Tag Archives: Flash

Forget Movies – Games Now Have Far More in Common with Books

Video games industry analysts are fond of comparing the games industry with film: both are splashy, highly visual and visceral, both cost a lot to create/market/distribute, and both compete for people’s entertainment dollars and time. When news hit a few years ago that the video game industry had overtaken the film industry in revenues, we gleefully paraded that news through the streets like we had an ousted dictator’s head on a stick. But with digital distribution and a temporary disruption in the games publishing ecosystem, business has changed dramatically. Those looking to get ahead would be far better served to study publishing, rather than film, to inform a sound strategy.

Let’s look … in a bookOH GOD WHY IS HE READING THAT?

A Year on Your Rear

With a staunch amount of dedication and a very comfy couch, you can conceivably watch an entire year’s film output. Wikipedia lists the major film releases of 2012 at about two hundred and sixty flicks. Games are a different story. As of Q4 2012, there were over twelve thousand games in the Apple App Store alone. Divide that by the three years the store had existed, and that’s a rate of about four thousand games released per year (although, to be fair, annual App Store growth is not so evenly distributed). Movies may average two hours, but how long does a game take to play? AAA titles can run anywhere from twenty to one hundred hours, and many mobile titles are designed for endless play. If Joe Average Canadian were to spend his 5.5 daily leisure hours exclusively playing iOS games for the entire year, he could only spend half an hour on each one.

And tell me: who could spend only half an hour on Trucker Parking 3D?

That’s four thousand games accounted for, but the iOS App Store is only one unique marketplace of many; add to that the yearly throughput of Steam, Android, the three home consoles and the wider PC market, and i wouldn’t be surprised if the total number of games in existence after these forty years outnumbered the total number of films released in the past century. While Joe Average Canadian could watch all the movies released in a year, he could never, ever play all the games.


(but not for lack of trying)

Getting Lit

Joe Average Canadian would have even more trouble finding the time to read all of the books released in a year. Wikipedia claims that the total number of books released in a single year in the United States alone is 328,259! Books are priced similarly to games, with big-ticket bestselling hardcover tomes coming in at $40-50, down to cheapie legacy or fan fiction one-offs being digitally distributed for a buck. Books require a similar time commitment as games; the the amount of time i spent playing Skyrim is probably on par with the time i spent trying to muscle through George R. R. Martin’s Game of Holy Shit – 924 Pages??. And owing to mobile devices, games have been freed from their specialized locations; just as film escaped theatres to living rooms, so too did games escape arcades to those same living rooms, and now travel with us everywhere in our pockets. We’ve long been able to enjoy a book under a tree in some isolated meadow, and now we can enjoy video games in the same setting.

Uh … yes. An isolated meadow. (shifty eyes)

Lately, i’ve been freaked out about the overwhelming number of games that have been flooding the marketplace. The Internet, which brought digital distribution, has been our printing press. Fairly newbie-friendly development tools like Flash, GameMaker and Unity are our desktop publishing. Open stores like XBLiG, the iOS App Store and the Android Marketplace are our print-on-demand.

Episodic Nancy Drew games are our episodic Nancy Drew novels.

Glut-hurt

Teeth clenched and hair turning rapidly white from stress, i’ve been repeating the mantra “nobody needs another video game”. And frankly, they don’t. We have enough video games to keep us busy for a good long time. The inevitable response to my Chicken Littling has been to say “well the world doesn’t need another movie, and people keep making and watching movies”. But that’s not the best comparison. For a true understanding of what’s happening with games, we need to look at books. At an output of over a quarter of a million new books a year from the US, people really don’t need another book. But we still buy books.

The reason why you buy one book, and read an Amazon review summary of another, is likely the same reason why you play one game, and watch a YouTube Let’s Play video of another. Figuring out that reason could be one secret to increased success selling games.

Any indie game developer, then, would be well-served to closely study how the book publishing industry functions if he wants to make a go of things. What role do publishers play? Some may give authors advances against royalties (our version of project-level development funding), but i assume that many more book publishers serve as marketing machines, ensuring that book stores and marketplaces stock your title, and that your title gets seen above all others.

How do book stores help customers find what they’re looking for, amidst a fresh dumping of 328,259 new titles a year? Market intelligence on book stores states that the vast number of customers browsing through a physical store don’t know what they’re looking for. A book store’s shelf layouts, end aisles promotions, search kiosks and friendly staff serve to ensure customers leave happy, with interesting products in-hand.

Book store staff went from selling content, to selling e-readers that can read content. Perhaps the role of an Apple Store staffer will transition from selling content readers like iPhones and iPads, to selling content like apps and games.

Games may look like movies, but they act like books. And increasingly, the games industry more closely resembles book publishing than it does the film industry. What lessons can we learn from books, with their dramatically more dire supply and demand problem, that we can apply to our own industry?

