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2013
by Rami Ismail on 12/25/13 12:42:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

For me personally, this was a year spent mostly on the indie scene itself, rather than Vlambeer. After focusing all of my emotional energy into Ridiculous Fishing for so long, I decided to channel the newfound freedom that release brought into helping emerging territories establish themselves. I traveled to universities around the world to speak about indie games, design, development, production and business. I spoke at dozens of events, visited twice that amount and finally updated presskit() to version 2.0 with help from amazing contributors on GitHub. Vlambeer won numerous prestigious awards, which is both wonderful and slightly overwhelming. 2013 does not feel like a watershed year. While a lot of things happened, not a lot of things changed. A lot of the seeds planted in twenty-twelve and before came to fruition, but the most notable events of the year – the new consoles, the increased call for diversity and the increased influence of non-traditional territories – do not challenge the status quo just yet.

It was a year with a lot of resolutions to long stories. For Vlambeer, the excruciating development process for Ridiculous Fishing culminated in a month of highly energetic development and an overwhelming release. For Austin-based developer Davey Wreden and his conspirator William Pugh a long-term project finally saw its commercial release in the shape of The Stanley Parable HD. Alexander Bruce released his first person exploration game, Antichamber, to both critical and financial success.

This year was the beginning of new stories, most notably the launch of a new console generation. The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One sparred in dramatic fashion at the larger gaming events, finally releasing in full force in the last months of the year. Both platforms pushed their own indie strategies, and since we were already set up to develop for Sony platforms, we signed up as a licensed developer for Nintendo and Microsoft too. Steam announced its move into the console space with the Steambox, not only marking the first new entry since the original Xbox, but also establishing the trend that any company entering the console wars since the Dreamcast will name it something ending in -box.

It was a year of disappointments, with games like the wonderful Shelter grabbing headlines early in the year, to never really be heard of again. Ouya appeared with a bright flash in the shape of Towerfall, only to have the platform fizzle out with no notable successes and a questionable commercial and developer strategy. The microconsoles, as the Android consoles were promptly named, tended to be announced as fast as they failed.

It was the beginning of the end for a lot of things. Steam’s Greenlight seems like it will retire shortly, with over a hundred games being cleared per month at this point. The Flash games market really does seem to be collapsing at the moment, with sponsorship deals down by over 70 per cent. The triple-A industry, while asserting its dominance of the medium with flagship titles as Grand Theft Auto V and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, was not able to hide the fact that things are still dire in the multimillion dollar portion of the industry. Huge releases like Bioshock Infinite and Call of Duty: Ghosts, while selling well, were met with a level of criticism not seen often before. The traditional review system disappeared in favour of video content as YouTube exploded into a vibrant and extremely important part of the industry (including its own scene dramas), with the awkwardly named Let’s Players suddenly the most potent method of reaching new audiences.

It was a year full of personality. Sony pushed their best people forward into the spotlights for a more humane brand, with tremendous people like Shahid Kamal beautifully rising to the challenge of being a real human being™. Microsoft is carefully motioning their indie champion Chris Charla into position in the hopes of giving their Xbox One program a person to attribute successes to and to hold responsible for mistakes. YouTube personalities like PewDiePie, NerdCubed and TotalBiscuit continued their growth from personalities to Personalities, finally ushering in the era of perceived peer-to-peer recommendations and continuing the indie strategy to a more personable approach on a new level.

It was a year of challenges new and old. Discoverability, growth beyond the capacity of the scenes’ traditional structures and diversity remain problematic, with the situation on some of them improving while others deteriorate. Diversity in the indie scene is not quite what many would like it to be just yet, although voices like Leigh Alexander, Anna Anthropy, Shawn Allen, Mattie Brice and many others continue to push for increased diversity in terms of sex, gender and race with more power and resonance than ever. Anita Sarkeesian launched her educational campaign, leading to the rise of something that I fail to describe in any more specific way than ‘mainstream videogame feminism’.

