Further adventures in marketing arcade games on the App Store

It’s always easier to make decisions when you’re armed with data.
This morning we pulled down some stats from Apple’s reporting site to pore over the numbers.
(We don’t currently publish to Google Play, though that will come soon)

To Charge or Not to Charge

We released an arcade game (Chaos Grid) to the App Store two weeks ago and initially offered it for free.
In a short space of time we’d had just over 800 installs. 95% of those came from Japan.

It’s easy to assume that this is an indication that the game would be successful if we charged for it.
So we did and opted for the lowest tier of pricing – 99p.

7 days later and we’ve had an additional 12 installs.
Less Apple’s cut that comes in at $8.06 (£6.40)

Our assumption was wrong.
There’s work to be done before we  can consider charging for the game.

There are other ways to monetise the game.
In-app Purchasing and advertising being the obvious choices. But we reject these as they aren’t true to our ‘promise’ to the customer.

We’re doing this to ‘relive the thrills of the video game arcade’.
It’s our ‘Why?’, if you like.

So we gave it about 4 seconds worth of thought and switched it back to free of charge.
Overnight the installs are back into double figures.

I guess it’s far better to have the game installed on numerous iPhones and iPads than sat there on the app store gathering dust.
A number of things happen when the game is installed:

  • It gets played
  • Our brand is all over the game’s splash screen
  • It (potentially) gets talked about and shared

But there was something else that occurred to us; the Japanese market was up for these games.
When we uploaded the game to the store we selected to have it available in every territory but we have no control over the exposure in each territory. So that came as a pleasant surprise.

Localisation and Culture

The screenshots that we provided for the game’s entry on the app store contain text. English text (above).
Words such as ‘RETRO ACTION’ and ‘ARCADE THRILLS’.
I’d guess that these ‘calls to action’ are wasted on the Japanese audience. They are probably far more interested in the screenshots than any blurb we wrap around it.
iTunes Connect (the developer’s gateway to the app store) offers the ability to provide localised content. We could go to the trouble of translating any words into multiple languages. But is it worth it? Would those words significantly influence the viewer to become a buyer?
I doubt it.

Far better to offer something more culturally relevant.
In the west we appear to use the screenshot as the key persuader in the buying process for an unknown title.
It’s a lot like picking up an X-Box game in the store and immediately flipping it over to see a screenshot of the game on the back cover.
But in Japan consumers warm to specific imagery. Anime style imagery. It’s relevant to them and makes the game feel less ‘alien’. The Japanese are proud of their culture and appear to warm to any attempts to embrace it.

Here’s a useful link that forms part of our on-going research into marketing on the app stores: https://moz.com/blog/app-store-rankings-formula-deconstructed-in-5-mad-science-experiments

Article about the perception of HTML5 as a gaming technology on Gamasutra

I recently posted an article on Gamasutra about the association with HTML5 and gaming. I go in to a little detail about how we as HTML5 game developers can improve the perception of HTML5 as a viable medium for mobile gaming.

You can read the full article here: The public perception of HTML5 and its association with games

A quick look at the potential for HTML5 gaming on Nintendo’s Wii U

Once upon a time I worked as an artist for a company that developed games for Nintendo’s handheld devices, amongst other things. I remember back then (2001 ish) wondering whether web technologies would/could ever produce the kind of environment suitable for good quality gaming. I suppose looking back then it must have seemed ludicrous that you could pull up a web browser and play a pretty performant arcade game with fluid animation and full audio support. We certainly wouldn’t have imagined such an experience being available on the consoles we were developing for – Gameboy, Gameboy Advance. Not even the next-gen stuff of the day – PS2, Xbox (1st generation).

Desert Rescue HTML5 game on Wii U

Desert Rescue HTML5 game on Wii U

So it’s with some interest that I continue to read about the level of JavaScript support within Nintendo’s Wii U:

Nintendo itself is clearly keen to push the capabilities of its browser out to the indie community. What’s more with a considerably lower barrier to entry than traditional console development, it’d be great to think that Nintendo could pave the way for bedroom programmers the world over to find a new route to market.

Quite how Nintendo would control this potential demand from developers is another question but it’s certainly encouraging to see that there is once again huge potential for carving out a livelihood for yourself from the comfort of your own home.

A cool looking retro-styled game called CrossCode appears to be in consideration for publishing on Nintendo platforms.
You can play a sample of the game here: http://www.cross-code.com/en/play

The life of an HTML5 game developer

Since establishing Space Monster Games Ltd I’ve been thinking more and more about the life of a full time game developer. Especially since I am moving further toward it and have seen one or two fellow devs taking the plunge in recent months.

