Making Money with Your Game

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HTML5 Game Development with ImpactJS

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A step-by-step guide to developing your own 2D games with this book and ebook

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by Davy Cielen | May 2013 | Games

In this article by Davy Cielen and Arno Meysman authors of HTML5 Game Development with ImpactJS, we will take a quick look at the options you have for making money with HTML5 game development. Building games can be done purely as a hobby or as a profession. However, the latter requires you to build some pretty unique and successful games as the competition is quite steep. Thus, offering a unique gaming proposition, supported by a healthy dose of marketing, seems to be the way to go for most successful game developers. In this article we will cover:

  • A few strategic options you have when going into game development

  • Making money in the app circuit of Android and Apple

  • The option of in-game advertising and how it applies to HTML5 games

  • MarketJS as a way to sell your distribution rights to a publisher

(For more resources related to this topic, see here.)

Your game development strategy

If you want to build a game to make some money, it is imperative you take a few things into consideration before starting off building one. The first question you will need to ask yourself is probably this: who am I going to build a game for? Are you aiming at everyone capable of playing games or do you want to target a very specific segment of people and meet their gaming needs? This is the difference between broad and niche targeting. An example of very broadly targeted games are most tower defense games, in which you need to build towers with diverse properties to repel an army. Games such as Tetris, Bejeweled, Minesweeper, and most light puzzle games in general. Angry Birds is another example of a game that is popular with a broad audience because of its simplicity, likeable graphics, and incredible amount of clever marketing.

Casual games in general seem to appeal to the masses because of the following few factors:

  • Simplicity prevails: most gamers get used to the game in mere minutes.

  • There are little or no knowledge prerequisites: you are not expected to already know some of the background story or have experience in these types of games.

  • Casual gamers tend to do well even though they put in less time to practice. Even if you do well from the start, you can still become better at it. A game at which you cannot become better by replaying doesn't hold up for long. Notable exceptions are games of chance like roulette and the slots, which do prove to be addictive; but that is for other reasons, such as the chance to win money.

The main advantage to building casual games is that practically everyone is a potential user of your game. As such, the achievable success can be enormous. World of Warcraft is a game which has moved from rather hardcore and niche to more casual over the years. They did this because they had already reached most regular gamers out there, and decided to convince the masses that you can play World of Warcraft even if you don't play a lot in general. The downside of trying to please everyone is the amount of competition. Sticking out as a unique game among numerous games out there is tremendously difficult. This is especially true if you don't have an impressive marketing machine to back it up.

A good example of a niche game is any game built after a movie. Games on Star Trek, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and so on, are mostly aimed at people who have seen and liked those movies. Niche games can also be niche because they are targeted solely at a specific group of gamers. For example, people who prefer playing FPS (First Person Shooters) games, and do so every single day. In essence, niche games have the following properties (note that they oppose casual or broadly targeted games):

  • Steep learning curve: mastery requires many hours of dedicated gaming.

  • Some knowledge or experience with games is required. An online shooter game such as PlanetSide 2 requires you to have at least some experience with shooter games in the past, since you are pitted against people who know what they are doing.

  • The more you play the game, the more are the useful rewards you get. Playing a lot is often rewarded with items that make you even stronger in the game, thus reinforcing the fact that you already became better by playing more.

StarCraft is a game released by Blizzard in 1998 and is still being played in tournaments today, even though there is a follow up: StarCraft 2. Games such as the original StarCraft are perfectly feasible to be built in HTML5 and run on a browser or smartphone. When StarCraft was released, the average desktop computer had less power than many smartphones have today. Technically, the road is open; replicating the same level of success is another matter though.

The advantage of aiming at a niche of gamers is the unique position you can take in their lives. Maybe there are not many people in your target group, but it will be easier to get and keep their attention with your game since it is specifically built for them. In addition, it doesn't mean that because you have a well-defined aim, gamers can't drop in from unexpected corners. People you would have never thought would play your game can still like what you did. It is for this reason that knowing your gamers is so important, and why tools such as Playtomic exist.

The disadvantage of the niche marketing is obvious: your game is very unlikely to grow beyond a certain point; it will probably never rank among the most played games in the world.

The type of games you are going to develop is one choice, the amount of detail you put in each one of them is another. You can put as much effort into building a single game as you want. In essence, a game is never finished. A game can always have an extra level, Easter egg, or another nice little detail. When scoping your game, you must have decided whether you will use a shotgun or a sniper development strategy.

