How Does a Flash Game Developer Make Money?

January 11th, 2011 Articles

People often ask me how I make money developing flash games since they are free for people to play. Hopefully this short article will offer some insight into how to monetize flash games and provide some data that might be of use (or at least interest) to other developers or people wanting to make money from flash games.

The short answer is that almost all of the money in the flash games industry comes from advertising. I make some money from having adverts in games and I have a site (BadViking.com) where I also show adverts. Sites with bigger user bases are able to make significant amounts of money by showing adverts. In order to obtain those user bases these sites pay to sponsor games (among other things).

What that means is that they pay for the right to have their logos and links put into a game. Because of the viral nature of a flash game it will quickly spread to many sites (provided it is good enough) and will be played several million times generating a significant amount of traffic (and therefore advertising revenue) for the sponsor of a flash game.

Of course it doesn’t always work out that way. Some games will flop and the sponsor could make a loss so they have to choose carefully which games to sponsor. Make a good enough game though and you could certainly net a very nice sponsorship deal which is what can make being a flash game developer profitable. At the short end of the spectrum there are games that go for a few hundred dollars but at the other end there are games that can sell for tens of thousands. Primary sponsorship deals make up almost 70% of my revenue.

It doesn’t stop there though. Most sponsors allow you to sell secondary licenses of your game. In these versions of the game you switch out the branding for that of another sponsor with the condition that the new version is locked to one site and is not allowed to spread virally. Obviously these sell for less than the main sponsorship but are still a valuable source of income and currently account for 10% of my revenue.

The rest is made up by advertising, whether that be in the game or on my website. The one source that we don’t get any revenue from oddly enough is our user base. We rely on the users to generate advertising income but they don’t actually give us anything in return for the right to play our games. In some ways that does seem like an untapped source of income but on the other hand it would be a huge shame to have to make users pay for the wealth of free games that can be found on the internet.

It seems though that we are on the verge of change as micro-transaction systems are starting to crop up in many of the top quality games on offer. Happily this does not mean that we are about to see the end of free entertainment on the internet. Almost the opposite in fact. Every day free to play games with higher production values than ever before are being developed.

I myself have implemented micro-transactions in one of my newest games, Toxers. Players can spend a bit of money to buy extras for the game such as fun weapons or in-game currency. I had been hopeful that this could be a great additional source of income without compromising the free to play philosophy but it seems that the majority of players do not share this viewpoint.

Some people do pay for some of the extra content in Toxers which is great but the income from that has been somewhat disappointing. It is hard to tell whether Toxers simply wasn’t the right game for micro-transactions. Certainly there have been some big successes with micro-transactions but we will have to think hard about whether they are worth the extra effort spent developing the additional content in future games, not to mention the negative response from players who don’t appreciate the idea of spending money in flash games.


14 Responses to “How Does a Flash Game Developer Make Money?”

  • Meatbucket [ 14Jan11]

    As a professorial developer myself I feel your plight. I just started looking into flash games myself and that caught my attention of your article.

    I played Toxers (off Kongregate) and it was one of the best produced flash games I have ever seen on that site. There was so much depth to that game and it had such high production value. Kudo’s for making such a great game. I haven’t seen an RPG that drawed me in since Caravaneer.

    The funny thing is, I was playing for half an hour and died because I didn’t realize there was an equipment tab in al’s store. Also at the time that I was playing I’m not sure if the premium store was an option, or at least I didn’t see it. Even if I had known about it, I probably would not have paid for a premium weapon unless the game became so difficult that I needed one. I like a challenging game, so why would I buy something to make it less challenging. Also there isn’t enough incentive to pay for the premium equipment as the game can be finished within 2-3 hours.

    Now if you had charged for an extra one or two episodes like the doom business model (I realize this would probably be a great deal of work), but I would have put down some real cash for that.

    I hope you continue to make another game like Toxers and maybe only provide 1/3 the game with the ability to pay for the rest.

     
  • Rob [ 14Jan11]

    Hi Meatbucket,

    Thanks for your response and really happy to hear that you enjoyed Toxers. The reason you didn’t see the premium content on Kongregate is because they don’t allow external micro-transaction systems so we had to remove it from there.

