Marketing Flash Games: The Other Half of the Battle

This week, James Robinson, aka Casino Jack on the forums and creator of Multiball shares his experiences and advice on how to market a Flash game. Once the game is done, how do you distribute it to the world so you can get more people to play it? James fills us in on the answers and provides great resources. Read on below…

Building a Flash game can be a fun process – starting with nothing more than a basic concept, you are able to create your own miniature universe. However, if you want to share your game you are required to do a lot more than simply uploading it to the Internet.

Marketing has been utilised for countless centuries, though it appears to be a fairly foreign, commonly overlooked concept to Flash developers – most believe that if you create a great game, then people will play it. The main problem here is that the Internet is a fairly large place, filled with a lot of garbage. Therefore, it is up to you to make it easier for potential players to find your game, via marketing.

Rather than present a dull reference guide, I will instead escort you on retelling of one of my journeys of self-discovery where I learnt the true meaning of Marketing Flash Games.

Initial Release

I first began developing Flash games in the late summer of ’07 – the weather was starting to cool and, being in England, the rain took hold. Having more free time and not much university work to do, I decided to tick something off my ‘Long Term To-Do’ list – learn Flash.

Programming a game seemed like a slightly more interesting way to learn, so I started on my first project. Development took about a month, after which I uploaded it to Newgrounds and received the sort of feedback one should expect for a ‘first effort’ game (i.e. “god dude this suks!!!1”). Grammar not withstanding, I did manage to attain some useful feedback and therefore began my second game – Multiball. When I initially released Multiball, I didn’t know much about portals and the like, so I only uploaded it to Newgrounds and Gamegum. It garnered an average score (just over 3) from Newgrounds, but I did get a lot of useful feedback (e.g. use a colourful background rather than a solid colour, improve the instructions, etc). I forgot about it for about six months and began work on other projects.

In January of this year I heard about Mindjolt from the MochiAds forums and decided to give it a go – the only half-decent, finished game I had was Multiball, so I submitted this. On the same day I had somewhat of an epiphany and decided to see what would happen if I spent the whole day marketing the game.

Marketing Effort

mochi-marketingI put together a distribution pack: basically the encrypted SWF, a number of logos (in various sizes and formats) and a text file including instructions, feature list, ideal SWF dimensions and some other info. I then spent a few hours searching for the most popular portals (the greatest help in this area was the Your Mochibot stats and 1 Million Players Club threads – the ‘Top Hosts’ in the Mochibot stats for every game provided me with a list of the major portals, which I put into a spreadsheet for easy reference.)

The next hour or so was spent submitting the game to all the portals that offered an automatic upload form (e.g. Addicting Games, Multigames, UGO Player, etc) – this was a simple yet monotonous process that was sped up by having a text file to hand that I could simply copy and paste from into each form.

Submitting to portals requiring an e-mail was also a necessary step to extend the reach of the game. One thing I heard back from a number of portals was how impressed they were with the professionalism of my submission e-mail – I was lucky enough to have a number of years experience in a corporate environment, so these kind of e-mails are second nature to me, but many seem to make the mistake of sending an e-mail to a portal with nothing but a link and the words ‘Play my game and put it on your website!!!’, or similar. Remember that the major portals get dozens of submissions a day, so you have to stand out from the crowd (in a good way!). Your distribution e-mail should:

  • Be concise – don’t go into too much depth about your game; don’t use ten words when you can use two
  • Be professional – even something as simple as using the correct spelling and grammar can go a long way
  • Give them everything they need – to expedite the process of submitting your game, you should generally include everything a portal would need to display your game on their website (see ‘Distribution Pack’ below, also include a link to somewhere your game is hosted to allow them to try it first)
  • Give them a reason to host your game – what does your game offer? What sets it apart from the crowd? Just why on earth should they host your fantastic game?!

Once I’d put this together I e-mailed it to the list that I’d compiled earlier (In true Blue Peter style) making sure to e-mail each portal *individually* rather than sending one e-mail to them all. This last step may not have been hugely important, but in terms of the psychology behind it I personally prefer to receive an e-mail which I believe was meant solely for me, rather than just being another address on a massive distribution list.

multiball-views-sm

After a few days my game had been accepted to roughly 25% of the sites I uploaded to, though I did get a number of e-mails back from major portals telling me how I could improve my game and to get back to them if I had any other games. Within around a week the hits had gone up more than ten fold (granted, most were from Mindjolt!) along with my MochiAds revenue, which had a knock-on effect of pushing more visitors through to my website and increasing my ad revenue. After a month it is still being picked up by the occasional portal and has levelled out at around 3-5k hits a day.

Conclusion

It is important to note that this game was, looking back, really not that good. I actually submitted the finished version to Newgrounds on the same day I started development and then spent another day improving it with the feedback I got from there.

Every day I see amazing games being showcased on the MochiAds forums, but the problem that many seem to have is that they don’t always know what to do with them when they’re done! This is usually a mistake made by newcomers to the market, but I’ve seen many very talented people make the same errors – eventually quitting their hobby altogether because they cannot understand why portals aren’t rushing to them asking to host their game.

saturation-graphThis whole experience taught me a very important lesson – developing a game is only half of the battle; you need to be able to get people to play it to make it a success. I’d say that the payoffs of distribution are fairly proportional to the input up to a certain point where the market becomes saturated, though this usually only occurs for games which break the million views mark.

