在近代游戏技术中，Flash有着非同寻常的历程。正如我们前几天讨论的那样，它在行业公司收购、竞争和手机崛起的艰难条件下生存，展现出繁荣且能够带来可观经济回报的网页游戏社区。这项技术的核心公司之一是Flash Game License，这家公司以独立开发商和大小门户网站之间联络人的身份参与了大量的交易。其联合创始人Chris Hughes在媒体访谈中提到了Flash游戏盈利机制，以及如何制作价值5万美元的Flash游戏。
Flash Game License的核心业务是为Flash游戏开发商和买方提供服务的市场和社区，但是我们也同Unity开发商和HTML5开发商合作。从本质上来说，我们帮助的是所有类型的网页游戏开发商。但是，主要业务仍然是Flash。我们的业务主要包括两个部分。我们有自己的拍卖系统，如果你愿意的话，可以把它称为Flash游戏界的eBay。开发商将游戏上传到拍卖系统中，我们拥有5000个会访问站点并对游戏竞标的买方。一旦游戏通过拍卖系统售出，交易便达成，通常会在游戏中加入添加某些类型的品牌标识。我们把这个过程称为赞助。站点的另一个部分便是Game Shop，开发商们可以在此出售次级授权。只需要内容的站点会采用这种方式进行购买，这些站点并非出于营销目标购买游戏。这便是我们运营的两项主要业务，而且势头正盛。我们已经连续4年取得三位数的增长。
这是优势之一。还有个部分，就是购买次级授权的站点无论如何都不会发布打上其他人品牌的游戏。比如，Addicting Games永远不会让带有Kongregate品牌的游戏上线。因而，让他们再次授权游戏并贴上自己的品牌，Kongregate并不会有所损失。真正有意义的是，Kongregate可能会想：“我可以支付5万美元购买这款游戏的专属使用权，这意味着没人会愿意将含有我品牌的游戏在自己的站点上线，倒不如省下3万美元，游戏可以在Addicting Games等其他站点上发布，反正我无论如何也无法获得那些流量。”因而，这种方式在成本计算方法还是有一定用处的。
情况并不稳定。直到去年的很长一段时间里，流行的交易是赞助商根据点击游戏的用户数量向开发商支付报酬。因而，如果Armor Games赞助了某款游戏，玩家点击“更多游戏”按键链接到Armor Games的站点时，他们会追踪到这个行为，然后以每用户5美分的价格向开发商支付报酬。这确实可以刺激开发商将人们引向站点。现在这种方式使用得较少，主要是因为赞助商很难获得投资回报。比如，如果游戏玩家有30%在中国，你为每次点击支付5美分，但是只能从这些用户身上获得每人0.1美分的盈利。因而，站点会计算出每用户获得的盈利数。现在这个数据的计算更为方便，你可以算出从每个美国用户上可以获得5美分的盈利，无法从中国用户处获得盈利，从每个欧洲用户上可以获得2美分的盈利。赞助商需要更多地关注浏览跟踪，而开发商会担心能否从中国或其他地区获得流量。因而，现在你只会看到那些能够产生大量高质量流量的开发商采用这种方式。
在FGL（游戏邦注：即Flash Game License）运营业务期间，游戏发生了怎样的改变？
这是个事实。但是我们看到并推广的想法是，基于浏览器的游戏可以测试你的游戏是否能够在iPhone上获得成功。如果游戏的Flash版本获得玩家上亿次的体验，这种情况我们已经见过许多次，那么你就需要移植这款游戏。你需要将其移植到其他平台和市场上。Berzerk Studio制作了游戏《Homerun In Berzerk Land》，随后游戏名称改为《Berzerk Ball》。他们发布了Flash版本的游戏，之前和现在游戏的表现都非常出众。所以公司将游戏移植到iOS平台上，它在那里的表现也很不错。我确信他们在iPhone上赚到的钱比Flash多，但是如果他们不发布浏览器版本的游戏的话，根本就不会知道这款游戏会流行。他们可能花上1年的时间来制作某款iPhone游戏，然后看着它在市场上销声匿迹。你可以在1个月的时间内将原型制成Flash游戏，售得2万美元，然后看看游戏的流行程度，随后再决定是否移植。如果游戏失败了，你至少还能够赚到2万美元。
你如何看待Flash Stage 3D的出现？
Flash gaming: Doing deals with Chris Hughes
Flash has one of the most remarkable stories in recent game technology. As we’ve discussed over the last couple of days, it’s survived acquisition, competition and the rise of mobile phones to deliver a thriving webgame community that’s enjoying considerable financial reward. At the heart of this business is Flash Game License, a company which brokers a huge number of deals between indie developers and portals, small and large. We spoke at length to co-founder Chris Hughes about the mechanics of the Flash gaming scene, from what US players are worth, compared to European and Chinese, to what it takes to make a Flash game worth $50,000.
