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facebook – in search of Space Monsters

Building your own mobile web gaming portal – an introduction

I always wanted to operate my own virtual video game arcade. A place where I could focus on building arcade games for people to enjoy and compete with their friends.
I remember back when I was developing my first JavaScript game about 5 years ago it was my ultimate goal to build a suite of games that would interface with my own system where scores, players and stats would be stored centrally. As a data nerd the prospect of poring over megabytes of performance stats was and still is a huge thrill.

In  my first couple of years as an HTML5 game developer I have enjoyed the process of crafting games and then reaching out to the market to licence them and move on to the next project. The revenue generated each time providing a strong incentive to press on.

Increasingly in recent months it seems that portal operators want to provide broader functionality to their user base. As a provider of games to their portfolio I am understandibly being asked to integrate my games, via APIs, in to their systems.
I don’t really have a problem with this and my games are structured such that it ought to be straight forward.
But there is a darker cloud on the horizon in the form of In App Purchasing (IAP).

If you want to lose my interest quickly start talking about in app purchasing. I despise it.
It is not a gamer’s solution and I am convinced that it is not something that gamers want. Sure they appreciate the free game up front but IAP brings with it an uneven playing field. Offering IAP in a social environment seems to me like a nonsense.

So a few months back I started to think about my own portal system again. What’s more I’m looking at turning my back on the market (or at least the majority of it) and designing the portal to be self sufficient. i.e. generate revenue.

This is no small undertaking. Successful portals operate efficiently because they have a large userbase. Lots of traffic means lots of eyes on your adverts and increased potential for that all-important click that will earn you a few pence.
With several thousand clicks pennies turn in to pounds and with enough pounds in the bank you can of course fund the kind of marketing strategies that will increase traffic and loyalty.

So what are the obvious barriers to creating a self sufficient gaming portal for mobile web gamers?

Simply put, games, traffic and web development knowledge.

Here’s a very brief intro to some of the key areas to consider.

Web development

I’m a web developer by profession so the prospect of assembling a system to manage my arcade doesn’t faze me in the slightest. In fact I rather enjoy the challenge.
Using standard WAMP tech (Windows, Apache, MySQL and PHP) I aim to build a system that will be capable of entertaining countless simultaneous players whilst recording their stats.
As the system takes shape I’ll share some more thoughts on its development.


I’ve had a lot of success (thanks to the portals) placing advertising within my games.

Actually it is pretty much my only option since I’ve never planned to invite other game developers on board via a licencing model. I want the games in my arcade to reflect my tastes – retro, pixels, bombs, lasers, explosions and frantic pace.

Advertisers are targetting mobile in earnest. A quick look at my advertising control panel sees that hundreds of advertisers are pumping their ads through my channels every day.

I use Google’s AdSense. The adverts are placed on the game page within the markup and this page is for all intents and purposes just another web page. I configure AdSense to allow for targetting by advertisers and make a point of defining the content as mobile. Specifically mobile games.

The response has been incredible and my CTR and CPC are increasing all the time.


So how do you make advertising work?

Well you need traffic. Lots of it.

One fifth of the planet has an active Facebook account. Specifically 1.19 billion people use the site every month. This is staggering. Of these users 874 million access the service via a mobile phone every month.

Social networking is a huge shot in the arm for anybody looking to reach out to gamers and build their own audience.

Of the 874 million people that engage with Facebook every day how many of those do you think would happily play a casual arcade game on their mobile phone?

How many of those Facebook users do you think own a smartphone capable of playing such a game?

Even if the answer to all of this is 10% that’s 87 million people. To just wave your portal banner in front of 1% of this potential audience is significant.

So how do you do all of this?

Well I’m by no means an expert but I’m happy to share my current findings and the strategy which I use.

In recent months I’ve seen direct traffic to my web site increase from 10 to 15% to around 50%.
I’ve seen average play times stabilise around 3 to 4 minutes whereas previously they were less than 1 minute.
Now that the games are centralised I’ve seen a huge increase in the amount of “activity” and movement between games. The same player will play 3 or 4 different games in a single session where previously they played just 1.
And crucially I’ve seen revenue from advertising increase significantly.

To stand a real chance of establishing a decent gaming portal for mobile web gamers I have identified the following key areas to focus on.

  • making great games
  • obtaining traffic
  • converting traffic in to “users”
  • converting traffic in to revenue
  • effective communication with the user base
  • retaining users
  • recording reliable performance statistics
  • understanding the data

So that lays the foundation.

In the posts that follow I want to concentrate on each of the areas outlined above to try and shed a little light on my approach and what has worked / failed for me in the few months that I’ve been operating my HTML5 game portal.

One thing that I will share ahead of all of that is my strapline for this project:


I have this written above my desk :)

Thanks for reading.

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…”

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