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Jeremy Springfield

I agree if you are talking about a big budget AAA title. I do not agree if you are talking about an indie game. Not every has to make a AAA title. Therefore not everyone needs $100k.

Some people can be very happy just making a little indie game. Very occasionally indie games can make it big. Knowing whether a person wants to make a game for passionate reasons or for monetary reasons would make an excellent article. I think the difference often gets lost in the chaos.

There are plenty of great games, which clearly did not cost $100,000 to make. Also they are clearly not AAA titles (unless you count Mojang's GDC wins, and winning the escapist magazine march madness brackets as entering the AAA arena).
"I made a game with zombies in it."
"Minecraft"
"Dwarven Fortress" (which makes no money)
"Narbacular Drop"
"Infinite Blank"

It would be interesting to hear from Demiurge about "Shoot Many Robots" or Robot Entertainment's "Orcs must die." (both of which look like very good games) I wonder how much they spent in developing their games. I'll ask Eitan next time I see him how much Firehose Games spent making Slambolt Scrapers. I bet that title fits into the +100k category. But do any of these fit into the 'great' category? I'm not sure...

Sorry no answers here, only more questions! :)

Andrew

I've never heard of Infinite Blank or Narbacular Drop, but neither Dwarf Fortress or Minecraft are in full release yet. In fact, I'm sure Notch has put at least 100k into Minecraft at this point, even if he earned that money from earlier versions of the game.

Tadhg

Jeremy,

Most people I know who work in the AAA sector would think $100k far too small.

One clarification worth making is that I am including what's called 'sweat equity' in all this. A lot of indies work essentially for free in the hope that they will strike it big, and essentially they are deferring their pay.

Thanks for the comments.

Ste Pickford

Another interesting post Tadhg, and probably correct if you're assigning a sensible value to the unpaid hours indie developers spend (or should spend) on their games.

I hope you don't mind me posting a link to my own blog here, but what I wrote today was partly inspired by reading this yesterday.

http://www.zee-3.com/magneticbilliards/blog/view.php?post=542

Tadhg

Sure thing.

Facebook Indie Games

How are you valuing the debt equity? How many months of unpaid labour would you need in order to claim a budget of $100k?

Tadhg

How many people are you talking about?

Bane Williams

Normally I would try and figure out in which ways you were wrong, but I'm just going to go out and say it.

You're wrong.

Now that's out the way, lets show some proof - Take a look at the website Kongregate, and look at any game with over 4.0 rating. Each of these games, with some exception, has made their owners well over the 10,000 dollar mark.

Most of them were made with $0 - and only 1 or 2 with more than $1,000.

Want a specific example? Meat Boy - was made on a shoestring budget, and gave the developers earnings well in excess of 100,000 - On top of this, they gained the ability to market to XBLA under Super Meat Boy, which has gained them millions.

Another less recognizable? GemCraft, which has given their creators earnings of over a million and was built on far less than even Meat Boy.

I could go on all day with over a thousand different games, link you with ten times that in posts with stats and figures, but why bother...

As far as Sweat Equity - Meat Boy took them a week, GemCraft took them three days. Shall I continue?

Tadhg

Hi Bane,

To quote from above...

"For some kinds of Flash gaming portals that survive on aggregating many cheap games, $50k is a huge budget in fact."

The number of Flash games that actually manage to do a Meat Boy is really very small however. I know many a Flash game developer who thought they could bang out a game a month and ride the wave, only to find it didn't really work out. In reality maybe one such game per year manages to break through in that way.

My counter-argument back to you is that you're focusing on outliers and painting their success as normal. The top list of games on sites like Kongregate, for example, still has many multiple-year old games on it even though the site contains tens of thousands of games.

This suggests that the normal course for games put together cheaply is that they feel thin and act cheap, and so they fail.

While there is no bulletproof method for success, in my experience the primary reason that games are poor is because of a lack of money and time to make them great. Not everyone can accidentally stumble on success, not even the people who did it once before.

Apps 55753818692 707621192 74268b06ef5761b4db7837fadceb904c

Actually I would go one step further, if you want a game with a chance to make millions in revenues at some point, you need 150k from the start.

150k is for minimum viable product that has a chance to become a hit plus a few $ more to then fine tune.

How much $ you need to fine tune depends on experience of the team and how close you got to something that works from a acquisition, retention and monetization level. Don't be surprised if that 150k should therefore be 200 or 300k $

And if your team is inexperienced (ie: ex AAA games team doing its first online game), you are going to need a lot more than 200k $ on that first game to have a chance to make it viable.