Could you outline your business and how it’s changed over the last few years?
Flash Game License at its core is a marketplace and community primarily for Flash game developers and buyers, but we also do work with Unity developers and HTML5 developers – basically any web game developer we help. But primarily it’s still Flash. We’ve got two main parts to that. We’ve got our auction system – eBay for Flash games, if you will. A developer will come and upload a game and then we have 5000 buyers visit the site and bid on the games. Once the game has gone through the auction a deal is made – usually some sort of branding gets put into the game. That’s what we call sponsorship. The other part of our site is the Game Shop – that’s where developers sell secondary licences. A site who just wants content will buy it that way – they’re not using it for a marketing purpose. Those are the two things we launched with and are going strong. I think we’ve seen triple digit growth every year, for four years.
I’d say the biggest thing right now are the non-exclusive licences. We’ve pioneered a licensing deal that brings in the bigger companies. I’ll give you an example: Yahoo wants a bunch of content, but if they want to work with the type of market we’re in – indie developers pumping out games quickly – if they want 100 games then they’ll have to deal with 100 developers. That’s hard, if not impossible for them. Microsoft requires a three million dollar insurance coverage for the games – it’s an expensive annual premium. Obviously independent developers can’t afford that. So we have Easy License – we bundle all that together, and we work with the large company to sub-license them the game. Yahoo will sign a contract with us, and we’ll do the deal with the 100 developers, and we have all this insurance coverage and do all the taxes. This has really gone amazingly well. Everyone loves it. Developers are getting paid faster, they’re getting more deals, the big companies are getting content faster. And on top of this the devs are selling their games for tens of thousands to their primary sponsor and then they’re getting all these deals from the secondary companies in the non-exclusive market.
Is the main advantage for the small development teams or solo outfits who can’t handle all the red tape?
Well, there’s a couple of things. One is cost. A lot of them just can’t afford it. The cheapest three million dollar coverage you can get for cyber-liability and errors and omissions and so forth is probably ten or twenty thousand dollars a year. A lot of these developers right there can’t do it, or it doesn’t make sense financially. The other thing is most of these developers are small teams – their main goal is to make games. And really that’s been our goal: to help devs focus on what they love to do, so they don’t have to wear their business hat, marketing hat or their legal hat. So they have a set contract they do with us and we worry about the contract with the other guy.
And then there’s the payment. If we work with a big company who we know is going to pay us, sometimes they’ll take 60 or 90 days. If you’re living paycheque to paycheque, that might mean you can’t feed yourself! But we know we’re going to be paid, so we pay the developer on day one and wait to get that money back from Microsoft, or whoever. So that’s a big part of it. But on the other hand too, the big companies want one point of payment. They don’t want to pay 100 different people.
What kind of deals do you see getting cut? What sort of figures get offered and for what?
We see a huge range. A good game will get anywhere from $5000 and up. A great game will get $15,000 and up. We typically see two to three games a month that are in that ‘great’ range. Occasionally we get a game come through that gets $80,000, but that’s definitely the exception. And, I should note, this is all up-front; a lot of the deals have performance bonuses or ad-share revenue. So these numbers are the bare minimum they’re getting. And then there’s the secondary market. Kongregate may offer you $20,000 for a primary licence – which means you can sell non-exclusives as well, so you can go to the other portals and sell it for additional money, in the $1000 to $2000 range, or get a revenue share deal with someone like Microsoft or Yahoo, which can be tens of thousands down the line, if not hundreds if the game is popular long enough.
What’s in it for Kongregate to shell out those sums of money when the game isn’t exclusive?
When you’re the primary sponsor you get the juiciest part of the marketing. They don’t sell the secondary licences until a week or two after, occasionally longer than that. But if you look at the Flash game life cycle – the first two weeks really matter. The sites do a huge churn, so they can’t really afford to have even an awesome game up for more than a couple of weeks. After that, the worth to you diminishes. There’s definitely a plateau of players you will always get. In fact, we have games from three or four years ago that a still getting tens of thousands of plays a day – but those are the games getting millions in their first week.