In a shotgun strategy, you develop and release games quickly. Each game still has a unique element that should distinguish it from other games: the UGP (Unique Gaming Proposition). But games released under a shotgun strategy don't deliver a lot of details; they are not polished.

The advantages of adopting a shotgun strategy are plenty:

  • Low development cost; thus every game represents a low risk

  • The short time to market allows for using world events as game settings

  • You have several games on the market at once, but often you only need a single one to succeed in order to cover the expenses incurred for the others

  • Short games can be given to the public for free but monetized by selling add-ons, such as levels

However, it's not just rainbows and sunshine when you adopt this strategy. There are several reasons why you wouldn't choose shotgun strategy:

  • A game that doesn't feel finished has less chance of being successful than a perfected one.

  • Throwing your game on the market not only tests whether a certain concept works, but also exposes it to the competitors, who can now start building a copy. Of course, you have the first mover advantage, but it's not as big as it could have been.

  • You must always be careful not to throw garbage on the market either, or you might ruin your name as a developer.

However, don't get confused. The shotgun strategy is not an excuse for building mediocre games. Every game you release should have an original touch to it— something that no other game has. If a game doesn't have that new flavor, why would anyone prefer it over all the others?

Then, of course, there is the sniper strategy, which involves building a decent and well-thought-out game and releasing it to the market with the utmost care and support. This is what distributors such as Apple urge developers to do, and for good reason—you wouldn't want your app store full of crappy games, would you? Some other game distributers, such as Steam, are even pickier in the games they allow to be distributed, making the shotgun strategy nearly impossible. But it is also the strategy most successful game developers use. Take a look at developers such as Rockstar (developer of the GTA series), Besthesda (developer of the Elder Scroll series), Bioware (developer of the Mass Effect series), Blizzard (developer of the Warcraft series), and many others. These are no small fries, yet they don't have that many games on the market. This tactic of developing high quality games and hoping they will pay off is obviously not without risk. In order to develop a truly amazing game, you also need the time and money to do so. If your game fails to sell, this can be a real problem for you or your company. Even for HTML5 games, this can be the case, especially since devices and browsers keep getting more and more powerful. When the machines running the games get more powerful, the games themselves often become more complex and take longer to develop.

We have taken a look at two important choices one needs to make when going into the game-developing business. Let's now look at the distribution channels that allow you to make money with your game, but before that let's summarize the topic we have just covered:

  • Deciding who you want to target is extremely important even before you start developing your game.

  • Broad targeting is barely targeting at all. It is about making a game accessible and likeable by as many people as possible.

  • Niche targeting is taking a deeper look and interest in a certain group of people and building a game to suit their specific gaming needs.

  • In developing and releasing games, there are two big strategies: shotgun and sniper.

  • In the shotgun strategy you release games rapidly. Each game still has unique elements that no other games possess, but they are not as elaborate or polished as they could be.

  • With the sniper strategy you build only a few games, but each one is already perfected at the time of release and only needs slight polishing when patches are released for it.

Making money with game apps

If you built your game into an app, you have several distribution channels you can turn to, such as Firefox marketplace, the IntelAppUp center, Windows Phone Store, Amazon Appstore, SlideMe, Mobango, Getjar, and Apple Appsfire. But the most popular players on the market currently are Google Play and the iOS App Store. The iOS App Store is not to be confused with the Mac app store. iPad and Mac have two different operating systems, iOS and Mac OS, so they have separate stores. Games can be released both in the iOS and the Mac store. There could also be some confusion between Google Play and Chrome Web Store. Google Play contains all the apps available for smartphones that have Google's Android operating system. The Chrome Web Store lets you add apps to your Google Chrome browser. So there are quite a few distribution channels to pick from and here we will have a quick look at Google Play, the iOS App store, and the Chrome Web Store.

Google Play

Google Play is the Android's default app shop and the biggest competitor of the iOS App Store.

If you wish to become an Android app developer, there is a $25 fee and a developer distribution agreement that you must read.

In return for the entrance fee and signing this agreement, they allow you to make use of their virtual shelves and have all its benefits. You can set your price as you please, but for every game you sell, Google will cash in about 30 percent. It is possible to do some geological price discrimination. So you could set your price at, let's say €1 in Belgium, while charging €2 in Germany. You can change your price at any time; however, if you release a game for free, there is no turning back. The only way to monetize this app afterwards is by allowing in game advertising, selling add-ons, or creating an in-game currency that can be bought with real money.