And that assumes your game is so good it markets itself.

Tadhg

One other thing to add however is that Meat Boy is not lucky. Like Minecraft (in that post I wrote a couple of months ago), successful games are so well aligned to their tribe that they resonate. Sometimes that is something you stumble upon for no cost, most often not though.

Facebook Indie Games

Tadhg / Bane...

The following slideshow suggests that Flash game development is not all that competitive and that it is easy to stand out:

http://www.slideshare.net/danctheduck/gdc-2010-convergence-of-flash-portals-and-social-gaming

That is, although there are 10,000s of Flash games on the portals, producing on of the profitable ones is neither difficult or expensive.

This suggests that the Flash game "economy" is stuck in rather an immature state, but also that it is a good way for game developers without $100k to burn to bootstrap their businesses.

Jonathon Duerig

As a successful flash developer, I can say confidently that you don't need 100k to develop a good flash game that is complete with a decent amount of depth. At the same time, making flash games is not a viable way of making a living. At best, it is that rare hobby which can give you a bit of money rather than being an expense.

The flash game business is driven by advertising and there is not enough revenue at even the high end to support large-budget games. You can spend 100k to make a flash game hit and you will be head and shoulders above the competition. In return, you can expect to earn tens of thousands of dollars in revenue and lose money overall.

The only way to make a larger budget flash game successfully is to find non-advertising revenue such as in-game purchases. The flash game business isn't immature, but rather revenue-starved.

I don't see this as contradicting the main article. You can make a good game for less than 100k, but you can't make a living or a successful business on such games. Given my revenues, I am already in the top 1% of indie game developers as far as commercial success and my most successful game ended up netting me about $3.70/hour which is less than minimum wage.

Also, the most time-consuming aspect of making a game is adding polish. I can see why Angry Birds cost $140k to make. It is so polished that it glistens. The idea that Gemcraft or Meatboy was made in a few days from nothing is silly. If they really took that little time to make, they were built on top of polished engines and prior work. And even then, it is likely that the author had the prototype done that fast and then took 3-6 months to polish.

Tadhg

Great comment Johnathon. Really great comment.

Thanks.

BaneAu

Jon/Tadhg - I find myself continuing to disagree in many many ways. Firstly @Jon:

I've played both your games that are easy to find (I'm not sure if you have released more than that). Your games are rated well, but conversely don't get a lot of plays. You aren't licensed (to my knowledge) and don't maintain a solid web presence and you rarely talk to your fan base on portals. With all this, you are what I consider a hobbyist dev (something you yourself admit to on your Kong page).

I'll disregard your belief that you are in the top 1% of Indie Game Developers (Revenue) as I would need to spend a week gathering the various statistics to prove you wrong, and I'd rather add to the flavor of the article than detract.

Let's talk numbers for a bit. You say you have got about $3.70 an hour with your best game. I know that Tile Factory got you $500 from ArmorGames, and probably got you another $500 from Kongregate (if you bothered to implement their API).

From that we are already at 270 hours of sweat equity, or nearly 8 weeks of full 9-5 mon-fri work. I'm only mentioning one portal, but you are present on bubble box and others, so I imagine you were in the running for their development prizes also. Also this isn't adding up any ad revenue you have made since.

We're talking work here - not 'do a bit of code' 'check facebook' 'check twitter' 'play minecraft' 'code a bit more'.

Did it really take you that long to build Tile Factory? Especially considering the competition requirements and the fact that you also work? If so - wow, you showed a lot of dedication there matey!

The flash game business is driven by advertising, but if you play your cards right, advertising can be a seriously small portion of your overall revenue.

You say you can't make a living doing it, but once again I disagree. Lets give you an example - undefined is a two man studio who have been putting out games now since 2008. They are by all intents and purposes a 'normal' development studio. See them here http://protectorworld.com/

Their first game, Defender, took them just over a month of typical 'man hours' (x2 of course) and earnt them decent amounts of cash. They continued from there to create the Protector series, with each game taking about the same amount of man hours - but gaining incrementally more success.

This is not a huge success story, they haven't done 'brilliantly well' in the field, yet they have manged to create a series of games that has given them well over that of a full time wage, in the tune of well into the 6 digits.

Are they successful? Absolutely. Did they start with nothing? Absolutely.

