As some of you might know our first game named JetBus came out 2 weeks ago. I thought I’d share our goals for this game and also discuss a bit our findings of how the Flash game industry “seems” to work, I say “seems” because with only 1 game released there is no way we can take anything for granted, maybe not even after 10 games released. This will be just my personal opinion of Flash games, casual players, portals, APIs etc.

An experiment

From day 1 we all had the same goal for JetBus, it was meant to be an experiment which would get us started and give us some insight of how the industry works. None of us had any dreams for it to be successful or concerns that it wouldn’t be, I’m being honest when I say this and I can’t stress it enough, from start to finish we didn’t have any expectations for the game, we were only interested in the process itself. The only thing on our mind was making a game that worked well, didn’t have any bugs, used our own engine and that we could use to try and get an idea of how to monetize games.

This doesn’t mean we didn’t care about making a good game, it just means that we didn’t worry about pleasing anyone with it. It is still a finished game that we personally like to play.

The goal

These were the 4 topics we wanted to learn about and the true purpose of JetBus:

  1. Can we make a Flash game? Not saying technically, but can we come up with a concept and theme and take it from start to finish going through the entire process and applying the little knowledge we have about game design (not design as in graphics but design as a whole).
  2. How to make an engine for our games? We started from 0, read a LOT, ran hundreds of tests, wrote and rewrote code and came up with the first version of our engine, since then we already improved it a lot but all of this was only possible because we had a game to use as a “lab rat”.
  3. Can we monetize a Flash game? This was a big question mark for us, we had no idea how to monetize a game, if it would get a sponsor, if ads are a good income or not etc. So far we haven’t even scratch the surface of this complex part of the process but at least we have a case study to reflect upon and draw conclusions.
  4. Can we get our brand out there? Even though this was at the bottom of our priorities (this is obvious since we don’t even have a good website yet) it turned out to be surprisingly important for us to get people on our website after we saw the number of visits.

The development

The process is NOT one that we would like to see as an example, first because it involved learning all we could about making games and starting a game engine from 0 without having any background experience with games. This is good, we loved learning and we will always have to learn more and more about games in general but it’s not directly related to the game itself.

Also unfortunately it wasn’t smooth as we would have liked. We started it as a side project that we only worked on the weekends and then after a few weekends we had to stop it completely to focus on client work and the game was literally untouched for 2 or 3 months. Then we went back to work on it once a week, then stopping it cause of work again, etc etc… only on the final stages we were working on it on a daily basis and by then we just wanted it to be over. Even though we probably didn’t spend more then a month or month and a half in total if we counted work hours only, the development was dragged for months and the final product was rushed in the very end because we just wanted to release it.

Another thing I personally hated was having to work on it sometimes without having the rest of the team involved, they were busy working on other projects (for clients) and I ended up having to make decisions and discussing things without having their full attention. Hope this doesn’t happen again.

Monetizing the game

We read scattered information available around the internet about how to monetize Flash games, it wasn’t really that helpful (the Getting Your Flash Game Sponsored book wasn’t out by then). From what we had learned though, the best approach was to use FlashGameLicense to find a sponsor. At this point we didn’t know what to expect and even though we wanted to get some kind of money for the work we had done, the biggest concern was to gather data that showed us how it works.

Sponsorship

Since we didn’t expect any kind of number, with every new bid on the game we were thinking “this wouldn’t be a bad amount for a first game” and we were surprised that the bids kept coming and reached an amount that is not awesome but is definitely higher then we thought, especially after reading some articles about games that were sold for much less and that we enjoyed playing. Our lack of expectation for an amount might have also lead us to end the bidding process early, if we had been more patient there’s a chance we could have got some higher bids.

Sitelocks

We have also managed to sell 4 non-exclusive sitelocked versions of JetBus so far since then which adds a bit more money to the pot and shows us there’s money to be made just for some hours of work on customizing the game after it has been sold.

Advertisement

The data we have about ads is not enough to draw any conclusions, the game has only been out on distribution for a couple days with the ads version but so far our thoughts are that this is not a big source of income for the average Flash game. There are only 2 ways we see this could bring some proper income: 1. you have the luck of making a game that the masses will rush out to play; 2. you release loads and loads of small games (like every 2 weeks or something).

We are obviously not interested in “baking” a new game every other week just for the purpose of having lots of games released, at least not at this time and we’re also not interested in making a game in a specific genre just for the purpose of getting millions of plays. We’re still idealists and want to make the games we’re interested in regardless of their acceptance. This might change in the future of course but for now we can afford to make games because we like to and not because we want to get rich.

Getting our name out there

It came as a surprise that a simple intro animation with a logo generated so much traffic to our address, if we had known we would have prepared a finished and well polished website before releasing the game instead of having a 2 page one done in a couple hours. This was a big mistake, if we had known we would have had a plan for this and made a nice website with some advertising which would give us some more income, its a bit late now so we’re not thinking of trying to make up for it and instead we’ll just take it slow and do it right for the next game. It was definitely a learned lesson though and we’re hoping some people can learn from our mistake by reading this.