Don’t ask me. i’m only a game developer.

Searching for Truth at the Flash Gaming Summit

i’ve been thrilled to be involved with the Flash Gaming Summit for the past number of years, as a delegate, a moderator, and a speaker. The conference, which conveniently takes place in San Francisco the day before the GDC summits, is filled with people i consider sister sufferers in a very particular (and increasingly beleaguered) pocket of game development.

Flash! / Aaah-aaahh / Saviour of the universe (?)

Many of the FGS delegates are folks who started their careers building web games with (then) Macromedia Flash, and who have come through the fire of learning how to earn a living with the software with help from distributors like MochiMedia, Flash Game License, NewGrounds and and Kongregate, and portal-owning publishers who are willing to pay license fees for the games, hoping that they’ll make it back in ad revenue on their sites. Some of the people you meet at Flash Gaming Summit are the people who have become successful enough to afford a plane ticket to San Francisco which, considering their often humble beginnings, is really saying something. And a good number of the delegates are from studios who evaluated Flash and decided that it was a good technological fit for their platform or business strategy.

It’s not unusual to find industry visionaries like Dan Cook of SpryFox (Triple Town, Leap Day) milling around during the Summit.

This is a time of uncertainty for devs like Untold Entertainment who largely earn their living making games with Adobe Flash. For many of us, the uncertainty is over why there’s so much hype for vastly inferior technologies like HTML5, and why we’re being pressured by the market to adopt far more expensive tools like Unity to do the same work we’re already comfortable and proficient at doing with Flash?

The Flash platform was dealt a major blow when Steve Jobs – for somewhat vindictive business reasons, thinly veiled as technological snobbery – declared that Flash content would not be supported in any iPhone browser, and then dropped the mic and left the stage (in more ways than one). To this day, the myth persists that you can’t develop any content for iOS using Flash. The opposite is in fact true: many devs like Untold are happily wrapping their Flash creations with Adobe AIR and creating successful native apps for Apple’s devices.

Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure, which is on sale on the iPad this week, was developed in Flash.

Real Talk with Ryan Creighton

In an effort to get down to the bottom of things, i’ll be moderating a panel at FGS this year asking the hard questions: is Adobe Flash worth sticking with, or is it time to jump ship? Cutting through the hype, what are the advantages and disadvantages of competing technologies, and what would it take to transition a shop to start using them? And is it even worth it? What do Adobe’s recent announcements about Actionscript Next and abolishing the “speed tax” reveal about the company’s plans for the platform? All these questions and more will be discussed, in amongst a line-up of talks and panels by some of the biggest players in this corner of game development.

Enter the special promo code blog_UntoldEnt for a 15% discount when you register for your Flash Gaming Summit pass. See you all in March!

5 Steps to Organically Growing Your Games Portal

This guest post is by Ola Rogula of Doll Divine Dress Up Games, who i met a few years back at the Casual Connect games conference. A lot has been written about the so-called “big” successes in the games industry; certain titles and developers get the lion’s share of the press, the fame, and the love. But meeting Ola and others like her has taught me an extremely valuable lesson: that even while flying under the radar with a product that many people have never heard of (or would even care about), you can still lock into a niche audience and provide a high quality, valuable product or service to them … and make bank.

Sit back, and let Ola showya how it’s done. (Text by Ola, pictures by Ryan)

There are, of course, multiple ways to grow a successful Flash games portal. However, I’m pretty proud to say that I grew mine with a $0 advertising budget and no link building. The site grew entirely from organic referrals. Links and ad campaigns are great too, but if you want to know how to give your portal the ability to grow itself organically, here are the things that worked for me:

1. Mind-Blowingly Good Content

I hate to say this, but if you can’t make games yourself and you don’t have thousands to play with, you face quite an uphill battle. Great games are hard to come by and they are going to be both the biggest source of free advertising for you, and the biggest reason for people to come back to your site.

If you have a lot of money, you can make aggressive bids on games. This is the most straight forward way to fill your site with quality content. Of course, you’re paying the developer to place your link and logo into the game, so that word of your site spreads with the game. Flash Game License is the logical place to start, although I personally have had more luck with seeking out amateur developers through deviantArt. The biggest downfall of this strategy is that you’re always at the mercy of other people. I could never operate my site fully this way because I haven’t been able to find enough good developers to hire for my needs.

Thank you for joining us today for the Consortium of Developers who are Worth a Damn. Please fill in all the rows.

Alternately, you can be dirt poor as long as you know how to draw and program. Being able to create your own quality content is, in my opinion, the best way to make a splash. Of course, it’s also implied that you don’t just do these things; you’re good at them.