I guess for so many people it must seem perfectly possible yet horribly daunting to break from the 9 to 5 and dive headlong in to a world without salary, annual leave and paid lunch breaks. At what point do you actually say to yourself that the time is now and you are just going to grab the bull by the horns and go for it !

I guess the younger you are and the less you have in the way of family commitments the greater the chance of you adopting this attitude. For most people though there is just too much risk attached to such a bold move.
What I want to do here is try to highlight some of the things that we might consider when looking at this new and exciting lifestyle.

I’ll start by making some fairly obvious assumptions.

First, that HTML5 and related technologies will strengthen such that they become a perfect platform for creating mobile web games.

Second, that mobile phones continue to move away from traditional or feature phones and toward touch screen smart phones. Furthermore that hardware / software vendors continue to support and accelerate HTML5 technologies that run against such devices.

Third and possibly most important, that the desire for mobile gaming continues to grow. As the market expands on the back of greater choice and richer technology so we can expect to see more and more portal operators / gaming agents appearing to serve that demand.

I am extremely confident that each of these three assumptions is accurate.

So assuming that there will be plenty of commercial opportunity what must you consider if you wish to become a full time HTML5 game developer. Well, quite obviously you need to consider how to be a developer. You need to maintain a healthy relationship with those that you rely on for your income and you need to ensure that you keep them fed with good, playable and reliable games for their audience. If you achieve these things you will not only be in business but the business will most likely come to you.
It’s how you handle the bits that you have direct control over that will determine your success as a full time developer of games.

Let’s start with a few pointers for the development process before we look at the commercial aspect. I will be deliberately succinct with my explanation of each section.

Strong and clear design

Sketch out your ideas. Dry run them in your mind. Hold the phone and imagine playing your game. Do some research. Look around at what the world is currently playing. Does your game fit the mould ? Would there be a perceived risk on the part of the licensee when taking your game. Be careful not to be too avant garde or you may well meet with resistance from potential licensees / existing clients. It’s probably worth playing safe whilst you establish your portfolio and of course your name as a developer of mobile web games.

Most important though make sure that your design is something that you believe in. Make sure you actually have some kind of a vision for how it will play out. Ensure that you have an idea for how it will look. This clarity of vision for the final product will help to push you through to the end of your development. It’s by no means essential that you share your vision but if it gives you added confidence to have a friend or fellow developer look over it then that’s probably no bad thing.

Establish a clear and realistic timeframe

When you are in total control of your own developments the hardest thing to do is rein yourself in. Trust me I am living proof of it ! You’re not answering to anyone but yourself and you have complete freedom over your working day, which is great. But it can also lead to your best intentions for a ten day development becoming fifty or a hundred days.
For the most part if you have a good, solid codebase from which to start I see no reason why you can’t be creating perfectly playable games within two to three weeks.
Providing your design is tight and you have enough in the way of a challenge to present to your game’s players you should be able to confidently set a perfectly workable timeframe.

Make sure that you have this deadline printed somewhere such that you can see it every day when you start work.
The next step is to create a rough schedule.

Scheduling is at odds with the freedom within which we developers like to operate. But this isn’t messing about anymore. This is your livelihood and should be treated as professionally as you would any other form of employment.
I would seriously recommend dividing your project’s work up in to three clear blocks: Design, Development and Testing.

Designing your game is obviously a lot of fun. Resist the urge to dive on to the computer every five minutes and instead sketch out some thoughts and ideas. If you work with a colleague use this time to bash out as many ideas as you can. Everything is relevant. Always of course have one eye on the practicalities of actually developing the things that you are dreaming up but NEVER throw an idea away. What may be unsuitable for Project A may be perfect for Project B.

Development boils down to Build and Debug time. It’s practically impossible to be clear on how this will work out in reality since in every likelihood you will need to debug as you go in order to have the game running. But my point here is simple: not everything about development is cutting new code. You will make mistakes and unless you account for the time it takes to fix your bugs you could wind up days over target.
As part of your development time you’ll need to factor in the production of any artwork in your game. Obviously if you are a one-man-band then this rather drastically eats in to your development time. On the plus side you take 100% of the revenue you generate. Most likely though you’ll want to employ the services of a game artist.
Be realistic. In my experience working with placeholder graphics doesn’t work quite so well as having a beautifully crafted sprite walk across the screen.
Agree in advance the schedule for the production of game’s graphics such that you have enough to visualise each stage of the game’s development as you work on it.
A firm relationship with an artist will stand you in good stead for future developments. There’s no room for prima donnas here. Be professional and clear about your requirements.

