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Designing Flash Games for Fun and Profit

Will Alexander | 21 Sep 2011 19:00
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If you want to make a game and share it with the world, it doesn't get any easier than with a Flash-based browser game[1]. With an internet connection, some readily available tools, and basic programming knowledge, you can create a game, post it online, and anyone in the world with a browser can play it instantly.

A sponsor may ask for exclusive rights for a period of time, share a small amount of advertising revenue, or offer additional money if a game does well.

You also have the freedom to make exactly the game you want. Want to cross SimCity with a zombie apocalypse, or create a one-button action platformer? Go ahead. Want a 70-year old British alcoholic or a puppy-loving robot for a protagonist? Knock yourself out.

But can designing games using Flash actually put food on the table? It's a crowded market; there are hundreds of portal sites devoted to Flash games, and the big ones host anywhere from 3,000 to almost 50,000 games each (though the same game often appears on many sites). What's more, that competition is giving itself away: Flash games are almost exclusively free to play.

Yet there is money to be made designing Flash games. Sometimes there's a great deal of it, says Chris Hughes, a former Flash game developer and a co-founder of FlashGameLicense.com.

While Flash games may not make money from game sales, they can generate a lot of web traffic. The greater the web traffic, the more money hosting websites can charge for advertisements on their site. Portal sites are willing to share their advertising money with designers, because a single top-tier game can generate more than 100 million plays, Hughes says. Additionally, according to an industry report, about forty percent of internet users worldwide play Flash games..

Hughes has been using FlashGameLicense, or FGL, to connect designers with sponsor host sites - and money - since 2007. Flash developers can showcase their games on the site; host sites can preview games and bid on them. If a game sells, FGL takes a small cut. To date, the company has brokered nearly 6,000 deals and given $8.6 million to developers.

For their money, sponsors typically get the developers to include the sponsors' name, logo, and website in the game; that way, when a game inevitably spreads around the internet, there's a figurative and literal link back to the sponsor's site. Developers keep the rights to their game and intellectual property. There can be additional features to a deal: a sponsor may ask for exclusive rights for a period of time, share a small amount of advertising revenue, or offer additional money if a game does well, but most money typically changes hands through sponsorship.

As for developers, the amount of money they makes varies tremendously, both due to the terms of the deal and the success of the game. At FGL, one or two games a month - roughly the top one percent - might sell for between $20,000 and $30,000, and a similar number of games might sell for half that amount. The average price for a game sold is closer to two or three thousand dollars, but many games sell for much more - or significantly less - than that price, Hughes says.

[1] Not all designers use Flash to make browser games, but Flash is by far the most common tool. I'm using "Flash-based games" to refer to games made by these related Web tools, such as Unity.

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