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  Could "iterative" sale be a successfull strategy for independent game developers  (Read 9738 times)
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Offline cylab

JGO Ninja


Medals: 55



« Posted 2007-06-10 21:56:01 »

I there.

I am thinking for some time about retireing my job as J2EE developer and try to make a living with independent java game development. My current "business plan" looks somewhat like the following:

- create a game targeted somewhere between casual gaming and full price gaming
  (e.g. a 3D pimped 90s arcade shooter in the line of Xenon II or Wings of Death)
- setup a website with ads and a webstartable game link for the free first level(s)
- return to the website (again with ads) after the first level is finished and offer to buy
  a arbitrary amount of further levels for say 2$ each via credit card or paypal
- repeat the last point as long as there are levels left

so you see, there are two revenue streams: the ads and the actual game purchase.

I quite confident, that I can solve any technical issues regarding the game and the website. But I have no experience regarding the online gaming market as such, so I can't really say if expecting somewhat around 7000$ monthly (this would approximately be needed to compensate my current pay and the server maintainance costs) is way too optimistic.

So the question is: could this work? Anybody experience in this area?

Mathias - I Know What [you] Did Last Summer!
Offline PeterB

Junior Devvie





« Reply #1 - Posted 2007-06-10 23:55:28 »


I know a few people with online businesses, so I can share some experiences:


The ads might go a little way to paying for some of the server costs, but *don't* rely on them. Remember your site comes first. You don't want to see 'Buy Ringtones Here' followed by the rest of your site.

I'll give you another revenue stream: engine licensing (when the game is finished) - low volume but much higher priced.

My friend has had a much better experience with someone like WorldPay handling transactions than PayPal.
Also, I think that although there is a monthly fee with WorldPay, as long as your volume is half decent you make more money with them than with PayPal (but check!)

Forums on your site would help alleviate technical difficulties - users could help each other out, post a FAQ, etc.

Regarding hosting, shop around. There are some great deals to be had. Look for companies with servers on internet backbones. If your main customers will be based in USA, Canada, Europe then *don't* rent a server in the middle of the pacific somewhere, just because it's cheaper.

Vault101 / Mace The Game
There are 10 kinds of people in the world. Those who understand binary and those who don't.
Offline Riven
« League of Dukes »

« JGO Overlord »


Medals: 833
Projects: 4
Exp: 16 years


Hand over your head.


« Reply #2 - Posted 2007-06-11 00:04:03 »

Expect to sell zero units. Everything higher is a plus.

It isn't really all about the quality/playability of the game, it's mainly about marketing. You have to invest a lot (or  be very clever with viral marketing). I expect the marketing is about half the work, when doing everything yourself.

On forums I read, it seems indies only become successful after their 3rd or 5th game. So keep that in mind, when you want to compensate that $7000 / month. As an indie, without any help, you might want to keep a parttime job so you have to worry less about the money, and can focus on development and marketing.

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Offline keldon85

Senior Devvie


Medals: 1



« Reply #3 - Posted 2007-06-11 00:37:31 »

Advertising doesn't work on the web. I also think that you need to bear in mind the differences between being a developer and running a business and taking a substantial amount of money from the worlds economy to pay for your site and give yourself a worthy profit.

Games like Runescape have already captured a particular market and those people are unlikely to try to engage in something new for a long time, but there is still space for a new "craze" and "money maker".

Offline Riven
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« JGO Overlord »


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Hand over your head.


« Reply #4 - Posted 2007-06-11 05:29:22 »


Date: 1997. Shocked ...and like Google-ads doesn't work at all...

Even with a click-through rate of less than 1% (mentioned in the dated article), you can reach a lot of people.

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Learn how to award medals... and work your way up the social rankings
Offline cylab

JGO Ninja


Medals: 55



« Reply #5 - Posted 2007-06-11 06:58:28 »

On forums I read, it seems indies only become successful after their 3rd or 5th game. So keep that in mind, when you want to compensate that $7000 / month.

I thought about this myself. It seems you have to start with simple addictive games, which can be developed fast to build up a user base and high profile.

As an indie, without any help, you might want to keep a parttime job so you have to worry less about the money, and can focus on development and marketing.

This is an aspect I am unsure about. The motivation for this idea was to be able to concentrate on something I really want to do. I would have the possibility to continue to work for my current employer, but knowing the business, it seems hardly possible to restrict this to parttime.

