Untold Entertainment Joins the Dark Side

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.

Idiocracy - Ow! My Balls

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.

Interrupting Cow Trivia

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.

Introducing WordGameWorld.com

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.

Word Game World

Curation cuts the crap

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.

Junk store

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:

  1. Domain name – $10
  2. Add-on slot for my current web host – $30 (so that WordGameWorld.com points to my current host account)
  3. WordPress installation – free with hosting
  4. 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.

Issues:
– Difficult site navigation

———————

Further detail:
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.

Word.

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26 thoughts on “Untold Entertainment Joins the Dark Side

    1. Ryan

      Matthew – Spaceballs reference! i’m feeling it, i’m feeling it. Thanks for the hedz-up on the link error. Someone else IM’d me and tipped me off too.

      i’m totally okay with the portal linking people to other places. i don’t know that word game nuts are going to appreciate Kongregate, but hey – they can give it a shot. Interrupting Cow Trivia is built to siphon traffic from other portals, so i can hardly outlaw it on my own.

      The burberry pattern is just placeholder until i can get some boner pill ads in there.

      – Ryan

      Reply
  1. jeff

    The new site looks pretty nice Ryan. I am surprised Google turned you down for ads though, since I got approved for my site with basically nothing there but 1 game. Maybe the guy from Google was having a bad day or something.

    Reply
    1. Ryan

      Jeff – thanks! And congrats on your game launch! i will feature it on towerdefensegameworld.com (yes, i do own that).

      Maybe the Google guy was having a bad day twice? They double-rejected me.

      Reply
  2. Matthew

    Boner pill ads you say? Almost enough to inspire me to make a flash word-game entitled: “Meat Submarine” but alas, my flex skills are not as finely honed as my Unity ones at the moment.

    Reply
  3. jeff

    Thanks, more of a “update” then a new game though.

    You may of already done this, but integrating Google analytics might help with the Google hate, but that’s just a theory.

    Reply
  4. Andy Smith

    I love this idea. Mostly because I love word games, but alas, my typing skills are mad weak. I have nothing constructive to say.

    Reply
    1. Ryan

      Andy – thanks! Plenty of non-typing games on the site … try some of the word search or hangman ones if you prefer a slower pace.

      Reply
  5. Ryan

    Well, your site just deleted the comment I was going to make. But anyway, once you have a Google Adsense account you can use it on any site you like. So I’d suggest submitting this site for review, then once Google approves it (they probably will as they seem to like blogs a lot) you could start using it on your games site. I’ve used my account for multiple sites, including some game sites, and still got my check when it passed the payout limit, so I’m assuming Google doesn’t care once you have a trustworthy site approved.

    Reply
  6. Bwakathaboom

    Congrats on the sweet domain name. I’m currently in recovery for my domain registering addiction.

    I was turned down for Adsense, too. Word is their rates are crap now anyways. Although still better than Mochiads, which admittedly isn’t saying much (fishing in a mall water fountain pays better than Mochi). Amazon is an option if you want to sell sudoku puzzles to Kindle owners. Amazon seems to approve everybody.

    For display ads you might want to consider affiliate sales with a portal like Reflexive or Big Fish Games, like JayisGames does. Or for a better rate seek out some indie developers directly. At least then your display ads will be relevant to your content and less Spammy McSpammerstein.

    There’s also a forum at TalkArcades.com if you want in on the doubly-dark side of arcade site ownership. Think “house flipping” but without generating anything of real value.

    Reply
  7. PeteVasi

    If you’re looking for a reader’s word game to add to your magical plaid portal, Word Tower is still making the rounds. It’s even currently on Yahoo Games front page: http://games.yahoo.com/free-games/word-tower
    Hopefully it falls above your curation cutoff point. Looking forward to playtesting Spellirium as well, even if my feedback has that developer stink. :)

    Third time trying to post this, hope the site doesn’t eat it.

    Reply
  8. axcho

    “So how do i get that audience of word game players? i create a word game portal, that’s how.”

    Brilliant! :D It’s one of those solutions that seems so obvious once you’ve thought of it, but impossible before you’ve thought of it.

    Don’t know if it will work, but I’m very curious to hear how it goes for you, and how I might apply it to my own game development adventures. Thanks for sharing! :)

    Reply
  9. Facebook Indie Games

    I’ll be interested to see how this works.