Testing of your game is a luxury but it’s also vital. In game development circles the release of untested software is right up there with the implementation of lousy controls or lack of respect for the target platform. You really need to become acquainted with your game’s code by running it, playing it and yes – breaking it. Rather than an exclusive period at the end of a game’s development lifecycle it’s probably a better use of your time to allow yourself a certain amount of time during your day to just sit and play the game and make notes.

Remember: open ended developments are dangerous and can lead to an incredible amount of feature creep. (Again I am living proof !) Your client will be drumming his fingers whilst you implement that fancy feature that ultimately adds little or nothing to the game. Be careful with your decision making.

DELIVER DELIVER DELIVER !

Don’t just spend your days and nights talking or thinking game development. Actually get and do it. Set yourself targets and as previously mentioned make sure that you give yourself enough time to sit and wade through bugs.

Nobody likes a coder that promises the earth yet delivers nothing.
Make good on your promises. Better still under-promise. Set the expectation with your client that your game will be a good one and then present to them something that is much more than they were led to believe.

This last point about setting your client’s expectations is vital and really should be underlined at least 4 times.

Although you may be working outside of a development agreement or formal contract you should treat each project as if you were. Indeed as time moves on and you become more established as a game developer you may wish to secure an advance payment and agree terms on the delivery of your software. This is not at all uncommon in freelance circles and something that I would certainly encourage.
Don’t forget, just because you are in love with the process of making games and are effectively living the dream doesn’t mean for one minute that your client sees your relationship as anything other than a business convenience. He is protecting his bottom line and is relying on you to deliver him the goods.

Become commercial

For many people the thought of being your own front man is terrifying. Not only do you have the responsibility of coding your own games you also have to wear the hat of marketing manager, business development manager, sales manager and countless other managers. But this really is not as daunting as you might think.
The key to success is in understanding your market and understanding your own limitations.

It pays to be able to step in to your client’s shoes once in a while. See the market from their perspective.
As mentioned earlier don’t be forever trying to create something that the world has never seen since your client will just see it as enormous risk. Take small steps. Slowly step back from an established design. Make a name for yourself as a solid developer and then consider smashing the mould open.
Don’t forget your ultimate goal is to generate money. Develop your position with your client such that the 8th or 9th game that you present to them could feasibly be the next Angry Birds. Once they’ve taken a few games from you they’ll see less risk in taking a punt on your unusual new game.

So how do you get clients and how much money can you ask for ?

This is of course the real reason why you’re reading this.

Talk about your games. Set up a blog and document the development process. Create something that Google will find rich in content and your potential clients will find with some good key words. Be careful. Spamming social networks with your own content could lead to you being labelled as a nuisance or irrelevant to the conversation. And that’s the point. Twitter for example is little more than a conversation. Don’t force the subjects every day, add to them. Add to the conversation. Social networks are a great source of relevant traffic and like-minded people. Learn from them and make new game dev aquaintances. In my experience this is vital to keeping ahead of the curve with technology and gaming culture.

Once you have your stall set out just ensure that you maintain it.
Write to your blog and remain relevant to your audience at all times. Become, in Google parlance, the authority. Set yourself up as somebody who knows what he/she is talking about.

HTML5 Gaming Portals

At the moment the most common route to market for your games is via an HTML5 mobile game portal. Such companies will look to your games to boost their own portfolio.
Whatever you agree with your contact at this company ensure that it meets your needs. At the moment it’s not uncommon to sell a non-exclusive licence for around 400 – 500 EUR.
Of course it’s all relative.
If you’ve spent 4 months on your game and it’s a 10 hour marathon game then you will want more money. And rightly so. But I suspect your market will be limited in that a) the market just isn’t ready for such a game and b) you’re targeting the wrong end of the available budget.

Contracts and licencing

Always have your own licence document ready.
Speak to a lawyer, understand copyright laws & typical licencing arrangements and have some paper work to hand.
That said you must also be prepared to sign the client’s agreements and have your own disregarded.
Let’s just say right now that THIS IS WRONG. But it is still how the business works.
As developer and producer of the game you wouldn’t normally expect to have to agree to the terms of the person buying your game, would you ? But if this is what your client insists on be prepared for a struggle if you yourself insist on thrusting your own paperwork before them before continuing.

Just as a pointer look for the clauses that relate to payment, ownership, distribution and your right to step away from the agreement. I wouldn’t sign anything that extends to beyond 12 months personally. But there are exceptions. You’ll quickly spot the companies that you feel comfortable with.
Rule of thumb: if in doubt seek the advise of a professional before signing anything.

In conclusion then the life of a game designer is a fun and exciting one. You will see rewards everywhere in the form of development break-throughs, player satisfaction and of course financial income. But just being a developer won’t provide you with a career in games. You need to wear multiple hats, at least to begin with. Of course as your bedroom outfit grows in to the next Rovio you will be able to employ people to do the stuff you’re not so keen on.

