There is no doubt in my mind that my next project (codename Spacewars) will have micro-transactions in it. It might be a Flash project but I (most likely) won’t rely on sponsorship to make money out of it and ads revenue would probably not be enough by itself.

Why no sponsorship? Well to start with it seems that a lot of sponsors don’t like micro-transactions and second because I want to progressively release the game. I’m not going for a fire and forget approach but something that looks a bit more like what I’ve done with Golemizer. It’s not an MMO but it follows the same mindset. The game will evolve, expand and I want an Alpha and Beta release.

So what are my options for micro-transaction? Here’s a list of the services I have identified so far as possibilities.

Social Gold

http://www.jambool.com/

The first one is of course the one I already use for Golemizer. I had a great experience working with folks over there (and even helped to debug some stuff!) and now have good experience with their API. Communication was excellent (thanks to Vikas, Tanmay, Reza and Matt) though I didn’t need to contact them again since they’ve been acquired by Google. Hopefully customer service is still as good but with expansion often comes some problems at that level.

What’s also nice is their cut of each sale is only 10% which allowed me for some time to make enough money to not have to spend any money to keep the game alive even if sales were low. I’m pretty sure it’s the best deal a dev can get out there.

There is however one problem …

5. Where can I host my Flash application?
You must have control over the page that hosts your SWF.

So much for distribution eh … A big problem with Golemizer is that it remained unknown. The press barely talked about it, I didn’t have a budget (or a plan or right knowledge) for advertising and it didn’t went viral. Considering I’ve done an awful job promoting it (and honestly sometimes just have been unlucky) it still managed to catch the attention of an impressive amount of people but not nearly enough to turn this into a financial success.

Even though the results were not impressive at first the Kongregate integration did helped a lot in the end. It was however quite painful as Golemizer is all JavaScript. Same goes for Facebook and MySpace (it was on Facebook for some time but was too painful to update and I just gave up on MySpace after having my first integration denied from them). So if I’m to use Flash for a game it’d be nice to be able to distribute the game through thousands of portals. That’s just free publicity that I’m having a hard time to overlook.

Pros:

  • Reliable service with which I already have experience
  • I keep 90% of revenue
  • Customer service has been impeccable so far
  • Acquisition by Google should make Social Gold a safe bet for some years

Cons:

  • No large distribution possible

Mochi Media

http://www.mochimedia.com

This one is one of the obvious answer for Flash development. It’s big, well-known and offers multiple options. I must say however that I didn’t have much luck with their ads system through other games. I don’t mind seeing ads before playing a game as long as the ad is at a minimum relevant but I never seems to see game ads. I have clicked more than once a game ad before playing a game just to have the window open to check it later. It’s mostly just curiosity but if I see an ad about detergent then you just lost me.

Anyway this ad system is optional and like I’ve said I don’t want to rely on ads to make money. Good if I make some that way but I won’t rely on that to pay for food.  What’s interesting here is the Mochi Coins API, social API and distribution they offer. Oh and I almost forgot the GAME Developer Fund.

Being able to rely on a large community to search for info is interesting as you rarely have to post yourself and wait for an answer as pretty much every case have already been documented by someone else. Mochi Media surely offers that. I wouldn’t know about their customer service though and I suspect it’s not the same as my past experience with Social Gold which is the downside.

What’s highly interesting is how easily the game would be distributed and how I’d be able to keep updating the game even though it would be widely spread. Just to give you an idea of the distribution power of Mochi Media The adventures of Bret Airborne (which is basically just a skinned version of the Shootorial found on Kongregate) is now at 143,203 impressions and I’ve made $24.24 from it in about a year. Not that bad for a “game” for which I almost didn’t write any code and was my first ever experience with AS2 … That’s more impressions than Golemizer on Kongregate! That’s however far less money that what Golemizer made on Kongregate but that shooter was only relying on ads to make money.

The possibility to receive funds from their GAME Developer Fund would also be an interesting option. That is if I wouldn’t be suspicious of the implications this funding program might have. People don’t usually give you money for free and little details are given on their website.

Edit: I was worrying about giving away the IP but after talking with someone over at Mochi Media I can confirm that it’s not the case which is great!

EDIT: After some talk this process seems no different than what a dev have to go through at Kongregate which means basic validations to make sure I don’t do anything stupid which is normal. Here’s what I previously wrote:

Any catch? Well this one …

The Mochi Coins program is currently only open to developers by application. All games are subject to rigorous testing and quality control before they are released to the public.

Maybe it’s nothing to worry about but just because I want to use Mochi Coins it doesn’t mean I could.

Pros:

  • Very large distribution possible
  • Large community where it’s easy to find answers
  • Well known and also probably here to remain for some time

Cons:

  • I keep 60% of revenue (though they do have a huge distribution network)
  • Approval process
    • EDIT: After some talk this process seems no different than what a dev have to go through at Kongregate which means basic validations to make sure I don’t do anything stupid which is normal.
  • I’m a drop in the ocean for them so can’t say how customer service would be
    • EDIT: After tonight I must change my mind here… Either I’m a big drop (I did take some weight in the last year but it’s now going back down) or my impression was wrong (most likely).

