I was discussing download figures on Twitter with @SurplusGamer (one of the chaps behind The Wager) the other day and I came to a realisation: if you’re putting a game out for free, a Flash game doesn’t really get your name out there any better than a download game.
I put out two games last year. The first was Beacon, a download game for Windows, Mac and Linux. The second was Fear is Vigilance, a Flash game. Both started as Ludum Dare 48 competition games, ranking #2 and #3 overall respectively in the competition. Both were about the same scope, and both were covered in Rock, Paper, Shotgun. The only real difference is that one was downloadable and one was Flash, and the figures tell me that didn’t really change how much impact they had.
“But wait!”, you say. “Fear is Vigilance has 130,000 views on Newgrounds!”
It does! But I’m not sure that’s as helpful as it sounds.
This is my blog traffic for 2011. The first spike is Beacon’s release; the second is the first release of Vigilance, on my site.
What you’re not seeing is a spike when Fear is Vigilance went up on a Flash game portal for the first time in late September. It’s there, but it’s more of a nub. In its first week, Vigilance got 87,000 plays on Newgrounds – and that translated to about 250 hits to my site, both in referrals and searches.
The two games got about the same amount of press coverage, and I got about the same amount of email. I also gained slightly fewer Twitter followers around the time Vigilance launched than around the time Beacon launched. As far as I can tell, the total critical impact and audience response tracks fairly closely to these numbers:
Beacon downloads from wootfu.com: 14,526
Vigilance views on wootfu.com: 16,065
And this number right here doesn’t seem to have much to do with anything:
Total Vigilance plays (from Playtomic): 168,579
How the heck does that work? 😀
While a Flash game can get hundreds of thousands of plays on Flash game portals, it looks like people who find your game on a portal tend to stay on that portal. The conversion rate from players to fans – people who want to know what you’ll do next – is something like 1-5% as high compared to players who find out about you through the specialist press and come to your site.
In short, it doesn’t look like the torrentially vast audience you can reach through Flash portals is actually worth much in terms of getting your name known. If you choose to release your game solely on Flash portals for the money and traffic, you might even end up gaining less fans from your game than if you put it out on your own site first!
So. Pros and cons:
Flash games don’t inherently get more players. The only way they can reach more people is through Flash game portals, but that extended audience pays relatively little attention to developers compared to people who read specialist sites like RPS, the Indie Games blog and Play This Thing. The more significant value of portals is that they’ll give you money. 🙂
As seductive as their six- or seven-figure audience might be, it won’t help your next project nearly as much as the four-figure audience you can get by talking to journalists. On the flipside, in exchange for sponsorship money portals request adverts in your game; they put visually busy adverts around your game; and your game has to weigh in under 10MB, a real killer if you pride yourself on your game’s music.
Conversely, though download games won’t get the same number of total plays, they still reach almost all the right people. In addition, your game is free of adverts. You can encode your music at a decent quality. It can run fullscreen, or simply run in a larger window. People make slightly more time for download games, so you can afford to start slower and focus more on building atmosphere.
Your game can be more immersive and leave more of an impact. Ultimately, if your goal is to start building a fanbase who’ll be excited about your next game, that might be more important.