Content is Peasant

i’m a simple man. i have only two beefs in this world: 1) subtitles that cover up the nudity in foreign films, and 2) the onerous phrase “content is king”.

Penelope Cruz in Abres los Ojos

An American tragedy.

i mentioned last week that we launched a free games portal called WordGameWorld.com. Here’s how that whole process works. i spend a few bucks buying a domain name, a hosting account, and a WordPress theme. Then i go to MochiMedia.com and started cherry-picking games from their list of thousands, at no cost. If i see a game that i like, i can just take it and put it on the site. Then i put ads on the site. Step 4: profit.

i didn’t have to pay for the content. The content is, theoretically, paid for by advertisers whose ads are injected into the games via the MochiMedia service. But as we’ve seen before, in a hit-driven business like Flash games, a non-hit is also a non-earner.

If you’re producing content essentially for free, with the hope of possibly earning fractions of pennies on advertising rev share, and perhaps a sponsorship or two for a few thousands bucks (when perhaps you sunk more than a few thousand bucks in labour into the content), i have a startling revelation for you: content is NOT king. Content is peasant. Content is plebian. Content is serf. The exploiters of content are closer to the crown than you’ll ever be.

Look Who’s Talking

There’s a lyric from a John Lennon song that frequently comes to mind whenever i hear someone chant the “content is king” mantra:

Keep ’em doped with religion and sex and teevee
And they think they’re so clever and classless and free
But they’re still f*cking peasants as far’s I can see

i’ve been paying more and more attention to who is saying “content is king” and how they are saying it. The people pulling the strings, who are actually in a position to monetize content, say it more often and in a much different tone of voice than the content producers:

Content monetizers: (knowing that their livelihood depends on people constantly producing content that they can exploit) Content is king!

Content producers: (wondering why the hell they’re not gaining any ground, despite being told on a daily basis by the content monetizers that content is king) … Content is king?

The Content Food Chain

i’ve developed a hierarchical chart to illustrate who’s actually in control here, and how the money flows.

Chart

Content Consumers

i hope we can all agree that consumers are at the bottom of the chart. Yes, technically they should be at the top, because they make the decisions and vote with their money and rah rah consumers blah blah blah, but who are you kidding? When i got into the ad-supported web world, working in the interactive department of a teevee broadcaster, we talked a lot about eyeballs – how many unique sets of ocular orbs were looking at our web pages. Not people, not consumers, but their actual eyeballs. We had reduced consumers as a commodity to their component parts! It wasn’t “how many human beings visited our pages”, but “how many eyeballs did we get”? “How do we get more eyeballs on this?” It’s a tiny bit ghastly. Consumers, you’re at the bottom of my chart.



Content Creators

Next up are the content creators. We content creators subjugate consumers. If we’re business-minded, we want to build games that get a lot of those eyeballs, so that we can command higher sponsorship deals and earn more fractions of pennies on advertising revenue share. Some of us want millions of eyeballs on our content just so that we can feel good about ourselves. As i’ve mentioned before, that drive tends to go away when you become a more advanced life-form with a mortgage and kids to feed.

Pickaxe Salesmen

In an offshoot segment of the chart are the pickaxe salesmen. In any Yukon gold rush, there are the people doing all the work and panning for the gold (game developers), and there are the shop owners selling ropes and pickaxes and whiskey. They are the tool providers. FDT, SmartFox Server, ElectroServer, and to an extent ActiveDen (who are, themselves, content aggregators) all make their money selling content producers the promise of becoming rich and famous through their gold-panning content creation efforts.

Prospector

Does this guy look like a king to you?

Content Aggregators

One step above content creators are the content aggregators. In the Flash games industry, these are the portals that pull all the games together in one place – Kongregate, NewGrounds, Big Fish, AddictingGames, King, Gimme5, WordGameWorld, etc etc. In publishing, they are the magazines that assemble and bind the individual articles. In the teevee world, they are the broadcasters who fill their programming hours with shows. Content aggregators treat content as a commodity to be shoveled into their wrappers, especially in the Flash games world, where you can set up an RSS interavenous drip to have free Flash games automatically pumped into your site with zero effort or cost. These people have a vested interest in repeating the “content is king” mantra – their livelihood depends on content producers believing it. Their goal is to get the best content possible for the lowest price imaginable, always.

Advertisers

Advertisers hold us all in thrall. They foot the bill for all of this stuff. Magazines and teevee shows are merely vehicles to sell advertising. That’s what games portals are as well: extended banner and video ads punctuated by the occasional match-3 game. Without advertising money, this whole ecosystem dies … which is why new monetization methods like microtransactions are given so much gravity. Like the United States weaning themselves off oil dependency, it’s in the best interests of content producers and aggregators to develop new sources of energy (money).

Diaper Cream

This whole operation depends entirely on the 10-second spot for Nature’s Baby Organics Diaper Cream. i for one welcome our tiny assrash-reducing overlords.

Aggregator Aggregators

Above the advertisers are the aggregator aggregators: those who aggregate the aggregators. i can’t think of any examples in the Flash games world, but i’m talking about cable providers in the teevee world. These are the people who pull together the aggregators – the teevee channels – into one big package of aggregators, and charge a fee for access. i don’t *think* one of these has emerged in our industry quite yet, but correct me if i’m wrong.

Lord Jesus

Floating high above all of these and seated at the right hand of God is Jesus, who is awesome.

Jesus

Aww yeah – it’s good to be king.

Do You Feel Like a King?

