By Guest Author Saad Fazil
Earlier we talked about several platforms on which to showcase your talent (the iPhone, Facebook, Android, Palm Pre, BlackBerry, and MySpace, to name a few). Having so many choices might cause developers to overlook the most obvious platform of all: the World Wide Web, plain HTML, and Flash. Flash is relatively easier to learn than other platforms (this makes me admire iPhone developers even more) and is extremely popular among casual game developers thanks to the phenomenal ecosystem around it — several tools, IDEs and other software that help develop Flash games and websites. So it is not a surprise that when I pitched the idea to write a game on Facebook to my twelve-year-old nephew, he said that he preferred to write in Flash.
Facebook and Flash are not mutually exclusive; in fact, several companies such as Playfish have Flash games on Facebook. However, in order to write an application in Facebook, you do need to learn a few more technologies than just Flash — and although they are fairly easy to learn, this additional layer does present a barrier to entry to some developers. While Facebook is a great platform to market your application virally, a personal website that has a bunch of cool Flash games is not. To fill the void, there are several companies that have built an ecosystem around Flash games.
First off, there would be no Flash games if there were no developers. If you look at the long tail, there are several of them developing a few games each. Then there are some bigger developers, quite a few of which even get venture capital. One such developer is Casual Collective, whose founders created some really addictive games, which anyone can copy and publish on his or her personal website or blog. Casual Collective (and most other developers) has two major sources of revenue (excluding paid downloads, which are becoming non-existent, with a free-to-play-pay-for-stuff model): (i) virtual payments and (ii) advertisements (big surprise!). Casual Collective uses Mochi Ads for advertisements and Mochi Coins and its in-house-developed virtual currency for virtual goods. Users who prefer not to see any ads can also buy a subscription.
Second, there are game portals such as Addicting Games and Kongregate to which individual and larger developers as Casual Collective can upload games. In addition to attracting a wider audience, these portals provide features such as mechanisms to vote a game up or down, and discussion forums. Then there are those companies such as Nonoba that are trying to get even more fancy: Nonoba allows users to create social networks of casual games, almost the way Ning allows one to create social networks around a particular theme or group. These portals allow Flash developers to make their games more visible, and in return developers share revenues with the portals.
Finally, there are those who help with monetization and distribution (portals are one way to distribute). Mochi Media and HeyZap are worth mentioning. As several people have asked me how they are different, I will describe some of the differences. Mochi Media provides ads for Flash games. HeyZap doesn’t, and in fact it shares ad revenues for “its” games with Mochi Media. Both offer virtual currencies, and that is where they compete head-to-head. Both also offer distribution and have partnerships with several publishers to add games to their sites. Publishers share revenue with distributors (Mochi Media and HeyZap) and game developers. In fact, any individual blogger or person with a website can embed games. While Mochi Media has a tremendous reach and scale (it attracts almost 100 million gamers a month), HeyZap seems to have developed several widgets that make it easier for individual publishers to add games. For example, for my blog, IT Valley, I tried using both but found it much easier to embed HeyZap widget. HeyZap also provides a nice way to filter games by certain categories (such as strategy games, puzzles, action games), so you can choose what you want for your website. Mochi Media, a clear leader in Flash game monetization and distribution, is going to face competition from newcomers such as HeyZap and Gameyola (one of the fbFund winners).
While big players such as Playfish do almost everything in-house, several smaller Flash developers thrive and depend on the ecosystem described above. Additionally, Mind Jolt, can help distribute games over the Facebook platform. Once these developers become bigger and have more resources, Facebook and the iPhone versions of the games will be natural extensions. In fact, Casual Collective is already developing iPhone versions of some of its games. Before you build that big gaming company on Facebook, why not create a simpler game, try your luck on one of these portals and see how your game ranks?