Casual players

Flash games obviously only work because there are people that play them, however we had no idea that such a HUGE percentage of these players are only looking for a casual game that doesn’t take ANY effort to learn. We’ve realized that the more complex and involving the game is the less the average Flash game player will like it, this is a hard one to swallow since for us a game has to be involving and require skill to become fun. It seems that since the majority of these players are either 12 year old kids looking for a one-click-game-with-lots-of-blood or an older person looking for a puzzle game to kill 5 minutes during their coffee break, making a game like the ones we used to play when we were growing up is a bad idea. I think this why World of Warcraft went from an awesome game into what it is today, a social network for kids who don’t want to improve their skills so they just rant about having to make any efforts and spend 90% of their time in the chat using all the type of swearing that they cant in real life.

Anything that isn’t casual or doesn’t shed lots of blood won’t get millions of plays and a high rating, this seems true at least for 90% of the games, of course there’s always the exceptions that annoyingly contradict us while trying to make a point. Some portals are worse then others, even some of the so-called hardcore portals won’t approve a game that takes more then 5 seconds to understand, they’ll just click 0 in the rating, write “omfg, bad game!!1!” and leave, this is just plain stupid if you ask me and also sad but its the path society is choosing to take I guess where everything has to be consumed fast and if it takes any effort from our neurons then its not worth the extra seconds of our time, we’re living in the era of “quickies”.

This might seem like a rant but its really not, as I explained before this game was not meant to please anyone but us and it was an experiment that didn’t include any expectations so as much as it hurts for people to understand the fact is that we couldn’t care less about the average Flash game player when it comes to getting opinions for this specific game. This doesn’t mean we are not affected by comments of people that don’t understand that the UP arrow key is meant to go upwards or that if the game is supposed to be about flying skills you should try not to crash your vehicle against every single obstacle, it just means that we don’t take seriously any “bad game”, “too hard”, “has too many bugs” comments. As someone said in a reply to those comments, its a matter of interpretation, “bad game” might be “bad player”, “too hard” might also be “lack of skill” and “too many bugs” probably means “I don’t understand the game”.

Here’s the help of a graphic to understand the “problem”

Level Success vs Failure

As you can see the blue line (failure) starts WAY above the orange one (success) on Level 1 of the game which tells us that people went straight into the game without understanding what it is about or what they have to do, then suddenly both lines meet on Level 2 when people that did understand start playing the game and from that point on the success rate is always above the failure one. Another thing we can see is that the amount of people that played level one in easy difficulty is around 490,000 while Level 2 is around 90,000 which means that 400,000 players didn’t bother trying to understand the game and play it and preferred to give it a bad comment/rate. Is this a problem with the game? In my opinion no, its a problem with the player. I’m sorry but that’s just my personal opinion, a game doesn’t have to be bad just because its not easy for everyone, and a game being easy doesn’t mean its good.

Some portals are worse then others, its not the portal’s fault, they just have a user base that is more casual or maybe they just appeal more to a certain demographic that really shouldn’t be playing some kinds of games. Gladly, when reading comments our brains are capable of filtering the ones that matter regardless if they are from people who like or dislike the game, actually the “awesome game” comments are equally not helpful. The best comments are the ones that point out any bugs, things that annoy them, or offer suggestions of how we could make it better… these are the ones that help.

Lots of versions, lots of APIs, lots of time

There’s a lot of work involved in compiling different versions and implementing different APIs. We didn’t realize this until we actually had to do it but a lot of time goes into preparing versions for the sponsor, versions for non-exclusives, versions for distribution etc. We’re glad that we’re getting enough money in return for this work but it was definitely something we’re glad we learned in the first game, so far we’ve had to compile 9 different versions of the game and there’s at least 2 more planned for now.

We can’t be thankful enough for having thought of this before and having prepared our engine for easily implementing APIs and compiling different versions. We have a package just for APIs and all we have to do when implementing a new one is create a wrapper class for it and use a single method on our engine to initialize it, then in the game’s code whenever is needed we easily check which APIs are present and what to do for each. This allows us to have only 1 source for the game that just has a bunch of APIs initialized or not.

Beware if you’re trying to get into making games that sometimes you might accept a sponsorship offer without fully knowing the amount of work the sponsor wants, this didn’t happen to us because our sponsor was awesome in clarifying what they needed and communication with them was always super fast and clear, but we hear this a lot from other newcomers that accept a bid and then the sponsor tells them they have to translate the game to a gazillion languages, make 10 different versions, design new content just for them, etc. Be careful.

Our experience so far is that its worth spending a couple hours or even a day implementing an API and compiling a version to sell a sitelock version, at least for the price we’ve been selling them on this game. It is however a bit annoying that sometimes you run into an API is that is completely different from everything else or that is simply bad or not explained at all. I plan to make a post soon about some of the APIs we had to implement and maybe offer some tips to people that haven’t used them before but for now let me just tell you that it will help if you actually have a good understanding of ActionScript and rely on that instead of relying on the API being good, we can only imagine how someone less experienced in AS will get around some of these APIs.

Conclusion

Flash games live in a different market from other games, especially from the ones we’re used to. We still have to learn how to get used to this market and also to understand its players, we loved having comments about JetBus that will help us in the sequel and in other games and also comments of people that were reminded about of old games they used to play a long time ago. We learned that we have to get used to nonsense comments just like people will have to get used to our games not being as casual as they want them to.

We learned a lot from this experiment, we made a game that we love to play, we have dozens of ideas to include in the sequel (yes there will be one, more about this on a future post) and we managed to make some money in the end, so for us JetBus is a big success!

We’d like to thank some portals that we had the pleasure of working with and get to know like Teagames, ArmorGames and Bored and we would also like to thank FlashGameLicense for their support and platform that really helped us in getting our feet wet.