A look at the Flash games category and my recent experience
For some time I thought there was no such thing as “Flash games”. I just thought there were games built using Flash. Well I must admit I am now revising my opinion on the matter. The short version of my argument would be “social games” but let’s expand a bit here.
By now I hope we all know that people playing social games are not automatically “traditional gamers”. Not saying some of them aren’t but generally. Much like my wife likes to play Tetris and not any other games (including my own). She plays 1 game but doesn’t care about anything else. Well I think there’s such category for Flash games as well.
It’s not a matter of quality, it’s not a matter of knowing which kind of games is the purest it’s just a matter of acknowledging that the dynamic surrounding them is different.
It’s free as in free beer
Flash games generally don’t cost anything. Sure there are some Flash MMO out there but when we’re speaking about Flash games that would be a lie to say that the first thing that comes to your mind is some MMO with micro-transactions. It would be like saying Golemizer is a “social game” because it was on Facebook for some months…
There are many portals offering many games and the vast majority of them can be played for free. Sure there are sometimes ads but only big hits can really say they are making money out of ads (and I’m not talking beer money but money that makes a difference in your living). This put Flash games developers in a weird situation.
The web was supposed to be the “place” where anyone could do anything and hope for the best. Much like the American dream or something. But most people don’t discover new games through blogs. They discover new games on games portals. So a Flash game to make money must appear on a game portal while technically it could be displayed anywhere. So guess where the money is…
So games portals are attracting a lot of people because they provide an easy way to discover and play new games. You could post all you want your games on your website and have people talk about it on blogs you will never have the same crowd as a Flash games portal. The only exception might be Ninja Kiwi but even them are also a portal and the first time I played a Ninja Kiwi game was on Kongregate…
What does it means to Flash game developers? Well if they want this to become more than a hobby it means they have to sell their games to portals/sponsors. Doesn’t matter if your game is amazing because if you’re not able to drive traffic to it then it will just remain some random Flash game lost on the web. Don’t tell me about some exceptions (I know there are some) because that’s not how it works 99% of the time.
So Flash game developers must first sell their games to sponsors unless they are able to hit the perfect combination of clever gameplay, nice graphics, nice timing and important coverage. This is what free means for the devs.
Wow! I spent 30 minutes on that game!
Exactly… People don’t play Flash games for that long. Again there are exceptions but generally most Flash games barely have enough content to cover 30 minutes. Why? Because most players won’t play longer anyway. Not that they don’t like the game but because they happened to play this game on lunch break, while waiting for their wife to get ready, just before going to bed, …
Flash games don’t need a lot of content because they can be played instantly. Portals are making money on recurring traffic fueling ads revenue. They don’t make more money because people are playing games for 4 hours (if a Flash game is good enough for me to play for more than 1 hour you bet I won’t click on some random ad that will take me away from my fun). They make money because people playing a game for 5 minutes might come back 3-4 times in the same day.
Of course if you have 5-10 minutes to catch one’s attention what do you need… Well either good graphics or some kind of new interesting addicting game mechanic. Just between you and me it’s much easier to get nice graphics/sound/music/atmosphere for your game than pulling out a new interesting mechanic out of your brain. At least I’m talking about myself here. Oh I have plenty of ideas but I wouldn’t say all of them are good or that I can invent a nice one in my sleep.
An example of a game that didn’t required great graphics to succeed? Sure here’s IndestructoTank. As far as I know this is the only game in its category or at least the first one. There are now 3 installments of this game all sponsored by Armor Games. Right there I can tell you that this game made great money without having to back what I’m saying with any proof. A game doesn’t get 3 sponsorship from the same sponsor without bringing nice traffic to the sponsor. Of course pulling out of your ass an IndestructoTank in the morning is easier said than done so often your best bet is to go for something that is pleasing to the eye.
The customer is first the sponsor and then maybe the players
Hey look! I am Zombie is on the front page on GameBods.com!!! Then why isn’t it on the front page of Kongregate then?… Oh right! GameBods sponsored the game!!! So don’t be fooled that just because a game make the front page of some portal that it’s automatically a great game. Of course sponsors will go after some “minimum quality” games or “in their budget” games to be more specific.
Yes the quality of a game have an impact on how much effort a portal will put on it to promote it. Of course! But the focus a portal gives to a game is far from being always equal to its quality. No need to blame sponsors here by the way. There are so many Flash games released every single day on FGL that it’s enough to make any game developer depressed. They have to choose and yes sometimes they make mistakes. I recently took some time to browse all the new games on FGL and looked at some games I never noticed on Kongregate and it was enough to crush a lot of my ideas/dreams for new games. There are so many nice games out there that are never noticed that it can become hard to believe that you will be the one to make the front page… Unless you sell your game to a smaller sponsor… (and then use this little money to buy beer to forget the fact that you won’t make a living out of games you develop… ok I’m pushing a bit here… hehe)
I am Zombie is making the front page on GameBods while Bunny Flags is making the front page on Kongregate. Take a wild guess. Did players had any word to say on the matter or one is benefiting from additional exposure? Oh yes sure Bunny Flags is probably superior than I am Zombie but both are still on a front page and not because of players. Noticed the Kongregate logo on Bunny Flags… By the way I deeply think and also have been told that my recent Flash game Mad Scientist Defense is more interesting than Bunny Flags but OMGWTFBBQ!!!!! The Graphics might not be as good!!! I guarantee you that players won’t even notice if you bid on my game… Just remember that sponsors spend money on games before any players get to play them so yes sponsors are the first customers. Not players. Sorry. You might argue that portals have some kind of foreseeing power allowing them to know what kind of game players will like but then why devs don’t have this power as well? It would be so much easier and we’d all be rich!
Right but what is this “Flash games” category anyway?
Free, can be accessed and played in a short amount of time and are marketing tools (don’t be fooled… Flash games are fueling ads revenue…). Yes yes yes… That’s not always the case… But most of the time it is. Just like social games. Not all of them are spamfest nonsense but those that people actually play are so…
Yes a Flash game can still be an actual “game”. We could call Flash games “web games”, “quick web played games”, “lunch break games” but it happens that the vast majority of them are coded with Flash so there you have the “Flash games” category. Flash might just be some tool but at the end of the day we all know what we’re talking about when we say “Flash games”. It’s not a bad thing. It’s just how it is. For what it’s worth I still think I can make some money out of a Flash game so don’t think I’m saying it’s all bad. It just might not be what you thought it was…