Please bear in mind, however, that I am by no means experienced – this was only my second game, my first was so awful that I refuse to even glance upon it, lest my eyes bleed out of their sockets ala Raiders of the Lost Ark. My third and latest game is the only one I’m truly proud of so far – it’s been sponsored for a generous amount by Crazy Monkey Games and should be released soon. However, even though it has already been sponsored and I have been paid I will still be putting just as much, if not more effort into distributing it as any other game.

Key Points

Finally, for those of you with the tl;dr mantra, I’ll see if I can summarise my key points to ensure successful distribution:

Testing is at least as important as developing – thoroughly test your game, using a reasonable test set (>100 users if possible). This should include both bug testing and play testing. Remember to take any feedback on board and do not fear or retaliate against criticism.

  • Prepare your distribution pack – bring together all the materials you’ll need to distribute the game:
    • finalised encrypted SWFSWFProtect seems to be the ideal choice at the moment
    • logos – of different sizes and formats such as GIF, JPG, PNG (See the recent fantastic Mochiland article by funface for advice on what makes a good logo). If you don’t have access to anything better than MSPaint, then give Gimp a try – this free editing package is on par with commercial products and will be more than powerful enough to create a logo
    • text file – containing instructions on how to play the game (ideally the interface should be intuitive enough to not need additional instructions), a short (<10 words) and long (<50 words) description of the game, a list of search keywords relating to the game and other information you think may be useful
  • Write your distribution e-mail – remember to take a fair amount of time to properly put together a well-written e-mail before you send it out to portals
  • Maintain a list of portals – I initially started with a spreadsheet containing URLs/e-mails, but decided to develop this into a database to make maintenance easier (I know these are a bit ugly, but I did initially intend them to be for personal use!):
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  • http://www.t-enterprise.co.uk T-Enterprise

    Thanks for sharing – excellent idea.

  • http://www.multigames.com Andreas

    Great article! And thanks for mentioning Multigames :-)

  • http://www.flashrez.com Flashrez

    Thanks for this useful info :)

  • http://evolutionlive.blogspot.com/ axcho

    Thanks very much for writing this article! If I hadn’t read this I would have just released my game to a few sites and wondered why no one was playing my game. Very glad to have come across this. :)

  • johnfn

    Great article, I will be sure to put your work into good use with my next game :)

  • http://JeuxInternet Jeux Internet

    Hello James,

    I noticed that you put my email on your list of Flash Portal E-mails.

    Thanks.

    But… instead of webmaster@, you wrote webmasterp@.

    Can you correct it ?

    Thanks.

  • http://www.derekmtran.com Derek T

    Quick question (might seem a bit dumb but I have no idea), when you create your distribution package, do you add the swf with the mochiads embedded or a clean swf file? I’m assuming most sites would turn it down if there are ads embedded already, is this correct? Thanks!

  • http://evolutionlive.blogspot.com/2008/04/promoting-your-game-lessons-learned.html axcho

    I just wrote up my own article on Promoting Your Game, from my own experiences using this article here. It goes into a lot more specifics involving MochiAds and certain websites. Please give it a read! :D

    (click on my name AXCHO for the link)

  • Chris Perone

    This is one of the most helpful posts I’ve read on mochiland so far. Thanks for the info!

  • http://www.javierlazaro.com Javier Lázaro

    Fine, but… What about sponsorship? Distributing a game this way may reduce the possibilities of non-exclusive sponsorship, a very interesting option.

  • http://www.iojoe.com/ SIMONUU

    I’m currently in the process of distributing my first ‘Mochi-ad enabled’ flash game and I’ll be making good use of all your advice =)

    Thanks very much for such a clear and useful article

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  • http://www.lolplays.com lolplays

    i hope i can upload your more interseting flash games.

  • http://www.bigfuntown.com Daniel Crabtree

    You can submit your games directly to Big Fun Town through our new submission system: http://www.bigfuntown.com/SubmitGame.html

    Most games on Big Fun Town get thousands of plays, many get tens of thousands!

  • http://www.gamingmouse.org/logitech-g5 Logitech g5 Laser Mouse

    Very, very, VERY nice article. Its true, it seems like a huge amount of failing indy/casual developers fail not because of a bad game, but because they don’t know how to market.

    Me and a few close friends of mine have been debating making a flash game for fun, but the question always come up as to whether or not it’d be worth it. I suppose the fun of it should be enough, but…well, people gotta eat, right?

  • http://www.yourcreative.co.uk Scowcroft

    I’ve developed a flash game that uses multiple swf’s for each level all of which are inside a subfolder. Would you suggest that I simply follow your instructions for the distribution pack or do I need to combine all of the files into one swf first?

  • http://www.phyfun.com/Games/6-4320-Formula-Racer.aspx Formula Racer

    It’s really not easy to develop a good flash game, how to market and benefit from the game is very important. But it does not include those bad games, they should not exist.