I spent a fair amount of time in my previous Casual Connect Amsterdam 2008 post discussing the PAIN emerging in "traditional"/downloadable casual games. Unfortunately, the post was picked up in other influential media outlets like Silicon Alley Insider and Gamezebo, so I now have to put some actual thought into the 2nd part of the post about the OPPORTUNITY in casual games, but fortunately, it's quite easy :)
The summary from the last PAIN post is that the downloadable game growth is slowing, portals are understandably squeezing developers, and costs are going up. So what should a developer do? Given what I saw at AMS, at least 50% of developers are going to peacefully follow their friends off the lemming cliff while complaining about how "this really sucks". The rest are going to step up and adapt their creative talent to a new, and possibly more profitable world since there are huge opportunities here. So what should developers and the overall casual biz do?
- Make flash versions of your games - notice that I didn't say make "web" versions of your games since a lot of developers think that Active X = Web - It Doesn't. Active X versions are web-wrapped C++ versions of games that require a web install and aren't available to Firefox users - it works and is in some cases better than flash, but absolutely kills the take-up rate and distribution opportunities. As I said on my Casual Connect panel, flash games are like music videos (I ran Rhapsody a long time ago) in that they used to be solely a cost sink for bands/artists to help promote CD's, but now they are starting to generate actual advertising revenue, especially from pre-roll. Few people are going to get rich with their web game, but it is now a cash-generating asset vs a pain-in-the-ass thing to do, so DO THEM since flash games are the core to new revenue options
- Make Good flash versions of your games - this may seem like a repeat of the post above, but it's actually different. Most casual developers make lame flash versions of their games since they or their portal partners are worried about cannibalizing their downloadable game business - although a portal friend of mine told me last week that all of their data shows that web game play has ZERO effect on those who will purchase the game. However, my first point is that developers can now generate at least some revenue off their web games (btw: you definitely be paid at least something by your distributor for your web game), so it makes sense to create a compelling experience - e.g. The Last Day of Work gang, my favorite small developer, has "state" built into their flash games so that users can come back to the game after being away vs having always to start over - starting over each time is fine with puzzle games like Bubble Shooter, but not with deeper, more linear games like Plant Tycoon. I'm not saying developers should offer the full functionality of a downloadable game, just that they should offer a reasonable enough subset to make it interesting and profitable. Take a look at what Enkord does with Clash n Slash or JAM XM, where the flash game is pretty fun, but the upsell to downloadable is definitely present each round since it offers a richer experience. So DONT MAKE LAME FLASH GAMES
- Find New Distribution Partners - it's admittedly self-serving since Meez Games offers a compelling additional channel (including on social media channels like Friendster and Facebook), but in the days of consolidating distribution power, once developers have built compelling flash versions of their games, they MUST find new ways to introduce their cool downloadable games to new users. Meekly submitting their games to RealGames, Oberon, BigFish, Yahoo, AOL etc. is a required part of the casual business, but to NOT actively pursue emerging marketing channels like Kongregate, Addicting Games and Armor Games, makes little sense since it's a way to diversify risk in a very fluid business sector - the web is fragmenting, and developers must start acting like the more nimble flash developers to get their games out to the entire world.
- Develop Your Own Site - possibly my most frustrating set of discussions were with downloadable developers/publishers who indicated they had not developed their own sites beyond "brochure-ware" since they didn't want to piss off distributors. I hate to break it to them, but no distributor cares about your site unless you are massively discounting vs your distributors. So why develop your own site if it's never going to be huge? Because everything in life is about leverage and search engine optimization - in this case, you're hopefully going to get a bunch of people to try or buy your game (especially in the flash world), so they should all know where to buy the game, which is at YOUR web site, not at a distributor's site as the firs choice - in a lot of cases, the traffic, revenue and email addresses will make a huge dent in your game development cost vs watching portals take it all. I'm not saying don't distribute to big portals - I'm just saying that most of the time (Oberon accepted something like fewer than 20% of games sent to them in 2007) you're on your own with a game, so make sure that every game player is clear on how to get to your downloadable game on your site, and that users can easily download & purchase it. If you get a big hit, then you can even build a simple site around the game, with all of the community and add-on features that your rabid fans would like to see.
I could go on and on, but we'll leave the specifics for another post where we go into more detail about the emerging exciting world of flash-only games like Ocean Explorer or More Bloons. The key here is that great downloadable developers can no longer let their only agenda be set by portals - there are numerous opportunities opening up in the web/flash world to bring your game out to a much wider audience, to take back some control of your destiny, and to generate more revenue. More to come....