Maybe I should take more risk, raise a credit, try to get some subsidies and employ some people to make for a broader start? 

Mathias - I Know What [you] Did Last Summer!
Offline cylab

JGO Ninja


Medals: 55



« Reply #6 - Posted 2007-06-11 07:24:13 »

I also think that you need to bear in mind the differences between being a developer and running a business and taking a substantial amount of money from the worlds economy to pay for your site and give yourself a worthy profit.

Yes, that's true. Some years ago, I would have never even thought about it. But after 6 years J2EE in a fairly small company, I have some experience with business at large: talking to customers, marketing websites, writing offers and bills, control development costs etc. so at least in this respect I am prepared a little. Things that are missing are talking to banks and lawers and everything regarding business taxes, but for the last part I would need a tax consultant anyway.

Games like Runescape have already captured a particular market and those people are unlikely to try to engage in something new for a long time, but there is still space for a new "craze" and "money maker".

I thougt about a community/portal site first, but I realise it would be very difficult to take some market share from existing sites. So I thought just making the game and do some marketing on game portals and community sites seems to offer better chances.

The "pay per level" idea was to couple the revenue somewhat to the quality of the game, since I am a gamer myself and would appreciate any game, that would try to raise money with quality at not with pure marketng. Another hopefully successfull idea it the low level-price, so the barrier to pay for this game is as low as possible. Unfortunately user registration and payment in general itself is high barrier for most internet users. If there would only be a standardised telephone bill based micropayment system, internet business would be much simpler.

Mathias - I Know What [you] Did Last Summer!
Offline keldon85

Senior Devvie


Medals: 1



« Reply #7 - Posted 2007-06-11 07:50:56 »

cylab: you sound like you have the right mentality; and you are right about micropayments as the user does not have to think about it. Having said, most people are comfortable with paying a paypal account so you could just utilize payment via them. Whatever happens you want the user to not have to think about paying, that is when you make the most amount of money.

Date: 1997. Shocked ...and like Google-ads doesn't work at all...
At the bottom of the article it links to the 2002 article about Advertising on search engines but also warns about the studies on banner blindness. There are always going to be atypical examples of sites that make a lot of money in a way that is generally not successful; for example a guy in the UK made The Million Dollar Homepage

Offline fletchergames

Senior Devvie





« Reply #8 - Posted 2007-06-11 16:21:41 »

I would never buy a game a level at a time for $2 per level unless the levels are really long.  If I'm not getting 10 hours of gameplay, what's the point in buying anything?  In fact, I would want a demo that's at least an hour long before I would buy and indie game anyways.  I would buy a game like Neverwinter Nights 2 without a demo because I'm sure it'll work and that I'll like it.  But any indie game or any old game (that might not be compatible with new versions of Windows) has to have a demo.

I don't like buying old bargain bin games for pennies and then finding out that I can't run them.  Paying more than pennies for any indie game and then finding out I either can't run it or don't like it would be even worse.

You can sell a game iteratively like that, but you have to offer more than 1 level per sale.  I had a similar idea of selling "episodes" of an RPG.  Each episode would be fairly long.  There would be an option to buy all episodes, making the "sale by episode" idea unnecessary.

The benefit would be having sales of the game start sooner.  The downside is that the game would be serial like a comic book, preventing the early episodes from having all the bug fixes and fancy bells and whistles that will eventually be added.  Of course, the early episodes can be patched, but that's a pain.
Offline cylab

JGO Ninja


Medals: 55



« Reply #9 - Posted 2007-06-11 17:24:43 »

Hmm, good points.

I would never buy a game a level at a time for $2 per level unless the levels are really long.  If I'm not getting 10 hours of gameplay, what's the point in buying anything?  In fact, I would want a demo that's at least an hour long before I would buy and indie game anyways.  I would buy a game like Neverwinter Nights 2 without a demo because I'm sure it'll work and that I'll like it.  But any indie game or any old game (that might not be compatible with new versions of Windows) has to have a demo.

I think I can't offer 10 hour "fresh" gameplay with an arcade clone, but I surely played Xenon II longer than 10hours despite the fact that it only got ~8 levels.

I don't like buying old bargain bin games for pennies and then finding out that I can't run them.  Paying more than pennies for any indie game and then finding out I either can't run it or don't like it would be even worse.

