"Consider the huge benefits to self publishing your Flash game on the web rather than simply working with traditional portals such as Kongregate and Mini Clip."
This was the advice of Bennett Foddy, creator of idiosyncratic Flash games QWOP
and Too Many Ninjas
, delivered to a packed session at the Independent Games Summit at GDC Monday morning.
"I love self-publishing," said Foddy, who as well as being a game maker is deputy director and senior research fellow at the Institute for Science & Ethics at Oxford University, and an editor of the Journal of Medical Ethics.
"I host all of my games on a basic, rudimentary website, and I host advertisements next to them, which is where I make money. I see almost no other indie game developers doing this any more. What most people do is go to get sponsorship from a Flash portal.
"But there are many drawbacks to this business approach. The portal pays you less than the game is worth; even if they like you, they promote your game but not you as an artist. The game is forever locked away from you: you can’t update, cross-advertise your other games, or even choose the ads you want, and you may even find your game censored."
Foddy was quick to counter the argument that Flash games self-hosted with ads have no chance to making serious revenue, even though he admitted that it's tough to make money with a single game on a site.
"A lot of times people try self-publishing by uploading one game up with Google Ads and make almost no money," he said. "So they immediately give up and proclaim nobody can make money that way. But people need to understand the network effect, the same way that Flash portals build a repeat audience."
"Three months after I put Too Many Ninjas
out, sales had dropped to nothing. But when I added QWOP
to the site, I still had a little bit of traffic three months later. By the time I had six games on there, traffic was fairly constant and the site began to become financially viable. If you put one game online and make no money, you shouldn't assume that you can’t make money from six. It’s the same way that the portals themselves work."
Foddy also had some counter-cultural advice to give developers when it comes to high score tables and achievements, neither of which feature in his games. "A lot of us don’t want to make games with mass appeal," he said. "We take that to mean cute, easy, shallow. But I disagree. There are now over 11,000 YouTube hits for people playing QWOP
. A big part of it is because the game is goofy to look at. I acknowledge that. But would all of that be there if the game had a global high score table and achievements? I don't think so."
"I think people look at a global high score table and think: somebody’s solved that," he argued. "It’s demotivating to climb to the top of a high score. If you don’t provide official metrics, then players set their own goals."
"We should think of high scores and achievements as stuff we put in for gamers, but it takes us away from the mass market. I believe they can very often wind up being un-social."