquisition schemes for Spellirium, i hope i can pull in enough money from WordGameWorld.com to cover the costs of running and maintaining it. Here are those costs:
- Domain name – $10
- Add-on slot for my current web host – $30 (so that WordGameWorld.com points to my current host account)
- WordPress installation – free with hosting
- WordPress Arcade theme – $30
i’m not really wrapping hosting costs in there yet, because i don’t know how much they’ll be. But i know from this tally that the portal cost me at least $70 to set up. If i can make that back in a year with ads, huzzah. If i can get quality feedback on my game from interested players, and possibly convert those players into paid customers when Spellirium goes live, then … double huzzah.
What’s the Sense in Ads?
Google has denied my AdSense application twice. Here’s the message they sent me:
Hello Ryan Creighton,
Thank you for your interest in Google AdSense. Unfortunately, after
reviewing your application, we’re unable to accept you into Google AdSense
at this time.
We did not approve your application for the reasons listed below.
– Difficult site navigation
Difficult site navigation: While reviewing www.wordgameworld.com, we found
that your site was down. Google ads may not be published on a site that is
not fully launched, functioning, or easily navigable. Once your site is
functioning and has enough content for our specialists to review, we will
be happy to reconsider your application. If there is a typo in the URL
submitted, you can resubmit your application with the correct site by
following the directions below.
(note: the site wasn’t down. It had about 5 games the first time i submitted and received this message. It had 25 games the second time i was denied.)
If anyone has any ideas about what i need to do to get my account approved, i’m all ears. Someone at Flash Gaming Summit told me that Google doesn’t want to run ads on game portal sites. Is that the deal? i wish they had a form letter for that. What are the other online advertising options i should consider beyond Adsense, in case it doesn’t work out?
If you think this whole portal idea is insaneypants, please say so. If you think it’s smartypants, and you know some word game freaks and would like to tell them about the site, please forward the url! i’d really appreciate that.
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