That's what the demo-level(s) are for. To stay with the arcade shooter example, how many levels with boss fights would be enough for a decent demo? How long could/should an arcade level be? 5min, 10min?

For the whole game I was thinking about something around 10-15 levels, so would this be enough?

You can sell a game iteratively like that, but you have to offer more than 1 level per sale.  I had a similar idea of selling "episodes" of an RPG.  Each episode would be fairly long.  There would be an option to buy all episodes, making the "sale by episode" idea unnecessary.

Yeah, I thought about this myself, hence I wrote "offer to buy a arbitrary amount of further levels". I really meant to be able to buy a level pack sized at your choice.

The benefit would be having sales of the game start sooner.  The downside is that the game would be serial like a comic book, preventing the early episodes from having all the bug fixes and fancy bells and whistles that will eventually be added.  Of course, the early episodes can be patched, but that's a pain.

I think this can be overcome with java webstart. Just deploy a new version on the server and the user can update, if he likes to.

Btw. thanks for all your thoughts.

Mathias - I Know What [you] Did Last Summer!
Games published by our own members! Check 'em out!
Legends of Yore - The Casual Retro Roguelike
Offline keldon85

Senior Devvie


Medals: 1



« Reply #10 - Posted 2007-06-11 17:54:28 »

People were happy to pay $0.50 for an arcade game credit!

Offline princec

« JGO Spiffy Duke »


Medals: 422
Projects: 3
Exp: 16 years


Eh? Who? What? ... Me?


« Reply #11 - Posted 2007-06-12 12:50:12 »

Not with a credit card they weren't.

The accepted wisdom about the status quo of indie game development is this:

You develop a "product" and try to get it under as many people's noses as you can. If you are lucky maybe 1% of the people who download your product will buy it. More likely the figure will be somewhat worse and you will spend a few months tweaking your incentives to increase the rate to 1%. The nature and implementation of those incentives doesn't really matter at this point.

At this point your income will be incredibly dire, as you will be lucky to see more than 20-30 downloads every day after the initial exposure, which might mean a sale every 3 or 4 days. This means you will find yourself living off of around $200 a month.

What you can do now is make another "product" - might be another game, might be a level pack, whatever. In the grand scheme of things this will probably convert at around 1% as well once you've tweaked it. Reckon on another $200 a month.

And so on.

OR...

You can develop games specifically not to sell for yourself but designed to be distributed by portals. It's somewhat harder and possibly less rewarding - I'm not qualified to say because being a contrary kind of person I always do the opposite of conventional wisdom - but you might reasonably expect an order of magnitude more money if you get your game on several of the big portals. But be warned - competition is fierce and production standards are very, very high. Development is likely to take much longer, and at the end of the day, you won't have grown your own business beyond where you were, coding for food in J2EE.

Cas Smiley

Offline fletchergames

Senior Devvie





« Reply #12 - Posted 2007-06-12 16:44:54 »

I like the idea in general, but I think the reason that people don't do it is because it doesn't work well.

I often wait to buy a game until I can get the "gold" package with all the expansion sets simply because some games (e.g. Civilization 3 and 4) aren't really complete until they come out with some expansion sets.

I can't suggest a number of levels because it depends on the size of the levels.  What I can suggest is the time that it takes to play the game.  I think that if it takes you all day to play through the entire game on the normal difficulty level, it's long enough.  It will take the people buying the game longer because they don't have practice playing the game (presumably, you, as the developer, have played it alot).

If it's an RPG, it should be alot longer.  If it's a strategy game, you might be able to "beat" it faster.  This is ok if it's the sort of game that has near infinite replayability.

If you're charging more than $19.95, it should take longer to beat or have more replayability.

Generally, I think it's better to have alot of small levels than a few large ones.  In games where you can save your progress mid-level, the size of the levels is less of a concern.

One thing that I should specify is that I'm assuming that the game will have some kind of save game feature.  It seems like a waste to make a PC game and not have a save game feature of some kind.  Games without save game features must take less time to beat, but why would anyone buy a game that short when they could buy a longer one?

I've seen videos on YouTube of people beating the original Legend of Zelda in less than half an hour.  Legend of Zelda is a great game, but it definetly took me longer than half an hour to play (even though I couldn't beat Gannon for some reason). 