@Tadhg You say that maybe 1 game a year breaks out that way. I don't know that I agree with that. Most flash developers *much like Jonathon above* don't maintain an active presence on the web. They aren't 'public' about their success stories.

My work in journalism has made it so that I have to hunt these guys down and try to wrangle stats and figures and stories and more out of them - and it's often not an easy task.

When I say that Fantastic Contraptions success is one that has happened dozens of times this year alone in the flash scene, I really do mean that. The only reason you don't hear about it more and more often is twofold:

1 - Many of these people are reclusive. Take undefined for instance, scouring websites and blogs they don't make effort to talk about their success, and they are one of the more public figures in the flash world.

2 - They don't want to spoil a good thing. I've interviewed developers who worry that by being so open about their successes, feel that it will bring a lot of triple A publishers to the world of flash (and for good reason - Every time a success story is aired, another big studio decides to try and step in and take a share of the profits)

It's just the way the world works - Yes, I cited Meat Boy and FC and more, but that is due to the fact that I know you will know what the heck I'm talking about when I say them.

==================================

Finally, I think that the differences in success here are where the problem between our two views lie. If I see two 'starving artists' so to speak pull more than they could working full time? Then that's a success.

If I see a small group grab 400k + on a game, that's a great success.

If I see a medium group grab well in excess of $1m like dream world (You've probably never heard of this flash turned facebook game) it's a success.

And for most, if not all of these successes? They started with far less than 100k.


Jonathon Duerig

Being in the top 1% commercially successful indie devs is not as great as it might seem. Well over 90% of game devs who actually release a game make no money at all. :)

Regarding your optimism, I have to agree with Tadhg that you are consistently looking at the hits and ignoring the rest. Most flash game licensing goes through flashgamelicense.com and they release statistics from time to time. See:

http://www.flashgamelicense.com/blog/2010/01/looking-back-at-2009-trends-and-statistics/

This article talks about their 2009 statistics. The highest rated games (top one percent) earned 5.5k in primary licensing on average. The very top games earned 15-20k more in non-exclusive licensing. It may be that there was a really truly breakout hit here or there that somehow earned much more.

I don't claim that making a living or becoming independently wealthy is impossible in the flash world. It just seems unwise to use these examples to set your expectations.

If you are serious about making a flash game and make a very good one, you will typically make money if you structure it correctly. It is not unreasonable to hope to make thousands of dollars this way.

If you are good and lucky, it will be a big hit and you will make tens of thousands of dollars. It is proper to consider this a windfall rather than to be expected.

If you are very good and very lucky you might make hundreds of thousands or millions and become the next Notch. This is like winning the lottery, but again not to be expected.

When creating your business plan, or just thinking about expectations you need to look at results much closer to the median. I am very happy for those people who somehow do break out and really turn their flash game idea into a dream job. But going into the market and expecting that is like setting 'Join the NBA' as a career goal.

As for my own games, you are right that I treat it as a hobby. I could make more money if I did it full time or treated it like a second job. I'm not convinced I'd make any more than minimum wage if I did.

Tile Factory was a moderate success and it took me ~100 hours over the course of a couple of months to write it. In business terms, I should have attempted licensing it rather than entering it into the competition. Even though I won a prize, I would have made more money licensing it. Once you factor in the cost of commissioning the art and the music, I made less than a dollar an hour.

My other major game was a larger success, garnering quite a bit of licensing and millions of plays. The biggest games get tens of millions of plays and tens of thousands of dollars in revenue. But there are only a few games on Kongregate with even more than 10 million views and a dozen or so on Armor Games. To see how these might translate to global numbers, plays on armor games range from 1/3 to 1/2 of total place I have received on my games.

A living wage requires tens of thousands of dollars in revenue each year. This means that you'd likely need to produce a top 1% game multiple times a year indefinitely. I have a high opinion of myself and I don't think I could do that. A new entrant into the flash game field should therefore be cautious and assume that they will break even if they are lucky.

Facebook Indie Games

Surely ANY success story is a story of outliers. Most new businesses fail; only the outliers succeed.

Jonathon Duerig

The question is how far to take these things. I have no problem with somebody saying "I can make more than the median revenue" even though that is a risk. I think that saying "I can make as much as the top 0.1% devs" is a step too far.

A business plan that requires on being in the top 10% of a market is fine. But not one that relies on being the equivalent of an NBA star.

Facebook Indie Games

Jonathon, you say that the top 1% of Flash games get 5.5k in sponsorship alone. You say that your earnings from your games put you in the top 1% of devs, and yet it doesn't sound like your games have made 5.5k. What am I missing?