Introducing an in-game currency that is bought with real money can be a very appealing format. A really successful example of this monetizing scheme can be found in The Smurfs games. In this game you build your own Smurf village, complete with Big Smurf, Smurfette, and a whole lot of mushrooms. Your city gets bigger as you plant more crops and build new houses, but it is a slow process. To speed it up a bit you can buy special berries in exchange for real money, which in turn allows you to build exclusive mushrooms and other things. This monetization scheme becomes very popular as has been shown in games such as League Of Legends, PlanetSide 2, World of Tanks, and many others. For Google Play apps, this in-app payment system is supported by Android's Google Checkout.

In addition, Google allows you access to some basic statistics for your game, such as the number of players and the devices on which they play, as shown in the following diagram:

Information such as this allows you to redesign your game to boost your success. For example, you could notice if a certain device doesn't have that many unique users, even though it is a very popular device and is bought by many people. If this is the case, maybe your game doesn't looks nice on this particular smartphone or tablet and you should optimize for it.

The biggest competitor and initiator of all apps is the iOS App Store, so let's have a look at this.

iOS App Store

The iOS App Store was the first of its kind and at the time of writing this book, it still has the biggest revenue.

In order to publish apps in the iOS App Store, you need to subscribe to the iOS Developer Program, which costs $99 annually—almost four times the subscription fee of Google Play. In effect, they offer about the same thing as Google Play does; as you can see in this short list:

  • You pick your own prices and get 70 percent of sales revenue

  • You receive monthly payments without credit card, hosting, or marketing fees

  • There is support and adequate documentation to get you started

More importantly, here are the following differences between Google Play and the iOS App Store:

  • As mentioned earlier, signing up for Google Play is cheaper.

  • The screening process of Apple seems to be more strict than that of Google Play, which results in a longer time to reach the market and a higher chance of never even reaching the market.

  • Google Play incorporates a refund option that allows the buyer of your app to be refunded if he or she uninstalls the app or game within 24 hours.

  • If you want your game to make use of some Android core functionalities, this is possible since the platform is open source. Apple, on the other hand, is very protective of its iOS platform and doesn't allow the same level of flexibility for apps. This element might not seem that important for games just yet, but it might be for very innovative games that do want to make use of this freedom.

  • iOS reaches more people than Android does, though the current trend indicates that this might change in the near future.

  • There seem to be significant differences in the kind of people buying Apple devices and the users of smartphones or tablets with Android OS. Apple fans tend to have a lower barrier towards spending money on their apps than Android users do. In general, iPads and iPhones are more expensive than other tablets and smartphones, attracting people who have no problem with spending even more money on the device. This difference in target group seems to make it more difficult for Android game developers to make money from their games.

The last option for selling apps that we will discuss here is the Chrome Web Store.

The Chrome Web Store

The Chrome Web Store differs from Google Play and the iOS App Store in that it provides apps specifically for the Chrome browser and not for mobile devices.

The Chrome Store offers web apps. Web apps are like applications you would install on your PC, except web apps are installed in your browser and are mostly written using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, like our ImpactJS games. The first thing worth noticing about the Chrome Store is the one-time $5 entrance fee for posting apps. If this in itself is not good enough, the transaction fee for selling an app is only 5 percent. This is a remarkable difference to both Google Play and the iOS App Store. If you are already developing a game for your own website and packaged it as an app for Android and/or Apple, you can just as well launch it on the Chrome Web Store. Turning your ImpactJS game into a web app for the Chrome Store can be done using AppMobi, yet Google itself provides detailed documentation on how to do this manually.

One of the biggest benefits of the web app is the facilitation of the permission process. Let's say your web app needs the location of the user in order to work. While iPad apps ask for permission every time they need location data, the web app asks permission only once: at installation time.

Furthermore, you have the same functionalities and payment modalities as in Google Play, give or take. For instance, there is also the option to incorporate a free trial version, also known as a freemium. A freemium model is when you allow downloading a demo version for free with the option of upgrading it to a full version for a price. The Smurfs game also uses the freemium model, albeit with a difference. The entire game is free, but players can opt to pay real money to buy things that would otherwise cost them a lot of time to acquire. In this freemium model, you pay for convenience and unique items. For instance, in PlanetSide 2, acquiring a certain sniper rifle might take you several days or $10, depending on how you choose to play the freemium game.

If you plan on releasing an ImpactJS game for Android, there is no real reason why you wouldn't do so for the Chrome Web Store.