Not with a credit card they weren't.
That reminds me: payment processing companies generally have a minimum fee, often something like $3.  It's hardly worth charging less than $20 for something if you have pay a $3 fee no matter what.
Offline princec

« JGO Spiffy Duke »


Medals: 422
Projects: 3
Exp: 16 years


Eh? Who? What? ... Me?


« Reply #13 - Posted 2007-06-12 17:26:10 »

You can get CC processing from as little as around 10% from BMTMicro.

Cas Smiley

Offline cylab

JGO Ninja


Medals: 55



« Reply #14 - Posted 2007-06-12 17:54:55 »

One thing that I should specify is that I'm assuming that the game will have some kind of save game feature.  It seems like a waste to make a PC game and not have a save game feature of some kind.

The current plan is to do a "best of 90s" arcade like game, but completely in 3D with shader effects etc. There will be levels with top down scrolling like Xenon II, some levels with 3rd person view like Panzer Dragon and some levels with a rotating background like Nebulus. But other that I'll try to mimic the game mechanics of this games to some degree, it will be a self-contained game with it''s own graphical look and a continuous story (ok, the story will be a collection of stereotypes, but thats reasonable for such a game Wink )

You can get CC processing from as little as around 10% from BMTMicro.

Good Info, thanks!

Mathias - I Know What [you] Did Last Summer!
Offline ddyer
« Reply #15 - Posted 2007-06-12 20:03:32 »

Short form: Don't. give up your day job.

For every breakout success, there are hundreds of abject failures.  Either do it for fun, or find
some greater fool who will finance your lifestyle in exchange for your efforts.

Offline cylab

JGO Ninja


Medals: 55



« Reply #16 - Posted 2007-06-12 20:16:25 »

Short form: Don't. give up your day job.
For every breakout success, there are hundreds of abject failures.  Either do it for fun, or find
some greater fool who will finance your lifestyle in exchange for your efforts.

Smiley Thank's for your opinion, but I am suffering for the last 5 years not realising my dreams and just following the path of least resistance. See, I am 32 years old and will likely have children in the next few years. Should I someday wake up and be bored by myself? If not now, what would be the right time to break out of daily dullness?

I am not afraid to fail and am not afraid of making debts (if they are in maintainable proportions). I will have to return to normal life then, but I at least tried.

Mathias

Mathias - I Know What [you] Did Last Summer!
Offline princec

« JGO Spiffy Duke »


Medals: 422
Projects: 3
Exp: 16 years


Eh? Who? What? ... Me?


« Reply #17 - Posted 2007-06-12 22:19:17 »

Mathias - you are exactly where I'm at. 34, no kids yet but probably not too long before an "accident" of some sort, bored with the rat race and tedious day jobs and with no outlet for your creativity. Don't lose heart, but remember that to begin with, you need some other way to fund your dreams because the income from indie games tends towards zero, and that means the day job has to stay.

Also you might find that it doesn't really matter how technically impressive your game is to you as a developer, your customers rarely give a poo about 3D engines and smarty pants shaders. You could make as much money from a simple 2D game as a monstrously difficult-to-code 3D game and the chances are you'd make a good deal more profit. Keep your initial ambitions small while you learn the ropes. I've got a pie-in-the-sky 3D idea waiting in the wings but it'll be a few years before I realise it, and even then, I might convert it into 2D after all because it'll cost a tenth to develop in terms of time and hassle.

Cas Smiley

Offline keldon85

Senior Devvie


Medals: 1



« Reply #18 - Posted 2007-06-12 23:18:59 »

It's all about your mindset; there are people who don't know how to approach new direction and 5% who do. The 5% are the ones who are employing the rest. Success is only available for those who go for it, don't get overshadowed by the many failures, chances are they are taking the wrong approach. It's just like the music industry!

In fact history lesson:
 Q: who was the first to distribute a game on a platform they never owned?
 A: Activision, composed of 4 programmers and a former music industry exec. Notice the music industry exec!

The same way you have 1,000 artists making nothing for every successful artist is the same think you have with programmers. Some people "get lucky/found/employed/signed", some people find it best to finance their own product, and the rest tend to cling onto the dream that "something" might happen.

Offline SimonH
« Reply #19 - Posted 2007-06-13 03:32:37 »

The current plan is to do a "best of 90s" arcade like game, but completely in 3D with shader effects etc.

