One of the most popular series of articles i’ve ever written was called Pimp My Game. It was an experiment in game monetization, back before i’d ever released a game of my own. i wanted to know how much money i could earn distributing a game, so that i’d know the amount of money i could invest in development in order to break even, at the very least.
The results were … abysmal. The Pimp My Game feature predates a number of tools and tricks that have made it far more possible for Flash game developers to earn money on their creations – most notably Flash Game License and microtransactions (GamerSafe/HeyZap/Mochi Coins).
Even with those services, it struck me that the amount of money required to develop a game of significant scope and scale to catch the attention of the average portal-goer, versus the relative risk of not landing a large enough sponsorship or earning cash back through scant ad rev share, was not a racket i really wanted to be in. Untold Entertainment makes custom games as a service for a number of clients, and i feel we’re paid appropriately for our efforts. i’ve never developed a game for a client on the off chance that they’d pay money for it.
“Hopefully, we’ll land a great sponsorship once we’re finished paving this road.”
i’ve been told numerous times, not least of all by the Flash Game License operators themselves, that game sponsorships can get up into five figures, with $20 000 being thrown around most often by people trying to impress me. Who’s paying these sponsorships? The buyers are mostly game portal owners.
The Cake is a Lie
What’s a game portal? It’s a websites that aggregate games and sandbags them with assloads of ads.
Jacksmack.com is a typical free-to-play Flash games portal.
So a portal can pay out $20k to sponsor a game. What’s in it for the portal? Usually, portals require the game developers to incorporate the hyperlinked portal logo in the game pre-roll, and possibly other promotional hooks – a “more games” button on the title screen leading back to the portal, portal-specific high scores – that sort of thing. The idea is that players play these free Flash games, which are distributed far and wide to tens of thousands of sites, and the players may purposely (or inadvertently) click somewhere in the game to be brought to the sponsoring portal. Sponsors will often pay extra cash for exclusivity rights.
Gimme5Games is known as a high-rolling sponsor in the Flash game developer community.
And how does the portal make enough money to pay a sponsorship? Unless i’m missing something, the most significant source of revenue for a game portal is advertising. There are some smaller, secondary streams – for example, Mochimedia kicks 10% of Mochi Coins sales to the portal when players spend Mochi Coins in games hosted on those portals, and Mochi also cuts the portal in for a small percentage of Mochiads revenue, but there we’re talking about fractions of fractions of pennies. The bread and butter of any games portal is advertising.
If You Can’t Beat ‘Em …
At this point i began eyeing the portals themselves with keen interest. $20 000 for a sponsorship? Again, unless i’m missing something, that must mean that at some point, a portal earns more than $20k in advertising. And game portal advertising revenue is passive income, that elusive majestic money creature that i’m constantly persuing. You just have to throw up a portal, stick some games on there, surround the games with ads, and kick back while waves of money roll over you like a stinky cash tsunami. “Beautiful”, i thought. “Let’s do this thing.”
Here are the steps i followed to set up my first portal, WordGameWorld.com:
- Register the domain name – $10
- Pay for hosting. i’m paying $33/mo to a company called 1&1 to host a VPS (Virtual Private Server), which is essentially like having my own (underpowered) web server computer. i originally started renting the VPS so that we could power Interruping Cow Trivia using the multiplayer ElectroServer software. You can probably get away with paying a regular web host less than $10/mo to host a portal.
- Install WordPress, which is very popular free blog software. The Untold Entertainment blog you’re reading now runs on WordPress.
- Purchase a WPArcade theme and plugin. These guys license a WordPress theme (skin) that makes your site look like a game portal. The plugin they provide enables you to enter the game distribution rss feed address from MochiMedia and, with the click of a button, inject ten thousand free Flash games into your portal site.
- Set up a Google Adsense account. This was the trickiest step – at first, Google denied my registration because WordGameWorld.com had zero traffic. WordGameWorld.com was live for a long time with no advertising, until i got a hot tip from a Twitter friend that once Adsense approved one of my sites, i could use Adsense ads on other sites that i owned. i leveraged the traffic on UntoldEntertainment.com to get my account approved, and then placed the ads around the WPArcade WordPress theme using their tool.
Step 4: Proft?
At this point, i had contractors come in to widen my front door in anticipation of the deluge of cash that would no doubt come blasting into my living room from men with money guns, all owing to this most brilliant idea of mine. It wasn’t long before i figured out that setting up a game portal is easy … driving traffic to it ain’t.
For the remainder of this series, i’ll document my madcap methods i used to try to drive traffic to my game portals. My journey takes me from dating services for gay nerds, to bikini-clad women in Brazil, to the very bowels of The Internatz itself … all in the name of making money off the backs of the free Flash game developers that i never want to become. i promise it will be lurid, sleazy, and informative. But mostly lurid.