Above all have fun.

 

HTML5 gaming – what are we talking about?

The conversation about HTML5 gaming is changing all the time.

In just 12 short months we’ve gone from starting conversations with “hey, what’s this cool new tech / standard I can make games with ?” to “hey, I can make some money here,” and “hey, look at all these amazing tools I get to play with.”

But what were the conversations we were having inbetween and what are the conversations we could / should be having in the coming 12 months ?

It’s true that in the few years since the dev world adopted HTML5 as a standard fit for gaming requirements the vendor world has dragged its heels somewhat in trying to catch up and meet the requirements of the rapidly expanding community. Consistent support across the board is slowly emerging with the ever stubborn Internet Explorer finally adding some weight to the game.
Sluggish adoption is no more evident than in the iOS 5 upgrade pushed out by Apple towards the back end of last year. Finally developers could target Apple’s mobile devices and enjoy a practical amount of horse power for constructing good quality arcade games.
Better still the eyes of the world’s mobile gaming portal operators were opened and opened wide. Millions of people own iOS devices and millions of people playing games that are free from the trappings of App Store regulation means, in theory, greater margins.
Mobile web gaming took off and the conversations soon turned to that of monetisation and commercial interests.

But for me it is the conversations that typically started “where do I start” that have changed the most.
A quick look around Twitter and the open web development community in general will show you that there is now a tremendous focus on tools, engines and frameworks.

High profile software vendor Adobe changed things when it announced Adobe Edge. Although it’s not game specific it certainly provides a rich tool set for creating content for web presentation using the same open standards that we use to build games. If you’re in any doubt about the intimate relationship between HTML5 markup, JavaScript and CSS Adobe’s Edge will help you to muddle through.
This is good. It gives developers a way in and changes the conversation back to “how do I … ?”

ImpactJS, a well established and robust HTML5 game development engine launched in 2011 is a fantastic example of that blend of good design and perfect timing.
Around the time of Impact’s launch the conversations in the HTML5 gaming community were stuck at “where do I start ?”, “Why won’t it do this ? “, “I feel like I’m fighting this, ” and of course the biggest pain in everybody’s backside “what the hell is the score with HTML5 audio ?”

Such was the urgency for amateur developers and small studios to try and make some headway in this burgeoning world of HTML5 gaming  the conversations soon included “how can I get started quickly and reliably with HTML5 games ?”, “what is the path of least risk ( cost ) in creating HTML5 games ?”

Solid game engines like ImpactJS proved not only that there was a market for such tools but also that the market for HTML5 games was rich and growing. Conversations could be seen emerging on the web along the lines of “how many people are playing these HTML5 games ?”, “is there REALLY a market for HTML5 games ?” Perhaps the most important question of all “WHO is playing these games ?” was yet to be answered.

Facebook kept the wave from falling.
For what is arguably the most important web site out there to state that it would extend its social gaming to mobile devices was an enormous event. One that I feel really hasn’t been fully understood for its importance even now.
Any questions surrounding the size of the market for HTML5 games were answered in a heartbeat.
Facebook’s 350 million mobile users were all entering the arena.

Soon the high profile successes of companies like Dextrose (AVES engine) and RocketPack would be matched by similarly sized outfits looking to have their technologies adopted by comparable giants to Zynga and Disney.
The game development community couldn’t lose. Strategies shifted and large gaming portals started to follow Spil Games’ direction by embracing  HTML5 games as the future.
“We’re going to make HTML5 games. So what’s the best engine ? Who are the best developers ? Who can give us the games that we need right now to bolster our portfolio ?”

HTML5 game developers were right back at the centre of the discussion and game engine creators started to put 48 hour shifts in to get their own software up to production standards. Everybody wants this new wave of game creator to be on side and in bed with their brand.
There are so many engines and smaller frameworks available to developers now that the conversations have again switched back to “which is the best engine ?” and “which engine has produced the best games”.
“Which engine will give me the flexibility to produce the games that I / the market want to make / see ?”

Then in November 2011 the world of HTML5 gaming took another significant shot in the arm from an unexpected source when Adobe announced it was cancelling support for its mobile Flash platform.

Although it’s arguable just how much of an impact Flash has had on mobile devices over the years the importance of this announcement to the broader web gaming community cannot be overstated. Adobe, a huge player in the business of providing rich web experiences, had flung the doors wide open for HTML5 developers to stampede through with greater confidence.
Consequently the game changed.
Hardened Flash developers took notice and began to turn their attentions to the potential for this new kid on the block. Again as a direct consequence the bar was and still is being raised. Flash developers bring with them an enormous amount of experience and talent which, if HTML5 is to be taken seriously, is much needed.