It was a year of growth, with local multiplayer games reappearing from the void. Samurai Gunn, Towerfall and Nidhogg brought about many indies favourite moments of the year. The Indie MEGABOOTH rose from a small initiative to its current size, a feat I’m extremely proud to have marketed with fellow PR organiser and Young Horses CEO Phil Tibitoski. Smaller events grew larger, and larger events grew slightly more mature. Penny Arcade Expo got itself in trouble for remarks by Mike Krahulik, yet redeemed itself in a minor way with a misguided attempt – but an attempt regardless – to increase diversity through the ridiculous concept of ‘diversity lounges’. Control Conference in the Netherlands was a surprisingly needed event in what is otherwise a quickly rising development culture.

A MAZE surprised me in the quality and diversity of their events, organising game events in Berlin, Johannesburg and Rijeka. The increasing influence of non-Western and non-Japanese developer cultures is undeniable, and personal visits to South American, South African, Arab, Middle Eastern and Asian locations consolidated my belief that in the short term, we’ll see an amazing torrent of new perspectives and influences in our medium. Titles like Desktop Dungeons, Broforce and Farsh are but the vanguard of a new voice in games, a movement that’s increasingly comfortable making their own games for a global audience.

It was also the year in which development and sales became increasingly open, from the brilliant satire of Stanley Parable Helpful Development Showcase to increasing openness about the process. Vlambeer decided to try something new and broadcast the development of our upcoming title, Nuclear Throne, live on Twitch.tv. Leaf Corconan started on Itch.io, a surprisingly robust alternative sales platform to Steam and Humble considering it was made by a single person. Somewhere, two Australians started work on an educational documentary aiming to capture a snapshot of the 2013-2014 indie scene through GameLoading: Rise of the Indies.

It is also a year of hope, with large successes in non-traditional games. Papers, Please, a brilliantly crafted player corrupter game about checking passports, was poignant enough to be mentioned on mainstream television. Gone Home – a game about exploring an abandoned house to understand its earlier inhabitants – was an enormous success, almost directly followed by the hauntingly beautiful The Novelist. Zoë Quinn’s Twine game Depression Quest was better received by the non-gaming community than it was by traditional gamers, while browser-games Candy Box  and Cookie Clicker finally challenged Ian Bogost’s claim on the title for most compulsive clicking game. Little jam games like the LD28 entry that is Titan Soul and the 7DFPS entry-gone-big Superhot went from tiny prototype to promising projects in days.

It seems that many of the most notable moments of this year are actually about the near future, making 2013 a transitional year between the ‘closing year’ of 2012 and 2014, the year in which a lot of things will change. For all the talk about bubbles bursting and scenes crashing, my honest opinion is that nothing really changed all that much. Things just went as expected, trends continued to develop and anything ‘new’ was mostly an improvement on what already existed. 2013 wasn’t a watershed year, it was a year of refinement. A year of buildup.

2014 is shaping up to deliver all the promises 2013 built up to. With titles like The Witness, Galak-ZOctodad: Dadliest Catch, Below and No Man’s Sky, the large indie games are approaching mainstream viability like never before. At the other end, the ever improving toolset available to create games has allowed more and more diverse people to join the medium, which will hopefully evolve into new and wonderful experimental things in the future.

The indie programs at Sony and Microsoft will see their first major releases, including Vlambeer’s own LUFTRAUSERS and Nuclear Throne. I predict a year of changes to a lot of things we take for granted. The mobile space is more active than ever, but exploitative F2P implementations and "paymium" style games are under fire not just from the industry, but potentially from legal perspectives as well. Many systems put into place to democratise curation are being replaced with either more open or closed models. Indie games are increasingly diverse  – to the point that the word ‘indie’ loses a proper categorising notion – as triple-A continues to struggle with both heightened expectations and lower revenues. 

If someone asks me what I was most excited about in 2013, it would be that I am excited that our medium is about people again. For a medium that has been about more polygons, crispier pixels and restrictive contracts for way too long, 2013 was about real humans and connections. It’s about being personable and honest. It’s about faces, voices and people – both in the industry and in games themselves. It is a direction that makes me hopeful for what happens next. 2013 might not have been a watershed year, but it sure was a good year for gaming. Most of all, everything seems set up for an amazing 2014.


