Talking at the Indie Games Summit at GDC Austin on Wednesday, Bunni
co-creator and Lost Garden
blogger Daniel Cook explained why he believes charging users for more complex Flash games is the wave of the future.
Introducing his talk, industry veteran and notable commentator Cook said that it's very difficult to make significant money with just ads and sponsorships for Flash games.
But for more complex, deeply-designed Flash titles, the ability to charge "adds rocket fuel to your business.... it gives you so much more money per user and allows you to make really great businesses", said Cook, who made the story-centric, cute Bunni
Cook cited Flash games such as Fantastic Contraption
, SAS: Zombie Assault 2
and Kongregate's Kongai
as examples of web browser titles that are charging for in-game upgrades, virtual currency, or items, with some success.
The broad scope of premium Flash games encapsulates three things - acquiring customers, creating value, and charging money. The struggle, said Cook, is that "you have to ask players for money" -- and be comfortable with that.
The key structure for this model, according to Cook, is simple enough. Customers play the game, they get invested in it, and they buy things. He commented: "When you play a game as a player, you buy into the value structure of that game. The longer you play, the more invested in that value structure you get."
But these mechanisms need to be built in from the beginning of the design. "You have the ability to innovate" in terms of business model, Cook said, and you mustn't be afraid to look at design and business in tandem to monetize your game design intelligently.
There are different styles of players, Cook mused, and they want to play in different ways. Notably, the 'time poor' gamers think that "their time is valuable, and they're willing to pay for it" -- so developers can sell them accelerators to get to higher levels in quicker style.
Also highlighted are 'status' gamers, who want good-looking aesthetic items such as cool costumes with high visibility, as well as the 'money poor' gamers monetized through advertising and simply 'more of the same' gamers, who want extra content.
Cook put Bunni
on regular free Flash portals, but it had some pay elements within it. Although "customers have been trained that Flash games are free", he said that it's gradually changing. He commented that "there's going to be dozens of these games coming out", and the audience is being trained to realize that it's OK to pay for web browser games.
He also believes that there's a lot more that can be done to increase monetization on Flash games. Current ARPU (average revenue per user) for premium Flash games is 3c per unique user. But if you look at other paid games on the Internet (such as Facebook games), their ARPU is 80c to $1.00. So Cook concludes that "we're in the beginning of premium Flash games", and there's "a lot of upside going forward".
Cook stressed the importance of "keeping your customers around" by creating a brand, even as an independent developer. The "promise of value to the customer" allows people to keep coming back to your games, and Cook's own Bunni
is being created as a brand, even beyond the current title.
Building one's community is also important, and Cook's Bunni
-- even when hosted on Flash portals -- gives achievements for users who post on the official Bunni
website's forums. Funneling users back to your own community -- as opposed to someone else's community -- helps build your own brand.
Elsewhere, Cook warned about operators, publishers, portals, and some payment services who say they can take care of business and community for you so that you can "just be a developer".
He strongly urged developers to act as entrepreneurs and take control of your business -- and said that a good division of power is that operators own everything outside the game, and the developer should own everything inside the game.