Of course if the top 1% of games cost 100k to develop then their developers won't last long on 5.5k revenues. One of the following must be true:

- There is an endless supply of almost-free labour for developing Flash games
- The top 1% of Flash games cost a lot less than 100k to develop -- probably less than 5k
- The top 1% of Flash games make many times more than 5.5k, enough to justify a budget of 100k

I'm sure all of them are partly true: Flash game developers work for nothing a lot of the time, and some Flash games will make much more than 5.5k. But the "lower budget than 100k" seem the most likely explanation to me.

Also, developers that produce top Flash games tend to produce several top Flash games. Being a top 1% Flash game developer is a repeatable skill, not a one off fluke. So either these developers consistently invest 100k per game for 5.5k revenue per game, funded by wealthy parents, or they can sustainably produce quality Flash games on low budgets.

However, if this is true in Flash then it doesn't follow that it's true in other markets. Flash seems to be a special case where game development has never progressed beyond the garage industry.

Jonathon Duerig

Sorry I wasn't clear. You are correct that 100k is an unheard of budget for a flash game. I was making two separate arguments:

First, you don't need 100k to make a successful flash game and in fact it would be counterproductive since you would be very unlikely to make that much money back on a flash game.

Second, if you are good you can make money at flash games but that you should not expect to make a living from flash games. You can expect to make thousands of dollars per game and a few games per year if you quit your day job, treat game-making like a full-time job, and have talent.

The biggest flash hits usually make tens of thousands of dollars and there might be a few which lead to even larger revenues (meatboy -> super meatboy), but don't count on your game(s) becoming one of those.

My games have made me thousands of dollars which probably puts me in the top 5% of flash games that *actually made money* from the link I posted. Of course, most flash games released do not make any money at all so they are not listed in that site's statistics.

You are absolutely right that I am talking about just flash here. I suspect that the main post is right about needing much more capital to succeed in marketplaces where customers actually purchase the product. But I don't have any personal experience on that.

An indie dev has posted his experiences selling a downloadable game recently which I thought was interesting:

http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/DavidGalindo/20100724/5531/How_much_do_indie_PC_devs_make_anyways.php

http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/DavidGalindo/20110114/6785/How_much_do_indie_PC_devs_make_anyways_Part_II.php

Derek

@Jonathan

You're simply spreading false information.

Yes, flash budgets do exceed $100K

Yes, you can make a full-time living off of them.

Our team developed Sacred Seasons 2. It can be found on Kongregate.

It's budget was over $100K.

It also has made not only enough to support myself, but an entire team.

I also completely agree with the author of this post. $100K is nothing. Our projects moving forward cost over $250K to develop and we're as indie as you can get.

Of course, this is still a fraction of what a large studio pays, and the process is undeniably more efficient than any AAA studio but the truth is, anything of quality still takes a lot of money to make.

Jonathon Duerig

Derek, I've taken a look at your game and it looks really awesome. I am very happy that you are doing so well.

I suppose that when I look at your game, I classify it with Puzzle Pirates, Farmville, and other games which happen to have a flash front end but live in another ecology by charging players directly for the game itself or for in-game currency/items. I definitely think that these 'freemium' games have a lot of revenue potential over and above those games which live in the flash ecosystem.

I would be very surprised if the licensing and ad-sharing revenue you have received from game portals comes anything close to paying for the game. If I am wrong about this, I'd be very interested to know.

So let me amend my statement:

Most flash games can be created for much less than 100k and will be very unlikely to gain the author a living. If you can create a successful MMO or Facebook game, it will likely cost more than 100k, but there is a decent chance that you can make a living if it succeeds.

Derek, would you still disagree with this amended statement?

Jeremyspringfield2000

Ah! I see.
The figure not only includes 'equipment' (which could be engines, modules, computers, servers, bandwidth, etc) costs but also salaries, whether they been 'donated' or actual.

Hmmm... Makes me wonder about unaccounted for costs in production. Having Financial Accounting flashbacks. ;)

Dubtor

Thanks for a good article and insightful comments

Redterrorthegame

Wow that really puts things into perspective on why my app did not do so well. What do you think about doing updates to your app it will obviously allow to increase its value but will it get any "play" as it were or does it have to be 100k in development before the release because very few people can do that.

So what do you think about the idea of sequels vs updates (for iphone games)?

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