There is also an elegant middle road solution. If you have some money to work with, and are a good programmer, it is very cost effective to hire out for artwork. There is literally a world of amazing artists out there who would love to get paid for their drawings. If you are an artist who needs a programmer, the situation is a bit trickier, and usually more expensive. I recommend biting the bullet and learning to code in Flash yourself.

Do not heed words spoken with plastic lips. – Confucius

I must stress that this is the most important point by a long shot. I grew my site almost entirely on my in-game links and word-of-mouth; both products of quality content creation.

2. Dabble

I have come to accept that it is impossible to predict what will be a “hit”. The only thing you can do is try, take notes, and try again. I can very much attest to what my friend, Andy Moore, calls the “1 in 10 rule”, asserting that about one in ten games is a hit. A lot of the rules he mentions for getting a game sponsored apply just as well for creating games for your own portal. Some will spread like wildfire across other sites, while others are left to rot.

Andy Moore: always a hit.

For example, I was very disappointed when my Vampire Maker was a total flop, despite having been successfully timed with Twilight! The Kitten Maker, however, took girl gaming sites by storm. Before these, I had attempted two adventure games which got an even worse reception. In these cases, the amount of time spent on development had no correlation to success. You have to be prepared to put out multiple projects, and you have to be prepared for most to flop. However, this is a beautiful time of self-discovery… It’s the time when you and the world flirt to figure out exactly how you best fit together and what type of projects you should be putting out.

(Vampire Maker may be missing the ability to chew the living foetus out of a labouring mother’s stomach with your fangs? You know – for Twilight fans. Just sayin’. – ed.)

3. Create a Brand

Once you complete #1 and #2 and create a game that has spread to other sites, people will click on your logo to get more of the same. What is “the same” in your case? What do you offer? Based on which of your games resonated best, you need to decide on an adjective and a noun. Are your games funny? Very polished? Imaginative? Accessible to the visually impaired? You have to pick an angle and promise to continually deliver it to users. What are you making? Political satires? Intriguing puzzles? Tower Defense games? Match your adjective with your skills and your noun with your interests. In my case it is: intricate, fantasy doll makers because I love fantasy and pay intense attention to detail. If your interests lie in an already expansive genre, you’d better have a good adjective to go along with it. Of course, you can span multiple genres and wield multiple adjectives, as long there’s a united theme.

Is “shitty” a viable descriptor?

Create your site around this theme. Choose the name and colours accordingly. Contrary to popular belief, the site doesn’t have to be fancy or complex. A lot of people lose money on site design early on which is silly. All you need is a banner, thumbnails, and pages for the games. Anyone can make this happen, especially with the amount of templates online. Orisinal.com is a great example of a simple yet effective layout. The #1 need of users is to find what they’re looking for quickly. Cater to that first.

Quite appalling, in my opinion, are the free scripts that abound which auto-fill your site with games from external sources. How exactly is using a script found all over the internet that fills your site with games that everyone else is posting supposed to give you an edge over the competition? After reading this article, are you itching to get back to playing games on that awesome auto-filled site you love? No? Think about that.

We’re using a purchased WordPress theme the includes one of those scripts, because website design and coding are not Untold’s strong suits. We’re not using that script to automatically siphon games, but have instead been selecting and inputting each game by hand. The problem is that the the theme we purchased was poorly built, and it opens multiple unnecessary connections to our database. The end result is that when a small handful of people visit our portals, our server traffic and memory usage go bananas. This fact alone (and my inability to fix it myself) is the reason why i haven’t worked more diligently to grow traffic on Untold’s games portals. Caveat emptor. -ed.

4. Be Nice to Your Search Engine

(At the time of writing, “search engine” is synonymous with “Google”) The main advice usually given for optimizing Flash websites is: stop using Flash. This, of course, is useless advice for running a Flash games portal, although you should certainly avoid using a Flash-based navigation system. Google can’t see or play your game so it is your job to translate its greatness to the bots. Yes, Google can now crawl the text inside files, but how are the words “Next”, “Play” and “Jump!” supposed to emulate your top-notch graphics?

As for any site, first complete all your basic SEO. Use descriptive text, not just images, when linking within the site. Use a descriptive, yet to-the-point, meta title that includes two good key phrases. Write a robust meta description. Name your pages with descriptive file names so the URL is people-friendly. And finally, find a way to include a large chunk of appropriate text on the page. Describe your game.. the creation process.. the inspiration. Include a set of instructions. You have to put into text what Google cannot see.

Allowing fans to leave comments is a double-edged sword. Users can be an SEO godsend, filling the site with golden keywords and extensive commentary. They can also be a source of unprofessionalism and negativity. You must analyze your demographic and decide if they’d hate or relish the babble of other users. I took the unique approach of only allowing paid members to leave comments. This hasn’t removed unprofessionalism nor negativity, but it has completely removed all external advertising. It seems even as little as $1 per month is enough to detract spammers. It has also kept the community much smaller and respectful of each other.