So that’s one part of it. The other part is that the sites who buy secondary licences won’t put a game up with someone else’s branding anyway. So Addicting Games, for example, will never put a Kongregate-branded game up. So Kongregate loses nothing by letting them license that game again and put their own branding in it, because Kongregate would never have seen one person come from that site anyway. Where this makes sense is that Kongregate says, “Okay, I can either pay $50,000 for this game and make it exclusive, which means no one can put it on their site without my branding, or I can save $30,000 and he can put it on Addicting Games or wherever, because I’d never get that traffic anyway.” It just makes sense from a cost perspective.
There are some that don’t, and will pay the full $50,000 for the exclusive rights to that game. A lot of that’s up to the developer, too – some of them want that higher up-front money, some of them like the ability to sell non-exclusives. It’s all about negotiation. But when we’ve tracked these stats it’s cheaper for the sponsor, and the developer makes up in non-exclusives, and there’s no traffic lost.
How have these deals changed over time? Has a share of ad revenue become more important while the up-front payment got less?
It really fluctuates. For a while – I’d say up until last year – what was popular were performance deals where sponsors were paying developers a cost-per-click for a unique user to their site. So if Armor Games sponsor a game, and a player clicks on the ‘more games’ button and gets taken back to Armor Games, they would track that and pay the developer something like five cents per user. And then they’d usually cut it off at three months. And that really incentivised the developer to push people to the site. That’s diminished a little bit now, mainly due to the fact that it’s really hard [for the sponsor] to get a return on investment on something so broad. So for example, if your game has 30 per cent of its plays in China, you might be paying five cents per click but only be able to monetise them at a rate of 0.1 cents per user. So, the sites have worked out what they can make per user; it’s more calculated now, so you get five cents per user for US, nothing for China, two cents for Europe. But it’s more work on the sponsor side to keep track of that, and developers have to worry about whether they are getting Chinese traffic or this or that traffic. So now you only see this sort of deal with developers who know they can drive a tonne of quality traffic.
In terms of the games that command a $50,000 up-front fee, how substantial are these projects?
The games that are getting a tonne of money are sequels. They’re games that have got a huge following. It’s a guaranteed home run for the sponsor. Once you’ve got players emailing you to make a sequel, your game has a calibre where it commands those sums of money.
Is there a standard genre which makes good money?
No. Most of our active sponsors are part of the youngish male action audience. They like zombie games and RPGs and shooters. But that’s not indicative of the market; that’s indicative of the people who are really active on our site. When a developer releases a really kick-ass Mahjong game, that thing sells for a crazy amount of money. It’s just you’ve got two sponsors interested in it instead of ten.
How have the games changed over the time FGL has been running?
The quality’s definitely gone up. As money started flowing in, teams of developers started getting involved. We work with developers who were two-to-three man groups and now they’re six-to-ten. Obviously the quality’s going up because they have artists and audio engineers.
Is there still a market for games made by solo developers in their bedroom?
Absolutely. If they’re not well rounded, it’s hard. For me personally, I’m a game developer but I couldn’t pull it off, because I suck at art. There are guys out there though who might not be the best artist or best coder in the world, but have the right skillset to put it all together. Usually what happens is that devs will work their way up – they’ll make a good game, but the art’s a little lacking, but it’ll be good enough to do well, and then for the next project they’ll team up with an artist. With a Flash game the polish level is so important, it’s really worth it for someone to do that. Gamers are really forgiving as long as they’re having a good time, but they have to get over that first hurdle of quality. The stickman thing only works with certain games.
How many sponsors and how many developers use your site?
If you don’t mind, I’ll look it up right now. Let’s see. It grows so fast, every time I see an interview with me, I’m like, “But we’re much more than that!” I thought at some point it would level off, but it hasn’t yet. So, we’ve got around 5000 buyers, and over 20,000 developers.
Is FGL’s growth a reflection of a burgeoning development scene, or is it expanding into an existing community?
I’d guess both – I don’t kid myself in thinking that we are the main driving force in all of this. I definitely think we’ve had an influence. Me and my co-founder Adam [Schroeder], we were developers four years ago, and we just saw that the system was broken and everything was piled up against developers. To get a sponsorship in the old days, you’d have to email everyone individually, saying, “Hey, do you like my game?” So this was just a way of bringing everyone together – it’s a kind of glue. I think it’s done a good job at that. But we’re still better looked at as a percentage of the growth rather than a driving force of the growth. There are a lot of outside deals, too. I do think our market share in the industry is growing, but the industry is growing.