Tools for HTML5 game creation are really starting to gain greater exposure. Just go and look at Scirra and GameMaker. Both of whom enjoy active and fertile communities. These companies are helping to turn the conversations back around to “hey, look what I can make” and “wow, I can do THIS !”

I love the fact that amateur coders, such as myself, can still play a huge part in the world of game development by sitting in their bedroom dreaming up great games and then turn to their computer and, well,  just make it happen. This is vital in keeping the conversation focused around “WOW !” and not “How ?”

We really need to be seeing more games.
Games that are good, bad and ugly. It really doesn’t matter.
If somebody creates a game that they’ve enjoyed making such that they’re in love with the process of making games then that’s great for everybody. Quality comes with experience and confidence.
You can’t very well teach somebody that the real crunch in making a great game comes in that final 10% of its development. They just have to see it for themselves and understand what was missing or not required.

The more people writing their own engines /frameworks and the more people using off the shelf tools and engines the better. Everybody has their part to play.

So in short, although the standards have been around for a little while now it’s really only in the last 12 months that we’ve seen significant changes in the way that we discuss HTML5 games. Moving from a sense of intrigue and exploration to a more practical sense of efficient development and commercial positioning.
My only fear is that the amateur “bedroom” coder / game designer becomes intimidated and struggles to find a foothold in a rapidly developing world of tools, engines and commercialisation. As exciting and indeed necessary as all of those things are they can very well provide a psychological barrier to entry at the most amateur level.

I hope I’m wrong and the conversation amongst the developer community continues to centre around “Look at the cool games that I’m making / can make with this technology !”
If you are an HTML5 game developer then the future is yours. If you become good at it you will be worth money. Never lose sight of your passion for games. There are plenty of tools emerging to make your life easier. Always ask yourself “how can I make this ?” or “wouldn’t it be cool if…”

The market for HTML5 gaming

As I’ve recently blogged I am convinced that 2012 will be an enormous year for HTML5 gaming on mobile phones.
So much so that I am staking a fair bit on it. Not least the creation of my own game development studio.
But like every startup I need to do my homework and right now there are some fairly obvious questions to be answered.

Just how big IS the HTML5 gaming market ?

… and how big can I expect it to be in 12 months, 2 years, 5 years …

When I first asked these questions I drew a blank. It occurred to me that I just don’t have those kinds of figures. Sure I have some contacts that could help me but I really need some broader statistics not just the figures of a handful of portal operators – as big as they may be.
The right place to start is of course the sales figures for mobile smartphones over the last couple of years. I need to get a snapshot of today’s market size and an idea for its growth over recent years.

Here’s a quote from computing.co.uk to get things rolling:

“Sales of mobile technology continue to soar as the worldwide mobile handset market grew another 16.5 per cent year on year this quarter.
The number of units sold totalled 428.7 million in the second quarter of 2011, a 16.5 per cent increase on the same period last year, when it stood at 367.9 units, according to research firm Gartner.
Sales of smartphones were up 74 per cent year on year, accounting for 25 per cent of worldwide mobile phone sales in second-quarter 2011. They accounted for 17 per cent of overall sales in the same period last year.
Google and Apple are leading the smartphone market; the combined share of iOS and Android in the smartphone operating system market doubled to nearly 62 per cent in the second quarter of 2011, up from just over 31 per cent a year ago.”

Of course it’s the sales of smart phones that I’m particularly interested in and we can see that they are up 74% year on year.
In 2nd quarter 2011 that is 25% of ALL mobile phone sales worldwide. For the same period last year that figure was just 17%.
Right now I’m willing to bet that smartphone has a greater than 25% share of all mobile phones sold. Possibly as much as 35%. We’ll need to wait for the figures.

To get an idea for growth we can go back to 2009. I see that for that year an estimated 172.4 million smartphones were sold and the year before 139.2 million.
Bearing in mind that approximately 107 million smartphones were sold in the 2nd quarter of 2011 alone compared to a total of 172.4 million for the year 2009 we can see that in just a couple of years we have some marked growth.
Source: gartner.com

What’s interesting of course is that it is the “big screen” devices that now dominate. Blackberry, the pure smartphone developer, has seen some decline in its market share while Apple and Google continue to steam ahead. No doubt due to the marketing prestige of iPhone and the fact that Google simply gives its OS away for free to manufacturers and hence is available on phones everywhere.

I’ve made an assumption here that everyone who owns a smartphone will want to be playing games on it. Of course this isn’t true.
So further questions need to be answered:

  • How many people are playing smartphone games ?
  • Exactly WHO is playing games on their smartphone ?
  • What genres are people lapping up more than others ?
  • Indeed is it as easy as that. Are people of a certain age / sex gravitating toward the kind of games that we think they are ?

