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Where's The Cash For Flash?

February 9, 2009 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

Flash games are hugely popular, and they're cheap to make. But is there money to be made as a Flash developer?

That depends, say the people interviewed for this article, not only on the quality of your games, of course, but more importantly, on how clever you are at marketing them. It's all about having multiple revenue streams, they say; single sources of income used to cut it, but no longer.

Once upon a time, the standard operating procedure for an independent Flash developer was to create a game and then shop it around to the various portals and sponsors to see who -- if anyone -- would bite, says former Flash developer Chris Hughes in Sacramento, CA.

He and his partner Adam Schroeder soon became weary of the process and launched, a broker site where developers can display their wares and sponsors can bid on them.

"We've had a huge impact on what developers get for their games," claims Hughes, the site's co-owner. "We only allow legitimate sponsors to bid, and the process not only helps to increase the monetary value of the games but also can improve the terms of the agreements, which can sometimes be more important than the upfront money."

The Web site claims to have over 960 sponsors -- including, Cartoon Network, and Simon & Schuster -- of which 200 view the site daily. There are currently about 2,000 games on display, created by the 4,400 developers now enrolled. Since the site was launched in April, 2008, it has brokered over 830 deals totaling almost $956,000 -- an average of just over $1,000 per deal. Sponsors pay no fees to become sponsors; the site takes 10% of each transaction.

How much is the typical transaction?

According to Hughes, of the 20 games submitted daily to, "99.9% of the good-to-great games get sold while 25% of all the games we've ever had on our site have been sold. At a minimum, developers selling their first game ever -- if it falls into the 'good-to-great' category -- make about $500-and-up."

At "the high end," a not-so-typical example of how lucrative Flash development can get is Auckland, New Zealand-based studio NinjaKiwi, the developer of the Bloons games, says Hughes.

"They have created an entire game-specific site -- Bloonsworld," he notes, "which enables them to make $30,000 a month or more by leveraging their IP in various ways, including creating an online community around their games, in-game ads, banner ads on their site, and various licenses on their games. And that, in fact, is what developers need to do to make their work lucrative -- maximize the number of revenue streams they create."

For instance, developers can allow specific branding in their games for a fee through sponsorships and licenses, sell items or premium content through microtransactions, and allow ad networks like MochiAds and CPMstar to keep ad inventory flowing through their games and to share the revenue with the developer.

In addition, developers can license or sell their IP, enter competitions that generate revenue, and urge gamers to buy full and/or downloadable versions of their games.

Take, for example, developer Colin Northway, whose first Flash game was Fantastic Contraption. Northway sold "premium content" in the game -- a level editor and the ability to view other peoples' contraptions -- for a one-time $10 fee payable through PayPal.

"The game ended up making Colin an amount in the low six figures in only four months," recalls Hughes, "and then he sold the rights to inXile. He still retains a percentage of the revenue share on the game and any version of the game released. That's what I call maximizing revenue streams."

Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

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Jake Romigh
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Step 1: Learn Flash.

Step 2: ???

Step 3: License games.

Step 4: PROFIT

But seriously, this is a really interesting article detailing what kind of money is out there for indie developers and how they might get their hands on some of it. I'm glad websites such as the one they discuss in the article are out there.

Chris Hughes
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Step 2: Make a great game and put it on

;) a bit biased, I know.

Honestly, though, this is the best article I have read about Flash games and how to earn money from them. I have read other articles after being interviewed and thought that this industry may be a little too complicated to fit into a short article, but Paul has proven that you can definitely get the gist across in at least 3 pages.

The major benefit to being an indie web game developer is the fact that you get to retain your IP. Being able to 'sell' a game and keep the rights to all of your characters and story lines etc is something that is hard to attain in other industries and it allows you to leverage your brand in the future (Sean points this out well in the article).

E Zachary Knight
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After reading the article, it appears that making money off of flash games is pretty much the same as making money off of anything on the web. First you have to have a brand that people like and will come back for more. Next you have to create multiple revenue streams. Just about everything here is what you would normally do for any kind of web development.

Ads are everywhere and the biggest and easiest form of revenue. It may not be the most profitable unless you have tons of hits every day.

Merchandising is quite profitable if you have a recognizable brand. t-shirts with fans favorite games and characters are a great way to make money. Posters, mouse pads, hats etc, call all make you money. But only if your brand has a following.

Licensing is a pretty new one for me. General web development doesn't lend itself to licensing like games do. I like the idea and have toyed with it for some game ideas I have. Certain genres of flash games lend themselves more towardsthis than others.

One that wasn't really touch but briefly in the article is advergaming. One can make a fair amount of money by marketing yourself to the advergaming crowd. You may not be able to build brands and franchises from it, but it can provide a steady revenue stream, especially if you have a good network or businesses.

Caleb Garner
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Yea the service Chris and Adam offers is great. Being a developer who has worked with them first hand, they were very helpful to us beyond just brokering the deal.

The site offers a lot of opportunity for community feedback as well. You can get feedback from other developers if you like and ultimately help make your game even better and thus more likely to bring in greater revenue.

Shawn Yates
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Good article, it's good to learn about some of the licensing options out there for Flash developers. I was totally unaware of Great to see some success stories of independent developers.

Colm Larkin
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Nice article- interesting that the guys making serious money are all using multiple revenue streams.

I'd like to see some of these 'casual' flash game brands make the leap to a maple-story-like persistant game. They do pretty well out of microtransactions after all.

Tõnu Paldra
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While this is well written article, I have a feeling that by focusing on few extremely successful developers it may give pretty skewed image of Flash game markets. There are thousands of game made every month, thousands of developers all hoping to make the next big hit. Yes, many of those games are not even very good but there are countless examples of really good games that practically do not gain any money. Because the Flash games are so easy to make, so many people are jumping in and trying it out and when they dont get sums mentioned in article, Im afraid they may feel cheated.

Its like writing a article about music business featuring Madonna, Michael Jackson and Britney Spears. The theme: look, you can make money with music! Yes, thats true but honestly, how many artists in reality are gaining such mountains of cash?

Jamie Mann
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Essentially, it sounds like the flash game industry is a low-margin, high-turnover market - and it's fairly high-risk to boot, as you have to commit resources up-front and continue to drive for revenue post-launch.

Overall, there's distinct parallels with the music industry - specifically the singles market. By themselves, singles rarely make much money: the key is to get them picked up for radioplay (aka loaded onto portals) and have them picked up for use in adverts, TV and movies (i.e. embedded advertising/branding).

There is one key difference: the cost of producing music has stayed fairly static - and even dropped, thanks to the evolution of computer-based tools. The cost of game development has risen dramatically over time, thanks in no small part to the cost of producing the assets - and for all that flash games are relatively low-cost at present, the need to remain competitive amid a sea of "free" games means that those costs will rise...

Ben Maher
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This is a great article. Now there are just three things standing between me and low 6 figure sums:

1) I don't know flash.

2) I haven't got a noteworthy game made in flash to market.


3) I don't know flash.

John Petersen
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There's cash in just about everything, depending on who you sleep with.

chris eepor
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Terrific article! It's interesting to see the different revenue models available, you can make good money doing just about anything these days

Kandi Harper
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Im making my own flash game on the side -- since it is so out of my field, it is quite challenging for me, but I love it...

It is interesting to see that as an indie web developer i could pull out good money

Michel Carroll
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Great article. I myself is trying to break into the flash game developement industry. I've always had great game ideas, ever since my early childhood.

This article gave me a good idea of what kind of marketing I should do.