This moment of clarity courtesy of xkcd

5. Monetize That S***

Or rather, don’t over-monetize that s***. I know it can be tempting. Flash portals make very little money per user. Mine pulls in about one cent per user per month. When attempts to expand aren’t working, it’s tempting to shift to maximizing profits from the existing users. Over-monetizing the site can drive users away, further lowering revenues. I’m sure I don’t need to explain why increasing income through something that decreases traffic is the beginning of the end.

Flash portals make their money mainly through advertisements around the site and in-game ads. Flash developers can make a lot of short-term cash by putting their games up for bid, but you’d better kiss that avenue goodbye if you want to grow your own portal.

Website ads must be placed with taste. I recommend no more than one ad unit above the fold on the main page. The Google algorithm agrees. You care about the games first and the money is just a nice bonus, right? Hopefully this is true, but even if it’s not, it’s how you want your site to look. Placing an ad unit above or beside your logo exposes where your priorities lie. You want to make sure that all the things on your site that the user might find interesting are clearly visible, and the ad is just a last case scenario for their clicking pleasure.

But Ola – how am i going to earn a steady seventy-three cents a month without placing ads absolutely everywhere? -ed.

People have grown accustomed to one preloader ad and will generally sit through it. However, if you’re just starting out, you need every edge over the competition and sparing the users the annoyance of video ads is a commendable one. The big advantage of in-game ads is that they spread along with your game as/if it goes viral. But again, even on other sites, I recommend giving your games the ad-less advantage. A static, silent, in-game ad that is visible during the true duration of the loading is acceptable (many ads simulate a loading bar which makes the user wait even after the game has loaded). And don’t even think about layering multiple loader ads over each other. It’s a lovingly hand-crafted creation, not an onion.

Untold Entertainment at Casual Connect Seattle 2012

The kind folks at the Flash Gaming Summit have invited me to speak at Casual Connect in Seattle. My topic is AS3/AIR to iOS in 157 Easy Steps. During the talk, i’ll be clearing up a few misconceptions. My hitlist of shocking revelations is as follows:

  1. You can target Apple’s iOS devices with Flash as your development platform.
  2. You can develop Flash content for Apple devices for free, without even purchasing Flash.
  3. You can do all of this without even owning a Mac (except for the very last step of the process).

The talk goes on to back up these wild claims. Attendees will leave with knowledge of the process of porting Flash content to iOS and Android using FlashDevelop, an open source Actionscript IDE.

If you’re attending Casual Connect, you’ll be thrilled to hear that Untold Entertainment will have the playable demo of Spellirium to show, as well as the alpha version of Head of the Gorgon, a charitable game which we’re publishing for developer Project Overboard.

About Spellirium

Spellirium

Spellirium

Spellirium is a point n’ click graphic adventure game, in the style of LucasArts classics like The Secret of Monkey Island. This genre is mashed up with the word puzzle genre, so Spellirium has players spelling words to defeat monsters and to discover secrets. The game takes place in a gorgeously rendered “trashpunk” world, where the world is rebuilt from the discarded garbage of the 21st century.

(Spellirium) just shot to the top of my “can’t wait to play” list. – Gamezebo.com

beyond gorgeous … gloriously grim and quirky. – JayIsGames.com

About Head of the Gorgon

Head of the Gorgon

Head of the Gorgon

This is a retelling of the myth of Perseus, the hero of Greek mythology who slew Medusa the gorgon, a snake-haired monster whose mere gaze could turn a man to stone. The game is refreshingly told in the style of ancient Grecian pottery. It’s a short, simple adventure that’s fully voiced by professional actors and comedians, with a dramatic orchestral score and sharp, funny dialogue. All proceeds from sales of the game will send at-risk Toronto youth to computer camp.

Both Spellirium and Head of the Gorgon are built on UGAGS, the Untold Graphic Adventure Game System, which powered the company’s break-out hit Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure. Send an email to book a meeting with Untold Entertainment’s president Ryan Henson Creighton at Casual Connect in Seattle: info (att) untoldentertainment (dott) com.

Head of the Gorgon Preview on InnerSPACE

i can tell just by looking at you that you’re dying for a status update on Head of the Gorgon. The old-school graphic adventure game based on Greek mythology was created by the world’s largest game jam team, Project Overboard, a few short weeks ago at TOJam.

This past week, SPACE Channel dropped by to shoot a segment on the game for InnerSPACE. The show’s host, Ajay Fry, voices Perseus in the game. You’ll also get your first glimpse at Medusa, who is voiced by Toronto comic Hunter Collins.

Head of the Gorgon is due out soon. All the proceeds go to sending kids to computer camp. Donate now before it becomes cool!