Take care of copyright - them lawyers can shut you down if you copy too closely... Where there's brass, there's muck!

People make games and games make people
Offline keldon85

Senior Devvie


Medals: 1



« Reply #20 - Posted 2007-06-13 07:40:56 »

You can't use original images or trademark names, but you can clone the gameplay; there's no copyright against that. The Tetris trademark covers any Tetris style game ending in "tris" and titles that look like Tetris, such as "Tetr1s" or "Tetriz". Other than that I'm not sure if any other titles have such restrictive trademarks - but then again Tetris is one of the biggest selling games of all time, being bundled with the Game Boy and all.

Offline tau

Senior Newbie





« Reply #21 - Posted 2007-06-13 14:30:05 »

I would suggest starting to code games while keeping day job for 1-2 years. I'm in the same boat in my 30s as well but with a kid coming... I give myself about a year to go gold with several indie games and keep on going living off the "long tail".

Cheesy Fun Game Videos - always fun to watch!
Cool Free Game: Paris Hilton Prison Life
Offline cylab

JGO Ninja


Medals: 55



« Reply #22 - Posted 2007-06-13 15:27:02 »

I would suggest starting to code games while keeping day job for 1-2 years. I'm in the same boat in my 30s as well but with a kid coming... I give myself about a year to go gold with several indie games and keep on going living off the "long tail".
Actually I tried that to no avail. At least in my current job there just isn't enough spare time. But maybe just witching to freelancer state might do the trick in this respect.

Mathias - I Know What [you] Did Last Summer!
Offline fletchergames

Senior Devvie





« Reply #23 - Posted 2007-06-13 15:37:22 »

You can get CC processing from as little as around 10% from BMTMicro.

Cas Smiley
Actually, it's 9.5%.  I'm planning to use BMTMicro.

But my point was that there's a minimum fee.  For BMTMicro, it's only $1.25.  Even if you sell a game for less than $13.15, you still have to pay BMTMicro $1.25.  If you charge $2 for one level, you're only making $0.75.  There's little point in selling anything with a payment processing service for less than $19.95.
Offline fletchergames

Senior Devvie





« Reply #24 - Posted 2007-06-13 15:43:13 »

Actually I tried that to no avail. At least in my current job there just isn't enough spare time. But maybe just witching to freelancer state might do the trick in this respect.
I've considered doing much the same thing because my job pays barely enough to live on anyways.

But I tell myself that if I can save up some money now, the interest on it will increase the amount of freelance time I'll be able to have later.

I'm only 27, and I figure it would take me until 55 to "retire" from my job and make video games for free.  I'm working on stuff in my spare time, but, like everyone else, I just don't have enough spare time.  In any case, I will eventually do the job I actually want (programming video games) even if it takes me most of my life to reach this goal.

If I suddenly start making money from game programming, my life will be alot better.  A series of errors has put me into my current situation, but I think I can make my way out  of it if I don't do anything rash, like quitting my job and going freelance.
Offline princec

« JGO Spiffy Duke »


Medals: 422
Projects: 3
Exp: 16 years


Eh? Who? What? ... Me?


« Reply #25 - Posted 2007-06-13 15:44:16 »

Nobody gets out their credit card for a $2 purchase. I wouldnt either. You sell stuff for $10 or more, and then it all works out peachy. Besides, you'd make the square root of bugger all profit if you tried to sell for $2.

Cas Smiley

Offline ddyer
« Reply #26 - Posted 2007-06-13 18:15:06 »

Smiley Thank's for your opinion, but I am suffering for the last 5 years not realising my dreams and just following the path of least resistance. See, I am 32 years old and will likely have children in the next few years. Should I someday wake up and be bored by myself? If not now, what would be the right time to break out of daily dullness?

I am not afraid to fail and am not afraid of making debts (if they are in maintainable proportions). I will have to return to normal life then, but I at least tried.

Mathias

Well, I'm clearly on the side of "do it for fun".  I currently have an unlimited source of such
entertainment at Boardspace.  Of course, my idea of fun may not be the same as yours.
If your definition includes wealth and groupies, I'm afraid there's no hope.

My other "greater fool" alternative is a real possibility, but be warned that the commercial
games industry is a soul killing meat grinder from what I've heard.
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