So do you get a sense that there’s a migration away from browser games to things like iOS?
It’s a factual statement to say there’s a tonne of interest in that. But kind of what we’ve seen, and pushed, is that a browser-based game is such a great proving ground for whether your game is successful on iPhone. If your game gets 100 million views in Flash – and we’ve seen this several times – you need to port it. You need to put it somewhere else. It needs to be in a different market. Berzerk Studio made one particular game called Homerun In Berzerk Land, and later changed the name to Berzerk Ball. They released it in Flash. It did awesome, and still does awesome. So they ported it to iOS and it did great there too. I’m pretty sure they made more [money] on iPhone than in Flash, but they would never have known they had a popular game if they hadn’t put the browser game together in a month. They could have spent a year making an iPhone game and watch it flop. You can make a pretty fleshed out prototype in Flash in a month, sell it for $20,000, see the popularity of it, and then port it over. And if you see it fail, you’ve still made $20,000.
So is the comparison between the two markets that you can guarantee a decent baseline revenue from a Flash game, but you’ll never hit the Angry Birds sorts of figures – whereas on iPhone, you can make a million or fail to make any kind of splash at all?
Yes. It’s going to be impossible to make a million on a sponsorship. I hate to say that. Maybe there would be a weird, crazy circumstance – but I’m going to say it’s impossible. It’s been proven, multiple times, to be possible on the iPhone market. Where that changes a little bit is where you use a freemium monetisation model. I’ll give you a disclaimer and an example: we also own a system called GamerSafe. We call it a game enhancing platform but at its core it’s a microtransaction platform. So you can do achievements, scoreboards and cool stuff with it, but you tie it to money. We’ve seen games do well with that, and there is a potential for Flash games to make a million there, easily. But you’re going to have to plan that a little bit longer than the one month turn around game, so what we usually suggest is you make a game, you test it in the market and then you take the next step with microtransactions.
How many Flash games try to be “sticky” or use microtransactions now?
I’d say it has increased, but not by leaps and bounds. If you take all the social games and Facebook and so forth – which we do help with somewhat, but it’s not the bulk of our games – that’s a whole different ball-game. That’s increased by a ridiculous percentage in the last few years. But in terms of the usual casual Flash game, it’s not increased a tonne. That’s mainly due to the developer base. It’s taken a while for the implementation to mature. The first few games that had GamerSafe on Newgrounds, people were pissed. Players hated it. They were so against it. And the developers were worried it was because it was the wrong model, but it was really just because they didn’t know how to implement it – it was like, “Hey, want to save this game? Pay me money!” No one likes that. But now they’re much more clever, offering you things that aren’t necessary to complete a game but make it more fun. They’re catching onto the things that Zynga has known for years now. But it’s not blown up. I think there are a few people who will get it a make a tonne of money on it, but right now it’s mainly just people making pretty good money on Flash, then porting them and making the bulk of their money.
Is HTML5 a threat to or replacement for Flash?
Everything’s driven by money. FGL supports Unity now. We could easily support HTML5. The problem is, when we do that, we create a marketplace for a market that doesn’t exist. But the second that Google, Microsoft, or Apple or any of those guys pushing HTML5, the second they say, “Fine. Here’s a million dollars to developers to make HTML5 games,” we’ve got a market. It’s funny – we talk to Microsoft quite frequently about things, and they’re always trying to get us to push HTML5 and convince developers. But the second we ask for some money to give to developers they go, “Ah no, we don’t want to do that.” They’re shooting themselves in the foot – it would be so easy! They could have hundreds if not thousands of HTML5 games in a matter of months if they just dumped some money into it. And not even a lot of money.
So to me, that’s the catalyst. But right now there’s no reason. Say you’re a developer. Right now you want to make an HTML5 game. What are you going to do with that? Where are you going to make money? The only way you can do it, is to go the commission route. But that’s a contract job, that’s not a creative indie developer thing. If you just want to make your cool idea into a game, there’s no reason to try HTML5. And the technology is so behind right now. I used to be a web developer and HTML5 is a pain in the ass. Or even just HTML! Does it work in Firefox? Does it work in Explorer? And these are just websites. When you have a complex game with physics in it, you’re going to have to make it work in so many browsers, it’s going to break in so many different ways. And how are you going to protect your code? You can just view the source! There are all kinds of problems. Of course, a developer isn’t going to care about any of that crap if someone gives them $100,000, but right now, no ones even giving $1000.