    It’s interesting to hear that you think an episodic model would be a good way to go. I’ve shied away from that in the belief that players would view it as a demo and would feel that they were being cheated out of a portion of the game. In a game like Toxers where the main idea of the game is to play it through to its conclusion and beat the final boss, players would be very irritated if they had to pay to see the game to the end. Still, I could see it working if done properly and in the right game.

    Incidentally we have just finished a game that is fairly similar to Toxers called The Legend of the Golden Robot which is basically an RPG where you play an Indiana Jones style artefact hunter. In my opinion it’s a better game than Toxers but we will have to see what the public thinks :) It should hopefully be released in a couple of weeks I’d imagine.

     
  • LeonardoTheKat [ 19Jun11]

    I’m not old enough to get a job, but creating flash games is confusing. Could you e-mail me a few tips if you’re not busy? (or post)

     
  • Rob [ 19Jun11]

    Hi Leonardo,

    You’re right, it’s not easy to make flash games. The main thing to do is to learn Actionscript 3. Or at least learn the basics. Then you can pick up new techniques as you go. To learn AS3 there are tons of resources on the internet or you could get a book to help you. And you’ll need a copy of adobe flash… which isn’t cheap! You can get a trial version for a month which you could use to see what you think. Or you can use flash develop which is free (but less intuitive for beginners to use).

    It’s hard to know if that’s the sort of thing that you were after or not when you say ‘tips’ but hopefully that helps. Just post if you want more info and I’d be happy to point you in the right direction.

     
  • yoigames [ 27Jun11]

    nice articles.
    i’m curious about badviking.com revenue,seems like its monetize using adsense. how much you get per day from the ads on that site?

    i also developing games and have my own portal but the conversion rate is very low if the visitor is come from link that i attached on my flash game.

    thank you

     
  • Rob [ 27Jun11]

    Yes BadViking.com is monetized using google adsense. I’m not going to share exact figures but I will say that the revenue generated from those ads is currently pretty low. You need a very large number of visitors to make any decent money from ad revenue alone.

    As I see it there are two strategies for indie game developers:

    1. Self sponsor your own games and rely on ad revenue – this is risky but could potentially be very rewarding in the long term as your site grows.

    2. Focus on getting games sponsored – this is the method I am currently going for. The up front money is too much for me to turn down at the moment and run the risk of making very little through self-sponsorship.

    Bet of luck making games!

     
  • Caboose [ 29Aug11]

    Could you please give an estimate of yur monthly or yearly income. I know it probably will vary, but it will be helpful to know the know how much you make on average.Thx Imma goin to check out yur game.

     
  • Darrin [ 01Dec11]

    Thanks for the post. Nice info.

     
  • York [ 21Aug12]

    Very interesting article. Your games are fantastic by the way.

    I have a question. You said learning AS3 is a good program to learn for flash game development. Would you reccomend college courses, even at the community college level, or is the program easy enough to learn through books or tutorials?

     
  • Rob [ 21Aug12]

    Thanks.
    I learnt through books and tutorials and lots of trial and error so it certainly can be done that way. Everyone is different though so it’s about finding something that works for you. The one piece of advice I would give is that it’s best to get into good habits early. There are lots of ways of writing functional code (which is good enough for starters) but when you come to bigger projects you will benefit from a more structured approach. A good book will help with this and you would hope that a course would be good for that too.

     
  • Matt [ 29Jan13]

    I’m a 2nd year student in college studying to develop video games as a career. I’ve learned the basics of actionscript in addition to many other programming languages. I’ve always wanted to make flash games on the side no matter where I ended up in life. Only very recently though have I gained the ability to do so. After learning a bit of actionscript and throwing a few things together I decided I’d like to share my final products of one of the many portals I have adored throughout my flash game career. Until a few days ago it had honestly never occurred to me that money could be made off of flash game development. As silly as that sounds I had always just been keen on the idea of producing them for people to enjoy. That said, I’m certainly not one to shy away from opportunity. I suppose I’m posting here to ask for a sort of “what now?” tutorial. If I have a finished product just sitting on my desktop painstakingly playtested and re-worked until I feel it’s fit to share with the general public what would be the next step? I hear a lot of talk about ad revenue and licenses and all sorts of things. What I’d really like is the advice of someone who has been through it all before. How would I go about getting a game sponsored? Are there certain portals I should consider over others to submit my game? Do different ones help me set up ads? Would it be better to have my game exclusive to one site? Or spread across as many will accept it? I guess I’m just afraid of screwing up before I even begin. I realize that no matter what my game will get out to the public and honestly that’s what really matters. But I’d kick myself if I didn’t try and take advantage of potential revenue with it. Something’s gotta help pay for school and food right?

