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.

Advertising

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.

Traffic

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:

“PROVIDE FUN. NEVER LOSE SIGHT OF THE FUN. MAKE GAMES NOT JUST A MEANS OF EXTRACTING MONEY FROM PEOPLE”.

I have this written above my desk :)

Thanks for reading.

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