What do my Google stats tell me ?

A reasonable starting point is my own statistical data. Courtesy of Google I can not only capture user volumes I can also see just how many of those users are coming back to play my games again.

Last month (November 2011) I recorded 33,207 visits to my game site. Of those 24,628 were unique visitors. So 8,579 (or approximately 25%) had returned to take another look. This is better than I expected but the skeptic in me wants to understand a bit more so I dug a little deeper.

According to Google the average amount of pages viewed was around 2. This perhaps is what I might expect. One view to pull up the game list and another to go off and play a selected game. Perhaps my visitors had in some cases bookmarked the game list (m.spacemonsters.co.uk). I don’t know.
Digging a little further I also notice that the average time on the site is around 2 minutes. I’m fairly confident I can evaluate this to the visitor simply “having a go” on a game. I’d like to think that’s as simple as the time available to somebody waiting in the bus queue or using the bathroom !

Who is playing my games ?

So what information can I glean for the actual visitor himself ?
What can Google tell me about the way that the visitor has consumed my web site. This information is pretty valuable and is of course restricted to the way in which the browser declares itself. To find richer information such as age groups I need to investigate other sources. More on that shortly.

Operating System

A quick look at the data collected for operating systems offers very few surprises.
55% of visitors are using an Android based OS. 16% are on iPhone, 15% on iPad, 12% on iPod and the rest are a mishmash of Symbian, Samsung, Nokia etc.

What is perhaps surprising is the percentage of Android users compared with iOS. 55% is a huge portion and surely can’t be indicative of the global takeup for the operating system. Can it ?
Well it didn’t take too many clicks to put me straight on that one. For the 3rd quarter of 2011 Android has an astonishing 52.5% share of the smartphone OS market. So my own figures are clearly reflecting what is happening in the real world. Better still I appear to have a suitably large amount of data to play with.
Source: Business Insider

For a little balance I also asked Jean-Philippe at Kimia for a snapshot of his stats for their mobile portal IOPlay.mobi.

From a total of 1.5 million clicks on all platforms (Android, Iphone, J2ME, Symbian, Blackberry):

  • 29.5% Java
  • 22% Android
  • 21.5% Blackberry
  • 14% Symbian
  • 13% iPhone

From this number 19% of clicks account for HTML5 games. Roughly 285,000 clicks of which 55% are apparently being served to iPhone or Android devices.
The time period isn’t really of any concern. I see it as far more significant that 1/5 of visitors are requesting HTML5 content. Very encouraging.

Geography

In terms of geography most of my visitors are from Europe with a fair scattering from the US and a handful from Asia. Perhaps if the US featured more prominently in my results I’d see a greater percentage of iOS users. I don’t know. What all of this tells me is that the two operating systems that I’m targetting with my developments are happily running the games. As iOS5 gets a foothold I’d very much like to see more iPhone/iPad users coming my way.
Before iOS5 I guess I may have been a little more focused on what Android is doing worldwide but to be frank the two OS perform my games at lightning pace right now so the dominance of Android is largely inconsequential.

So what are my visitors playing ?

What games do I make and is this in any way indicative of what mobile gamers want to play on their phones ?

Well most of my games are fairly traditional arcade games from a bygone era. Hypergunner and Galactians inparticular are old-school shoot ’em ups. As is Galactians 2, of course. Danger Ranger is a simple platform game and Spy Chase is essentially Spy Hunter; a classic driving game from over 25 years ago.
I think anyone playing my games repeatedly probably has a little nostalgia in them for that golden era of gaming. I’d like to think that my games have enough quality about them to honour that period so perhaps I have converted a few younger gamers to the “good old days” :)

The most “popular” of my games in terms of visitors is Galactians.

What games are being played elsewhere ?

To get a true picture of what people are playing I need to look further afield. There are numerous high profile game portals around today and more and more will be popping up over the next 12 months as HTML5 offers a more cost effective route to market. Anything that doesn’t actually install itself on your phone or require a plug-in of any kind has to be a safe bet for the future of gaming and several mature game portals are understanding this.

Of course understanding this data is key to my success. I need to tap in to what the gamer wants in order to appeal to potential clients.

So initially I approached Netherlands based Spil games. A company whom I have licenced games to previously and who certainly understand the potential for HTML5 gaming.

Spil operates a number of portals globally not all of which are specifically HTML5. This is a good thing. I really wanted to understand what games are being played not strictly what technology is being used. The end user – the player – after all probably doesn’t care too much how he or she is going to play the game. For them it is a tap on the screen and straight in to the action.