That being said, let's have a quick recap:

  • The time when the iOS app store was the only app store out there is long gone; there is an impressive repertoire of app stores to choose from, which includes Firefox Marketplace, Intel AppUp Center, Windows Phone Store, Amazon Appstore, SlideMe, Mobango, Getjar, Appsfire, Google Play, among others.

  • The biggest app stores are currently Google Play and the iOS App Store. They differ greatly on several fronts, of which the most important ones are:

    • Subscription fee

    • Screening process

    • Type of audience they attract

  • The Chrome Web Store sells web apps that act like normal apps but are available in the Chrome browser.

  • The Chrome Web Store is cheap and easy to subscribe to. You must definitely have a go at releasing your game on this platform.

In-game advertising

In-game advertising is another way to make money with your game. In-game advertising is a growing market and is currently already being used by major companies; it was also used by Barack Obama in both his 2008 and 2012 campaigns, as shown in the following in-game screenshot:

There is a trend towards more dynamic in-game advertising. The game manufacturers make sure there is space for advertising in the game, but the actual ads themselves are decided upon later. Depending on what is known about you, these can then change to become relevant to you as a player and a real-life consumer.

When just starting out to build games, in-game adverting doesn't get that spectacular though. Most of the best known in-game advertisers for online games don't even want their ads in startup games.

The requirements for Google AdSense are the following:

  • Game plays: Minimum 500,000 per day

  • Game types: Web-based Flash only

  • Integration: Must be technically capable of SDK integration

  • Traffic source: Eighty percent of traffic must be from the US and the UK

  • Content: Family-safe and targeted at users aged 13 and over

  • Distribution: Must be able to report embedded destinations and have control over where the games are distributed

The requirements for another big competitor, Ad4Game, aren't mild either:

  • At least 10,000 daily unique visitors

  • Sub-domains and blogs are not accepted

  • The Alexa rank should be less than 400,000

  • Adult/violent/racist content is not allowed

If you are just starting out, these prerequisites are not good news. Not only because you need such a large number of players before even starting the advertising, but also because currently all support goes to Flash games. HTML5 games are not fully supported yet, though that will probably change.

Luckily, there are companies out there that do allow you to start using advertising even though you don't have 10,000 visitors a day. Tictacti is one of those companies.

Once again, almost all support goes to the Flash games, but they do have one option available for an HTML5 game:pre-roll. Pre-roll simply means that a screen with an ad appears before you can start the game. Integration of the pre-roll advertising is rather straightforward and does not require a change to your game, but to your index.html file, as in the following example from Tictacti:

//You can use publisherId 3140 and tagTypedemoAPI for testing purposes
however the ads will not be credit to you.
<html>
<head>
<title>Simple Ad</title>
</head>
<body>
<script type="text/javascript"
src = "http://cdn.tictacti.com/widgets/js/t3widgets.js"></script>
<script type="text/javascript">
var publisherId = "3140";
var tagType = "jsGameAPI";
var agencyUniqueId= "0";
var playerWidth = "600";//The Game width
var playerHeight = "400";//The Game height
var t3cfg = {
wrapperUrl: 'engine/game/3170/tttGameWrapper.swf',
config: { enableDM: false, tttPreloader: false, bgcolor: "#000000"
, engineConnectorType: 7 , externalId:agencyUniqueId},
onClose:
function(){document.location="http://www.tictacti.com";}
//Called after the ad is closed. In the Demo after 30 seconds.
};
TicTacTi.renderWidget(publisherId, tagType, playerWidth ,
playerHeight , t3cfg);
</script>
</body>
</html>

While adding this to your game's index.html file, you fill out your own publisher ID and you are basically ready to go.

Tictacti is similar to Google Analytics, and it also provides you with some relevant information about the ads on your game's website, as shown in the following diagram:

Be careful, however, pre-roll advertising is one of the most intruding and annoying kinds of advertising. Technically, it is not even in-game advertising at all, since it runs before you play the game. If your game is not yet well established enough to convince the player to endure the advertising before being able to play, don't choose this option. Give your game some time to build a reputation before putting your gamers through this.

As the last option, we will have a look at selling your actual distribution rights with MarketJS. But let's first briefly recap on in-game advertising:

  • In-game advertising is a growing market. Even Barack Obama made use of in-game billboards to support his campaign.

  • There is a trend towards more dynamic in-game advertising—using your location and demographic information to adapt the ads in a game.