     
  • Rob [ 29Jan13]

    Hi Matt,

    It sounds like you’ve done the right thing so far. Don’t be in a hurry to publish your game is rule number one.

    So, you have a few options available to you now. You can try to get your game sponsored. Obviously I have no idea of the quality of your game but if it’s good enough you should be able to get a sponsor. Head over to FGL (https://www.fgl.com/) to do some reading up on sponsorship. FGL is an auction house for flash games where potential sponsors can view and place bids on your games.

    I would point out that FGL has mixed success rates. Sometimes it can work out well to have your game on there but personally I prefer to deal directly with sponsors. Of course for your first game you don’t have any contacts and you don’t necessarily have a realistic view of what it is worth which makes dealing directly harder but it is still an option.

    You may find that you are unable to get a sponsor for your game. If that’s the case then you can of course still publish it and if you have your own site then you can put links to it in the game.

    As for adverts you don’t need to worry about those until you have got a sponsor (or decided that you aren’t going to get a sponsor and just want to publish your game anyway). Some sponsors will ask you to use a specific ad API and some sponsors won’t allow you to have ads at all (you should be aware of this before making any deals).

    Generally speaking there are two main options for ads at the moment: CPMStar and Mochiads. Mochi are probably better for ease of use and support but you have a bit more control with CPMStar. Mochi also has a distribution network which can get you some more plays and can be worthwhile. Their rates are fairly comparable I’d say. Sponsors are more likely to want you to use CPMStar since they are slightly less intrusive and also sponsors get a small cut of the ad revenue.

    And then you will come to actually releasing the game. If you have found a sponsor then they will be able to help you out at this point. Some prefer to have it locked to their site for a week or two to iron out any last bugs or to get their site ranked in search engines.

    Then you will be able to upload it to portals. The big two that allow you to upload to yourself are Kongregate and Newgrounds. For Kong you will have to disable ads (Mochi does this automatically) since they show their own ads (for which you receive revenue share).

    If the game doesn’t spread virally from Kong/NG then you can try emailing it out to some portal owners or uploading it to others that allow it. However to be brutally honest if it hasn’t spread already then it is unlikely that this will yield any great results.

    Your best option at this stage is then to try and sell sitelocks of the game. These are secondary licenses and you will have to implement branding and lock the game to the licensor’s site. Again FGL is the place to go to sell these and it is arguably a better service for this than for getting the main sponsorship in the first place. Just make sure that your main sponsor is ok with you selling sitelocks because if they have asked for an exclusive deal they will not want you to.

    So, I’ve waffled on for a bit there but I’ve tried to give a comprehensive answer! I may actually turn this into a separate blog post…

    I’ll also email this to you.

    Best of luck and feel free to get in touch if you have any more questions,
    Rob

     
  • Seyi [ 18May13]

    This is my first time out here. Already I have been hugely impressed with the lines; kudos. I’m just about going into flash gaming. I am a capable programmer in vb, C and Java. I will now look to actionscript and flash gaming. My worry has always been and still is how to get money off the internet. My country happens to be among those earmarked for online poverty by clickbank and co. Please tell me whether the advice given here also applies to me.

     
  • Geo [ 04Jan14]

    Thanks for this cute article
    I am Unprofessional game programmer for about 15 years old( vb6 , flash mx )
    i never tried to earn money from it
    I have one question ..( i am afraid it is Embarrassing )
    what the average income can a free professional game programmer earn ??
    i am waiting your reply
    thanks again

     

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