GamerSafe

http://www.gamersafe.com

This is the “feels at home” option I would say. It feels indie friendly and contacting the person in charge would probably be a breeze. I only learned about GamerSafe since I started to look at Flash games development. Why even care at all for something that looks so small? Well first knowing that your mails won’t end up in some magical spam filter is nice to start with and that a game like Steambirds: Survival use this system is also surely to help.

GamerSafe seems to offer something that looks like Mochi Media on a smaller level but also offers the “Level Vault” which look like something that could completely take care of the little server-side my game would have. This is an interesting point as I’m looking at ways to keep the work required to a minimum. It would however means that my game would ABSOLUTELY NEED GamerSafe to exists. I can easily change the code to use another micro-transaction system but if for some reason I lose the data of my players because GamerSafe cease to exists then I’m in trouble.

GamerSafe also leave me 60% of sales though it’s 60% of the gross revenue here (I guess that with Mochi Media it’s 60% of the net). What’s a bit troubling though is that I found this info on flashgamelicence.com and not on the GamerSafe website (unless I just missed it but I doubt it).That brings me to my next point: Inactive blog and inactive Twitter account. Right I get that it’s a small service and I’m in a good position to understand that one can’t be everywhere at the same time. I would however argue that having no blog at all is better than an inactive one for a business. One would expect some news about Steambirds: Survival using GamerSafe but there’s not a word about it on the website.

Like I said I totally understand that as indies we can’t offer the same level of service (me first) but that just leave some kind of uneasy feeling if I’m to consider GamerSafe. On the other side though I’m sure that if I was to send a mail that I would probably receive a prompt answer and would even be able to chat with someone through Skype or something. It’s a bit like finding some tiny restaurant hidden somewhere and wondering if the place is still open and then eating the best meal of your life there. The trick is to know if you’ll even bother to walk inside.

Just like Mochi Media though I can easily distribute my game while running GamerSafe API so it’s a good thing.

Pros:

  • Possible to distribute the game to many portals
  • Indie friendly/can easily contact owner
  • Level Vault

Cons:

  • Limited documentation and resources
  • Small business requiring some leap of faith (unless proven otherwise but the website brings some concerns)
  • Level Vault requires to trust that GamerSafe as a small business will remain around for some time

Kongregate

http://www.kongregate.com/

Why would I include Kongregate on that list? Well they have a micro-transactions API no? And they surely have many players. Kongregate is an interesting case because they have their own API instead of allowing other APIs to work on their website. The question is “Is it possible to build a business using only Kongregate?”.

The problem here is that even if Kongregate have enough visitors per day to sustain itself it’s sounds risky to only rely on them. What if the game never makes the front page? What if it remains only at some thousands view? Will Kongregate help to promote the game since micro-transactions also mean revenue for them? What if the game is exclusive to Kongregate? Wouldn’t it be better to first try to be sponsored by Kongregate before going further? Is there any special deal that can be made for exclusive games using micro-transactions for additional FREE promotion?

Based on my experience with Golemizer nothing is certain. If Golemizer would have been better (better graphics, better tutorial, better whatever) maybe it would have received a higher rating, make the front page and then receive over a million of views and make nice money there. The problem is that I can only say “maybe” here. My best bet would be to contact someone over there and ask. Communication with the staff there have always been great so I’m sure I would receive some answers. I however don’t know what these answers would be.

Kongregate first appears like an additional measure you can take to get more players instead of being a unique solution. This means of course twice the work as you can’t bring your previous micro-transactions code. I did it for Golemizer as frankly the additional work couldn’t really hurt but it was more work. Of course now I have experience with their API so I guess a second integration would be faster (specially that this time I’m using Flash) but still …

Golemizer ended up giving some results since they opened their MMO section (with no front-page appearance though) but my new game not being an MMO I wonder in which category it would be. Probably multiplayer, strategy? There are much more games in these categories than in MMO and the highest rated games in those categories have been the same for quite some time now so the front page seems out of reach.

Pros:

  • Easy API to use with which I already have experience
  • Great support from the staff there
  • Vast player based and seems to be there to remain for many years

Cons:

  • Exclusivity to Kongregate unless duplicating work for micro-transactions
  • Risk of not having a high rating enough to receive highly valuable visibility that large distribution could get

Other options

I’m sure I’ve left some out but those are the ones I currently have in mind. If you have some suggestions let me know! All are tempting but I have yet to make a choice. I must say that going with Kongregate has something tempting for some reason even if it’s probably the most risky one (unless I only use Kongregate as a 2nd option on top of the first). Go figure.

So which options have I left out? Which one do you think I should go with?

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