When the market takes off, we’ll be ready to support it. We’re willing to move wherever developers want to move. In fact, with Unity we tried to be the driving force – to give it that little extra push. We put a lot into it. But there was no bite. The whole reason of a sponsorship is marketing, right? You’re putting a banner ad in a movable bit of content. With Unity, a game can go to three sites right now. The game might be awesome, but so what? It doesn’t have the viral spread of a Flash game. And the last statistic I saw, when a person hits a Unity game, there’s a 50 per cent drop off from the ‘install Unity’ screen. So you’re losing half your customers before they’ve seen the game. Maybe that’s improved some now, but with Flash you hit 98 per cent of your users straight away. But if anyone’s going to do it, Unity will. they have awesome people working for them and they’re doing lots of things right, but it’s still tough.
What do you think of the advent of Flash Stage 3D?
It’s definitely interesting. But 3D in general, I don’t think it’s a game changer. 3D of itself doesn’t do anything. You have to have an awesome game mechanic. And if that mechanic requires or makes good use of 3D then awesome. But as far as just making a platformer 3D? We’ll see a little bit of a surge because new things are cool, but I don’t see it being a huge deal. That said, I think the developer community will go crazy with it, even if gamers don’t think it’s the best thing ever.
Assuming that the competition to Flash does step up, what could Adobe do to ensure Flash remains attractive to devs?
I think they’re taking the right steps. They’re a bit disorganised with some things. But the biggest thing is that they recognise games – they have a games division now, which they didn’t for a long time. They see it as huge business, and something they need to do to keep their market share. 3D is part of that. So that’s all good. And they’ve hinted at all kinds of other game specific ideas. The huge one is cross-platform – that’s got a way to go. When you port something from Flash to iOS you still get a huge performance hit. That’s what was strong in Unity’s court. If you’re able to deploy to mobile devices as well as the web, that’d be huge.
Most of our developers, they really are Flash developers. I don’t mean that in a negative way, but I don’t think the majority of them could pick up Objective-C very quickly. They’ll hire someone to port their game or miss out. We actually did a competition with Adobe for Flash webgames optimised for mobile, and that was pretty impressive despite the performance issues. That could be a game changer too. If webgames on phones took off that could change the entire industry – paying to download an app would be irrelevant at that point.
You mean something like Kongregate’s Android app which lets you browse their webgames games?
Sure, but even just viewing their web portal on your phone. But there are so many people who’d want to block that – carriers and phone manufacturers. App sales are so important right now to these company’s revenue streams that they might stop that threat straight away.
But it’d be pretty good for you guys if it did happen!
Oh yeah! But with the mobile market it’s been tricky for us to get hooked in there with sponsors because there’s really no conversion from an app to your website. But as a gamer it’d be huge, because you wouldn’t have to worry about paying for apps, or worrying about the filtering mechanisms of one particular company to show you what’s important. So there are lots of upsides.
Do you have a relationship with iPhone publishers to help them find Flash games that are worthy of porting?
We do. A lot of them license games just for mobile rights – they don’t even want the code. They just have their own team build it and release it. But it’s not the same kind of marketing tool. They just want to monetise their game, they’re not interested in driving traffic. It’s different, but it’s good. It’s definitely a slower up-take though. If nothing changes, then we’d hope to have a mix. But my concern as a developer myself, is that I want to give developers the creative freedom to create something they have a vision for, and then sell it. That’s what we’re pushing for.
So, Flash: not dead yet, then?
That’s just platform wars. The companies that are used to adver-gaming or contract work are looking into HTML5 – that’s where you see the “Flash is dead” thing come up. And maybe it’s true in those circles. If you’re going to develop a game for iPhone and you’re willing to spend $100,000, then it may make sense to go with HTML5. I would probably caution them to say, “Do you not think Apple’s going to change the rules there if it starts making money?” But I can see why it’s interesting. Beyond that it still doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. People can argue, but it’s still Flash right now: that’s where the penetration rate is so high, and gamers and developers focus most of their time. When it comes to the really innovative games, Flash is still where it’s at. (Source: Edge)