So which games are people playing ? What are the key age groups and what can we learn from them ?

Here is some initial data from Spil for the popularity of HTML5 games on its portals:

Girls (age: 8 to 12)

  • Dress Up Games
  • Quizzes
  • Puzzle Games
  • Board & Card
  • Skill Games

Teens (age: 10 to 15)

  • Action Games
  • Racing
  • Sports
  • Girls Games
  • Adventure

Family (age: 8 to 88)

  • Puzzle Games
  • Girls Games
  • Skill Games
  • Racing
  • Board & Card
  • Quizzes
  • Time Management Games

What I glean from this is that my own particular brand of game is largely going to appeal to the 10 – 15 age bracket.
It is of course early days in HTML5 game development and much of what we see here is the kind of games that we typically saw in the early days of Flash game development before the designers got to grips with the tools and the potential of the platform.

According to Spil’s home page they enjoy an incredible 140 million players each month. This is of course spread across their entire offering which includes desktop gaming. If we rather crudly suggest that 1/3 of Spil’s traffic is coming from a mobile device and then apply Kimia’s ratio of 19% to Spil’s figures that’s an impressive 8.8 million HTML5 gamers per month. In reality I suspect this percentage is much lower but even so with those volumes that’s still a large portion of people playing games in their web browser.

85 million visitors to Spil’s portals every month are female. More than half their monthly traffic. It looks like the games that are working best for Spil are the more cerebral games where we ask players to think a little rather than simply blasting aliens to pieces !

To conclude

I see nothing but growth. As more of us have smartphones in our pockets and as the technology and standard mature in to something really quite rich as a platform I can only see a bright future for the HTML5 game developer.
I would also suspect that browser vendors will seriously consider a binary serving of JavaScript source files to get around security issues. I think the more that the game development community applies the pressure the more we will see browsers adapt to the demand.

The market for mobile gaming with open web technologies is expanding at an incredible rate. In just the last 5 or 6 months I have seen the number of mobile game portals triple as they recognise the value of circumventing the app stores. What money they save in store publishing and marketing they can invest in to their own infrastructures which can only mean strengthening their ability to monetise their games.
For you the HTML5 game developer this is of course great news.

All those enthusiasts that predicted that the future of IT was in mobile technology can feel quite smug that their predictions have indeed come true. Where technology grows gaming and entertainment in general inevitably follow.
Again, for you the HTML5 game developer there couldn’t be a better time to carve a living for yourself.

You have the technology, you have the skills, you have the support of the standards and the growing reliability of the browsers on all platforms. If we can just solve the issues surrounding audio and security we will have at our fingertips a truly wonderful platform for not only making but publishing our games.

Mobile phones are here to stay.
The future of HTML5 gaming is in your hands. Literally !

HTML5 gaming in 2012

As an HTML5 game designer I am always optimistic about the future of gaming in the open web. I love this Canvas technology ( which is pretty much the largest aspect of HTML5 that I use ) and I love the process of crafting games to exploit this burgeoning technology.

2011 has been a great year.

As HTML5 games designers we are in such an incredible position. We can daydream about countless cool ideas for games and we can quite inexpensively go out there and make them. Let this next year be the year that you push yourself to make the best games you could possibly make.

Don’t settle for your first idea. Build on it. Don’t settle for your first half dozen implementations of an idea. Work them through and refine your code until you get something that is just plain fun to play.
If you want the bonus items to bounce around, code it! If you want the text to flash through a colour cycle because you just know it’ll look great, code it! If you want to blast something quite literally to pieces, code it!
The player will silently thank you for your efforts and reward you by coming back for more.

I will let you in to a couple of secrets in the hope that it encourages you to go and make these games and make them good.

Secret #1 – I made money this year through my games. Quite a lot of money. Over half my salaried income to be more accurate and I made all of that in the last 4 months.

Secret #2 – I didn’t, don’t and never will use an HTML5 game framework. I’ve checked a few and I love them. Sure they could save me some time and a lot of effort in the finer things but I just don’t get excited about using somebody else’s code. My point isn’t that, though. My point is that you can earn money by rolling your own code. If it works and works well make sure you make it readable, flexible and editable and you have right there your very own framework.

So how has all of this been possible ?
How did I get very close to matching my salary in licence fees in under half a year ?

Here’s my advice.

Embrace mobile

By far the biggest move I ever made in all of this was ensuring that all my games can be played on a mobile smartphone. Most importantly I designed my games to work against iOS with the fixed screen dimensions of 320 x 480. Everything else came from there.
I didn’t understand creating web apps for iOS at all until I bought the book Building iPhone Apps with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript: Making App Store Apps Without Objective-C or Cocoa and it changed everything. I instantly understood about viewport presentation and scale. I also learned some cool CSS tricks and essentially how best to use the handheld device.

