How to Make $15,000 From a Flash Game

No, this article is not a get rich quick scheme. And it doesn’t involve stealing other people’s work. It is intended as a resource for someone who has made a great original Flash game and wants to make some money from it. The good news is your game doesn’t have to be an Internet phenomenon like Line Rider, flOw, or Desktop Tower Defence to make you some cash.


I’ve been making browser games since 1996 when I started up Ezone.com with my brother Jamie. In 1998 we both quit our ‘real’ jobs and have been making web games full-time ever since. Together we’ve made more than 200 browser games for our own sites and clients like Nickelodeon, Disney, Universal, Fox, Sony, Universal, AT&T and Microsoft. We’ve also licensed our games to major game portals like Shockwave.com and Miniclip.com.

Over the years we have seen many models come and go. One of the most disturbing models that has emerged over the last couple years to exploit young game developers is the Sponsorship.

Licensing vs Sponsorship

Apologies for those that already know, but I think we need to look at the difference between a license and a sponsorship.

When you license your game to a site you usually add the site’s logo and maybe a tie-in to their high score system (e.g. shockwave or miniclip). If it is a non-exclusive license you are free to make more custom versions for other sites too, which means you can make more money. In my experience non-exclusive licenses range from $250-$3000 per site and depend a lot on the game.

A more expensive option is an exclusive license, which means that your game can only appear on one site. You can get more money for an exclusive, because sites know you can’t make additional money on the license if you are just offering it to one site. I wouldn’t do an exclusive license for less than $7500 (and again, this depends on the game).

With a sponsorship you add the sponsor’s logo, but then you are not allowed to make a version of the game available to any other sites without the sponsor’s logo in it. This is effectively an exclusive license, because other sites are not interested in licensing a game with another company’s logo and link locked into it. I’ve never done a sponsorship, but I hear they range from $250-$4000—about the same as a non-exclusive license.

Case Study: Sling

We completed a game in September 2006 called Sling . Around that same time I had a dialog going with a site owner on another subject, but I showed them the game and they offered a ‘sponsorship’ for $750. This was the first time I’d ever come across the term ‘sponsorship’ – I thought they just meant a non-exclusive license! They quickly transferred the money via PayPal and then sent the terms they required, their logo everywhere, links back to their site, not allowed to distribute without their logo and links, etc, etc. I quickly refunded their money and said we weren’t interested.

So we passed on their offer and instead released a locked domain version on our site and so far (August 2007) we have made $6,500 from Google AdSense in less than a year.

A few months after releasing on our site I sent out an email to the major game portals offering the game on a non-exclusive license basis. These licenses fees have generated more than $10,000 so far.

We have made around $16,500 in less than a year, this casino review and the game continues to bring in revenue. If we had taken the sponsorship deal we would have missed out on this money. And if the argument is that with a sponsorship you get your money upfront – it took us only two weeks to earn $759.25 from AdSense.

How to Self Publish Your Game

Here’s how to self publish your game:

  • Make sure your server can handle at least 1000 GB / month — if it can’t, look at the offers from Dreamhost and 1-800-Hosting
  • Signup with Google AdSense, and put the ads around your game page (if you have enough traffic on your site already hook-up with an ad network like Tribal Fusion or Gorilla Nation)
  • Release the game on your site only (domain lock it, so it only works on your site)
  • Submit the game page URL to Digg and StumbleUpon
  • Watch your traffic grow and collect your checks from Google!
  • After a few weeks, send an email to the bigger game sites like Miniclip and Shockwave and offer them a non-exclusive licensed version of the game
  • Make a limited level version available for other sites to host for free (like Newgrounds, Kongregate, etc), with plenty of links back to your site, and embedded advertising

If you do this I can guarantee that you will make much more than $250 you’d get for a sponsorship — and you will still own the game and be able to license it to whomever you want.

Why Sponsorships are Bad

In my opinion sponsorships are the worst deal going. Sponsorships take advantage of young developers and get a cheap exclusive license. Don’t fall for it. I can tell you now those sites make 10-100 times what they are paying you. They make it sound like they are helping you out, but they are really ripping you off. If they were really on your side they would give you a share of the ongoing ad revenue, or do a non-exclusive license.

The major problem is that you are limiting your earning potential. Once you have done a sponsorship deal, if a major game site contacts you to license your game, you can’t, because those sites won’t allow a sponsor logo in your game.

I can see that if you have an average game going with a sponsor may help it get more gameplays. But if you’ve got a good game, people will find it—especially with sites like StumbleUpon, Digg, and Kongregate around. I would always try launching the game on your own site first, then pitch to the bigger game sites (with the option to give them a time limited exclusive), then look to license to other sites, and as a last resort the dreaded sponsorship.

Conclusions

In summary, we always do non-exclusive license deals and host the games on our own site. We never do a deal that limits our future earning from a game. Make sure you always retain the full license for your games and the source code.

Next time you think about doing a sponsorship, ask them if they would be interested in a licensed version instead.

If you have any questions, or need help getting your game out there please contact me or go to smartlyheated.com my new website.

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