  • Currently, even the most accessible companies that offer online in-game advertising are focused on Flash games and require many unique visitors before even allowing you to show their ads. Tictacti is a notable exception, as it has low prerequisites and an easy implementation; though advertising is currently limited to pre-roll ads.

  • Always take care to first build a positive reputation for your game and allow advertisements later.

Selling distribution rights with MarketJS

The last option we will investigate in this chapter is selling your game's distribution rights. You can still make money by just posting your game to all the app stores and on your own website, but it becomes increasingly difficult to be noticed. Quality can only prevail if people know it is out there, thus making a good game is sometimes not enough—you need marketing. If you are a beginner game builder with great game ideas and the skills to back it up, that's great, but marketing may not be your cup of tea. This is where MarketJS comes into play.

MarketJS acts as an intermediate between you as the game developer and the game publishers.

The procedure is simple once you have a game:

  1. You sign up on their website, http://www.marketjs.com.

  2. Upload the game on your own website or directly to the MarketJS server.

  3. Post your game for publishers to see. You set several options such as the price and contract type that would suit you the best. You have five contract options:

    • Complete distribtution contract: Sell all your distribution rights to the game.

    • Exclusive distribution partner contract: Here you restrict yourself to work with one distributor but still retain the rights to the game.

    • Non-exclusive contract: Here, any distributor can buy the rights to use your game, but you can go on selling rights as long as you want.

    • Revenue share: Here you negotiate on how to split the revenues derived from the game.

    • Customized contract: This can basically have any terms. You can choose this option if you are not sure yet what you want out of your game. A part of the webpage on which you fill out your contracting preferences is shown in the following screenshot:

After you have posted a demo, it is a matter of waiting for a publisher to spot it, get stunned by its magnificence, and offer to work with you.

The big contribution of MarketJS to the gaming field is this ability to let the game developer focus on developing games. Someone else takes care of the marketing aspect, which is a totally different ballgame.

MarketJS also offers a few interesting statistics such as the average price of a game on their website, as shown in the following diagram. It grants you some insight on whether you should take up game developing as a living or keep doing it as a hobby.

According to MarketJS, prices for non-exclusive rights average between $500 and $1000, while selling exclusive rights to a game range somewhere between $1500 and $2000. If you can build a decent game within this price range, you are more than ready to go:

  • MarketJS is a company that brings game distributers and developers closer together. Their focus is on HTML5 games, so they are great if you are a startup ImpactJS game developer.

  • They require no subscription fee and have a straightforward process to turn your game into a showcase with a price tag.

Summary

In this article we have taken a look at some important elements while considering your game development strategy. Do you wish to adapt a shotgun approach and develop a lot of games in a short time span? Or will you use the sniper strategy and only build a few, but very polished games? You also need to decide upon the audience you wish to reach out to with your game. You have the option of building a game that is liked by everyone, but the competition is steep.

Making money on the application stores is possible, but for Android and Apple there are registration fees. If you decide to develop apps, it is worth giving the Chrome Web Store a try (it runs web apps). In-game advertising is another way to fund your efforts, though most companies offering this service for online games have high prerequisites and support Flash games more than they do the newer HTML5 games.

One of the most promising of monetization schemes is the freemium model. Players are allowed to freely play your game but they pay real money for extras. This is an easily tolerated model since the game is essentially free to play for anyone not willing to spend money, and no annoying advertising is present either.

A combination of in-game advertising and freemium is possible as well: people annoyed by the advertising pay a fee and in return they are not bothered by it anymore.

A final option is leaving the marketing aspect to someone else by selling your distribution rights with the help of MarketJS. They aim for HTML5 games and this option is especially useful for the beginner game developer who has difficulty in marketing his or her game.

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HTML5 Game Development with ImpactJS A step-by-step guide to developing your own 2D games with this book and ebook
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About the Author :


Arno Meysman

Arno Meysman is the co-owner of An Ostrich On Mars, a graphic design and marketing agency with a special branch of game design, graphics, and game development.

Arno Meysman is a specialist at customer and web analytics using statistics and has always been very interested in game development, including graphical design. He started using the ImpactJS engine for hobby projects when it was first released in 2010.

Davy Cielen

Davy Cielen is the co-owner of An Ostrich On Mars, a graphic design and marketing agency with a special branch of game design, graphics, and game development. He has a background in analytics, marketing, and mathematics. Davy is seriously in love with game design and web technologies.

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