And there it is. With so many strata of folks making money from the lowly piece of content you produce, it’s clear that just as players are a commodity to you as a game developer, your content is a commodity traded in bulk to a higher power skimming off the top. Those higher powers, in turn, are a commodity to someone higher up the food chain.

Clearly, “king” is not an appropriate word to describe the games you’re producing. i’ve never known anyone to trade in large sacks of kings. Perhaps “content is lynchpin” is more fitting: yank the content out from this structure, and the whole thing comes crashing down. But the same thing happens when you pull advertising: you’re removing the wealthy benefactor, the rich uncle, who fuels the whole operation.

i’ll stick to my original claim: content is peasant. Kings can’t be kings without someone farming their crops, cooking their meals, and buffing their toenails. Whose toenails are you buffing? Because if you’re creating Flash games, selling them for a song, and scraping fractions of pennies on advertising revenue share, news flash: you ain’t the king. You’re somebody else’s bucket of eyeballs. You’re responsible for producing a pinch of salt in a barrelful, and it’s the people shipping the salt who are really in bidness.

i’m not saying any of this to upset the applecart, or to suggest that Flash game developers storm the castle and steal the crown. i just want to put it out there, so that the next time someone who makes money off your back tells you “content is king”, you can sock him in the snoot.

To recap:

  1. Jesus is king.
  2. Rogers cable answers only to Jesus.
  3. You’re getting screwed.

11 thoughts on “Content is Peasant

  1. Mark

    Google likes your content too. It seems that managing other people’s content is a nice place to be.

    Also, iTunes seems to be an Aggregator Aggregator.

    Reply
  2. Mark

    IGN.com is another Aggregator Aggregator. Any site that pushes flash game culture seems to be an aggregator aggregator but also developes content (reviews, tutorials, etc). A little double dipping?

    Reply
    1. Ryan

      Mark – yeah, i’d buy that. Games sites aggregate the aggregators. A better example in the Flash games world might be Jay is Games. But the difference between these sites and, say, Rogers Cable, is that you can’t watch Home and Garden Television (a station here in Canada) without paying one of the aggregator aggregators. You can’t skip the middle-man – Rogers, Shaw, whomever – and watch that channel. You HAVE to use them, and you HAVE to pay them a fee.

      Games sites MENTION many portals, platforms and games, but they are not the gatekeepers to that content. You don’t have to pay IGN to get access to all Xbox 360 games. Contrarily, satellite and cable services ARE the only way to see HGTV here in Canada, (barring a little something called The Internatz).

      Reply
  3. Pingback: Cold Constructs » Blog Archive » Is content still king? @UntoldEnt

  4. Facebook Indie Games

    MochiMedia is the aggregator aggregator here. They have all the power because the whole ecosystem depends on that one business. There are thousands of content creators. Kill a hundred of them, nobody would notice. There are thousands of advertisers. Kill a hundred, not a big deal. There are thousands of portals and nobody’s gonna really shed a tear if a few of them bite the dust.

    But MochiMedia everybody needs.

    WordGameWorld is essentially a pub with a Big Screen TV and a subscription to Sky Sports.

    The way to be king is to have a whole kingdom dependant on you… while there is no one person who you couldn’t live without. If you’re getting to rely on somebody, execute them.

    Reply
  5. Facebook Indie Games

    Become king of your own hill by not RELYING on MochiMedia. A king doesn’t have any one person or organization that they answer to and rely on (apart from the Pope in the old days). Build your own direct relationships with a range of Flash developers and advertisers. Of course then you’d still be dependant on Adobe so start hosting Unity or HTML 5 or .EXE download games too.

    Reply
  6. Bret Moretti

    Real power is letting others “think” they are in power. There are many kings in the flash game world (who do what they do and pay the bills [king of their own hill] ) then there are also wizards like Google who do the things of the kings bidding providing the king knows how to ask the wizard or make it worth the wizards time and most certainly pissing off a wizard is bad juju:) I don’t think Mochi is a wizard yet..just some kind of unicorn or something:)

    Reply
  7. Domeboy

    You do prove your point – you spend a few bucks to display (aggregate) other people’s game work which you got for free, slap ads on and make the money. Your weary wisdom is supposed to clue us in. It really just proves you are part of the problem. Of course you are not suggesting “that Flash game developers storm the castle and steal the crown” – you are a fence of stolen property in a corner of that castle. Cable operators do not get their aggregators’ work for free. Neither do the Teevee channels. Content may not be king but in almost every area except the one you are exploiting, creators do get some payment. Far from an insight, this is your confession. Good work.

    Reply
    1. Ryan

      Domeboy – agreed! i’ve turned scumbag. But what i’m realizing is that not only do content creators get jacked in this arrangement, but portal owners don’t stand to make a living either, unless they’re driving scads of traffic.

      It seems like the only people enjoying $10 million buyouts from Chinese gold farmers are MochiMedia.

      And for what it’s worth, i’m not fencing stolen property. As you know, the content creators give this stuff up for free because they don’t know the value of their work, and many are still stupid enough to do it for the “fame” and “glory” of getting millions of plays. As soon as we change the attitude that getting a million plays is valuable to the creators (it’s not), we’ll focus creators’ attentions on what’s really important: hot, stinky ca$h.

      Reply
  8. neptronix

    Annnnnddd this is why i would rather do a homebrewed shareware model for my games.
    I talked to the guys that produce Machinarium & apparently this is working out really well for them.. they are actually making a living however, look at the depth of their games.

    I think casual / low-depth games will remain in this ‘internet ghetto’ forever.

    Reply

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