Separately from that book I went on to research touch screen controls and the associated events.
Developing for touch screen is not at all difficult. In development you can use the mouse to pretty much simulate the touch if you have to. Just be aware of the differences in handling the respective events and you will be fine.

Another important aspect of mobile gaming is the need to understand scale and composition. On a small screen you really don’t want to be concerned about controlling tiny, fiddly sprites. Learn how to make best use of your drawing package to create big, bold and colourful sprite animations. Remember, your players want something to impress their mates with.

Understand your options for monetisation

You have a few options just now for getting your game out there. Not all of them involve generating any kind of revenue so be mindful that the simplest exposure for your games may not be the most lucrative.

Here are the two methods that I have used successfully.

Licencing options

Licencing your games means that you quite rightly retain ownership of the content and simply grant a 3rd party a licence to use your work. Licencing comes in two flavours; Exclusive and Non-Exclusive.

  • Exclusive means that the licence you grant to a 3rd party restricts you from further licencing options for your game.
  • Non-Exclusive means that you are still free to pursue other licencing options for your game. I chose this option.

Of course you can ask for much larger sums of money for your licence if your client should ask for an exclusive licence and you haven’t as yet licenced the use of the game to any other party.

Through non-exclusive licencing I found that the budget available to each company varied tremendously. In some cases we were talking 4-figure numbers but in most just 3. On a per game basis I would say that somewhere between £350 and £400 was about average. This grants the licencor distribution rights globally within their portal.

The figures here are quite simple: more games = more licence fee.

I have just 8 games and around 20 contacts.
I am in fairly frequent contact with most of those contacts and enjoy a great relationship with them.

Game portal operators generally aim to monetise through mobile phones.
They have a portfolio of games that they know will be a hit with mobile gamers so study the portals and see how any game that you make can complement their portfolio.
Don’t just look at the genre look at the style. It may be that a game in a different genre but with a similar style will be a hit for them and for you !

Revenue share and advertising

Revenue share is exactly what the name suggests – a split of the proceeds between you and your client.
It’s quite possible that the client has little or no budget for licencing games. In this scenario they may offer you the chance to create some money through advertising and you split the proceeds down the middle.

I have successfully used Google’s AdSense to date. Not the best or most popular advertising network I grant you but a great one for starters. It’s free, easy to use and integrate and they don’t mess about with payments. You just get paid !

Make some space in your game’s home screen ( and possibly Game Over screen, essentially the 2 places where the player is inactive ) for a small 320 x 50 advert and get along to www.google.com/adsense to figure it out. It’s all CPC (Cost Per Click) and providing you don’t go clicking your adverts all day and all night Google will quite happily serve up your ads and pay you each month for every click it takes.

Your client will drive all the traffic your way for his part and for your part you present a great game to his audience.

Always look to the portals for your business. It is in their interest to publish the games within their portfolio so they will handle the traffic. They will ensure that their userbase comes to see your games. Where possible retain an area within your game for a link or at least a display of your web site URL or Twitter handle.

Also, and this is very important, understand the legalities of game licencing.
I’m lucky, I have a great lawyer who understands this stuff. He’s helped me a great deal and saved me a great many headaches. Lawyers are not cheap but a good one will ultimately save you a tremendous amount of stress and money.
You can probably figure out a generic licencing agreement that you can ask your clients to complete for you.
In some cases your clients may wish to remain consistent in their paperwork and ask you to complete their own forms. At this point be smart and seek advice. Be sure that any agreement you sign up to has your own interests as well as your clients. Make sure that your agreement is covered by the laws of your own land.

Avoiding legal complications is the key to happy game development. Trust me ;-)

In 2012 I would hope to see more options for HTML5 game creators.
2011 has been great. The last few weeks ( since the announcement that Flash on mobile is to die ) have been incredible.

This is very much the tip of the iceberg. Now that open web gaming is sweeping through town at pace we can expect to see huge strides made and increasing strength from browser vendors and tool developers.

Issues with HTML5 Audio will soon evapourate and we will be left with the fantastic scenario of being able to just make great games and push them out to a global audience. In many cases those games will be smart enough and good enough to earn their creator some money.

Maybe you are one of those developers and maybe next year you will be making games from that small studio in town and pushing them out to half a dozen portals for 500 (pick your currency) each and getting by just nicely.
Who knows, maybe you and a friend could be working on them together and monetising your games through advertising to the tune of 3,000 a month.

It’s all possible and for many people will become a reality.

Make it happen !