Developing and Selling Rune Hunt
I started experimenting with real time shadows in Flash in fall 2009. At the same time I took notice of the Flixel framework and all the cool retro games that people made with it. Why not make a game of my own that combines pixel graphics with dynamic light and shadows?
At the 14th December 2009 I created a thread in the Flixel forums with a mission statement:
The setup is classic: a hero in a dungeon full of treasure, traps and NPC of questionable attitude. The twist is that I’m limiting the player’s view to what his avatar is seeing. Top-down-ego-perspective so to speak. I hope it’s making exploring the dungeon more interesting and the enemies more scary if you don’t see all the stuff long before it becomes relevant/dangerous.
I used that thread to post ideas and prototypes and it became a major source of feedback and motivation spread over 6 pages. I love the Flixel community!
Meanwhile some Flixel games had been sponsored and the developers where kind enough to share figures with me and introduce me to the concept. So there actually was a market for flash games created by hobbyists? That intrigued me – I was curious to learn how that business worked and what my own game would be worth to sponsors.
There was a website dedicated to bring sponsors and developers together: Flash Game License. To help my game stick out I commissioned a portrait of the protagonist that I wanted to turn into an eye-catching thumbnail fit to communicate the essence of the game in one glimpse. Finding an artist, directing the process and finally receiving an awesome result was great. It felt like the best investment I’ve made in a long time! In the FGL Icon Hotness ranking my thumbnail was soon among the top 30 of over 2000 icons.
Now I had multiple reasons to finish the project. Many people knew about it and expected results, I had invested a little money and a lot of time (worth 4-6 weeks of fulltime work) and if all went well I would be able to reap some substantial reward (in cash and exposure) by finishing it.
In August I was more or less done and quite happy with the game. I watched friends playing through the whole thing. There were a few minor issues and when I had them fixed I felt it was time to find a sponsor.
Finding a Sponsor
I uploaded to FGL at 14th August 2010. Developers could immediately play and review the game but it had to be approved by the site admins before sponsors would be able to see it. I made a couple of minor fixes while impatiently waiting to get approved. Luckily after a couple of days I realized that reuploading the game was repeatedly putting me at the end of the approval-queue.
The game got approved at the 19th August with a developer rating of 8 out of 10 points. Pretty cool. Now I was sitting there, pressing F5, waiting for bids.
I’ve heard that many developers didn’t rely on FGL alone but also emailed sponsors directly. I resolved to do that, too. Researched lists of sponsors. But in the end I wrote only 3 mails – to the portals that I personally used and liked. Armorgames, Kongregate, Newgrounds. Without having to lie I told them that I’d be proud to have Rune Hunt bear their logo. Armor Games replied to my mail and viewed the game but didn’t place a bid. Not yet.
Instead I received the first 5 bids from 4 different sponsors all on the 20th of August. The best bid offered was 2000$ for a primary license. A great start!
A day later I uploaded a new SWF including reviewed dialogue. (Thanks to Hectate and zyxstand from the Flixel forums!) It has also been the first version that included a sitelock and measures to make decompilation a little more difficult. I should have done that right from the beginning but the protection method offered by FGL didn’t work for me and at that point I didn’t realize how important proper protection is to sponsors: If the game leaks without their branding they are skrewed.
2 days later a new sponsor offered 3000$ for an exclusive license with no adds allowed. I marked the 2000$ primary as “Best Bid” and promptly received an increased bid. In the note I was told that his bid was now obviously better then any other. I didn’t get a reply on my questions regarding details of the offer, though. The reputation of the sponsor wasn’t good. I hoped for an alternative.
Meanwhile I had created and uploaded a trailer for the game. And so I wrote a PM to one of the other sponsors that had placed a bid, telling him about the trailer, the reviewed texts and all the other changes hoping for a new bid. I got a friendly reply the other day and it was the beginning of at least a dozen PMs we exchanged over the following weeks. The sponsor was worried about the 3 days without protection (this was when I realized my error) and he made an offer reflecting that: A primary license including a performance plan. So, now I had an alternative. And I really liked the sponsor. If the game did good I’d receive about 3000$ for a primary license. I had hoped for more money but then, what did I know?
At the 13th of September I enabled Last Call which basically means “I’m going to decide on a bid soon!”. The 3 days went by with no new bids. I was a little disappointed and couldn’t really decide which bid to chose. And I totally didn’t expect what happened next. After Last Call had ended I got 2 new bids from sponsors that hadn’t yet taken part in the bidding. And a message from a 3rd one who asked me to wait so he could conferr with his partner before maybe placing a bid, too. The bids where clear improvements to what was offered previously. One of them was from Armor Games.
The sponsor offering the performance deal made a new bid: In addition to a 2000$ I would get up to 6000$ bonus based on the number of plays (all sources combined) within two months. With 3 million plays that would be 8k + CPMstar + sitelocks.
Of course I had no idea how good my game would do and betting on the amount of plays I’d get really troubled me but the bid was best. I told Daniel from Armor Games as much. To my horror they made a new bid, with a performance plan! Complicated because only plays on the sponsor’s portal counted but the eCPM were rather huge. I had no means to compare the bids, I was confused and that’s exactly what I told both of them.
Both made offers stripped of any performance plan. I asked for simple deals and that’s what I got: exclusive license offers. This is where a little bid war started. I was amazed – when Last Call had run out I allready expected to get less then 4k$ total (adds & sitelocks included) now I was offered more then twice that amount as upfront cash.
In the end the other sponsor who’d been worried of my game leaking told me that he could not increase his bid any higher. He gave two very valid reasons and for both of them I was responsible.
- he was concerned because he had found my game being unprotected for the first couple of days and that’s clearly a stupid mistake from my part.
- he didn’t expect to be able to outbid Armorgames in the end anyway. Another stupid mistake from my part. I shouldn’t have told him who the other sponsor was but we had exchanged so many upfront & friendly mails that I just forgot that some information are better not shared.
Two serious errors on my part and there has been a 3rd: I didn’t give the 3rd sponsor who had placed a recent bid enough time to react. I was under the impression that I was supposed to decide fast because of the Last Call period being over. So I was telling them about my plans to accept a bid now and that theirs wasn’t quite on parr with the top bids. I waited 24 hours, saw that they had logged in but didn’t reply to my PM and accepted Armor Game’s bid. Later I learned that they were still debating to increase their previous bid by another 2000$ when I terminated the bidding process.
But despite these things I’m happy: I received more money then I had hoped for. Working with Daniel proved to be a pleasure. 5 days later we brought the game online. He required a couple of changes that I didn’t expect (like adding a walkthrough) but in the end I was very happy with how the branding integrated with the game. I received the payment only minutes after the game has gone online. And because he wanted to use paypal and they take a huge fee from the seller he added another 250$ to compensate.
If you plan on selling a flash game through FGL I hope you can learn from how things went for me. I tried to keep exact numbers and names private where possible.