    I started FB Indie Games on a whim, and it has become a portal of sorts, I think. Wasn’t a lot of work, and has built an audience. I can certainly approach FB developers now and have the appearance of somebody worth talking to.

    Why did you go for a word game portal rather than just a word gamer’s blog? (With links to games, naturally — but none of the work of hosting them yourself).

    Reply
    1. Ryan

      fbindie – the “work” involved in hosting the game is negligible. It takes me 5 minutes, tops, to add a new game to the site. The REAL challenge will be building up the audience. i admit i’m not quite sure how to do this, but i might try Facebook.

      i saw something very interesting with Interrupting Cow Trivia. i promoted the game on Facebook, with a link to the game site on the open web. One of the mom (or mom-like) respondents on my gameplay survey suggested that i make the game playable “somewhere other than Facebook”. i’m not convinced that people who follow links from Facebook realize they’ve even left Facebook!

      So i can either do the MindJolt thing and host all these games in an iFrame on Facebook … or skip the effort, and just link people out from Facebook to the site. i’ll let you know how that goes. Definitely, definitely weird. Facebook is the new AOL.

      – Ryan

      Reply
  10. Rasmus Wriedt Larsen

    Hi ryan :)

    I thinks it’s a great idea ! About adsense, try the thing ryan said, it should work out fine until you pull a lot of visitors (then google might find out and shut you down).. you could always try with CPMstar if google never lets you enter :)

    I just checked out your site, and noticed some blank spots on the site. I thought, oh, it might be ads, and turn off my Adblocking plugin.. but no, it was just a burberry picture. If you’re putting up your own ad on the site, be smart with the naming so a pluging as mine won’t catch in :)

    I also noticed you can’t click the thumbnails of the games, only the title under. You might want to change that :)

    Reply
    1. Ryan

      Rasmus – i’m also wondering whether the non-clickable thumbs are hurting my Adsense application. i will fix that. Was really disappointed in the WP Arcade architects for that obvious oversight. i was also pretty cheesed that games use the same thumbnail, whether they’re in that big Featured box, or in a smaller box … and the two boxes were different aspect ratios! What a terrible design decision. None too pleased.

      The burberry prints are just ad placeholders. i might try sticking my own ads in there to make the site look more complete. Thanks for the suggestions!

      Reply
  11. Colm

    Nice one Ryan – a combo of focused user testing now and focused advertising later :)

    I like the logo for the site. Going to customise the look away from the (I assume) default theme for WPArcade? It reminds me a lot of the portal layout you lampooned last year :)

    Keep trying with Adsense, I seriously doubt they are rejecting the domain because they don’t like money (ie game portals); more likely some odd snafu that stopped them seeing it. We got rejected at first too (when our site just had our logo on it).

    Reply
    1. Ryan

      Colm – i’m not trying to break the mold with this one … i think the site is already head-and-shoulders above the pack for having a halfway-decent logo (which most don’t have). i also have one more unique trick up my sleeve that i’ll use to drive traffic and interest. i’ll write a post about that next week.

      – Ryan

      Reply
  12. Brennon Williams

    Ryan, if you want Word Game World to be successful, then I highly recommend you aim a good chunk of it towards cryptography, something a lot of people are really interested in.

    Just a thought.

    Reply
  13. Brennon Williams

    I recommend you pickup a book or two from your local library on cryptography, its quite an interesting topic. Essentially cryptography (which are ciphers, though codes are another option too) is the encryption of data (usually text), and cryptanalysis is code breaking, the process of decrypting data without the key. I find breaking an encrypted file to be much more satisfying and exciting than solving a crossword puzzle, and with novels out like Dan Brown’s Digital Fortress (a so-so book about a NSA crypto specialist) more and more people are being attracted to cryptography.
    If you choose to go for it, then consider devoting a lot to the community aspect, having users work together to solve complex codes would create a strong community for your site. I also recommend you have some sort of reward system, i.e. users earn points for cracking codes and the user with the highest level wins a free copy/subscription to 1 or more of your games. Also consider having code-making contests where users submit ciphertext (that is, encoded plaintext) and others can try to break them.
    If you choose to go this route let me know, I’d love to play a part in it. I’m currently developing a program to encrypt images without just scrambling their binary code. Not really sure how it’ll turn out at this point, but so far its been interesting to look at.

    Reply
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