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Comments


Phil Maxey
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I'm about to upload a Flash game to FGL so it will be interesting if your comment regarding Flash sponsorships is true or not.

I'm not sure if it's 100% correct to say that the Flash games market is collapsing, simply because what's going to replace it? A huge amount of people still play browser games, many of which are still created with Flash. I have heard it said though that ad revenues are down for games websites, probably because of players divided attention from other platforms, which in turn is having it's effect on sponsorship deals.

Rami Ismail
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I've heard about the largest sponsors dropping deals from $30K+ to $8K, and I have been told that many sites at this point do not really buy above $1K anymore. Exclusives are a thing of the past at this point, it seems. Flash isn't dead by any means, but the ability to earn money there has been.

I had long hoped OUYA would take that position from Flash, but it's listed in the 'disappointments' paragraph for a reason. I have heard that OUYA is moving into supporting education, though, and it might make for a nice addition to the Kano there.

Chris Hughes
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Sorry, I replied below with a question as well before you had posted this. But, at least as far as FGL is concerned, we do not see this. We still see millions of dollars spent a year on Flash games. And to be clear, FGL isn't just for Flash. We also have helped developers make millions in the last year for mobile games (finding publishers, distributing, monetizing). So, there's no reason for us to report Flash as doing well other than to state a fact.

Rami Ismail
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Do you disclose data on the values that go into the average deal split up by exclusive/primary/secondary, Chris?

Jack Everitt
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This is great - my favorite summation of the year.

Nice to see acknowledgement of the YouTube personalities who unjustly get so little media coverage. For clickers/incrementals, it was A Dark Room that reigned for me.

This year's revelation: Watching Anita Sarkeesian's most recent video really pushed home something my subconscious had only recognized; how few non-male characters that are in video games and how laughably female characters are depicted (pink and always with a bow!)...even in Angry Birds.

A side thought - a funnier title for the year would be "Does Anyone Remember Facebook Games?" (and not mentioning FB games at all - like every year summation/best of list I've read this year).

Jeff Postma
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Thanks for Presskit() Rami.

Rami Ismail
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Thanks for using it!

Chris Hughes
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I'd also like to hear where you are hearing about Flash stats. We at FGL are actually seeing growth over last year in Flash game licenses, though the growth is down quite a bit from the year before. Our mobile sales are growing by an extremely fast rate, which is why we advise devs to focus on mobile, but we actually suggest to make games that are playable on both web and mobile because there is still quite a bit of money on the web side.

Of course, this is just what we see through our marketplace, so if the market externally is collapsing it would be great to see where you're getting that data.

Rami Ismail
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Hey Chris, I think you yourself answered your question - mobile is definitely taking over, and the best way to make Flash work as a business model at the moment is for creating games that are playable on both Flash & Mobile, using Flash as a buffer rather than a main method of earning. Where, three years ago, Radical Fishing earned $10,001, today the best deal a similar game seems to be able to get is around $1,200. I've been basing my stats on information I have from some of the larger sponsors, and developers that used to be (or continue to be) dependent on the model.

I'd love to know more about the data FGL has, because maybe the people I'm talking to are a specific (albeit wide) segment of Flash games that is in trouble, or maybe FGL caters to the last remaining profitable sources in this part of the industry.

Phil Maxey
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I don't have any hard data for this, but I've read a few comments over the past year that revenues for Flash web games appear to be down, but the mobile games created with Flash are still doing well. And that the reason is obviously that players are spending more time on mobile.

But I wouldn't call that a collapse, and I question how much it can really collapse anyway because like I said, even with the huge growth in mobile there are still large numbers of people that play web games, and Flash is still dominant in that space, hence there will still be a need for Flash web games, just perhaps at lower sponsorship deals.

Now whether those lower deals mean it's still feasible for devs to make quality Flash web games, is another question, i'e maybe the time/effort/energy put-in to revenue earned ratio has tipped too far in the negative. So maybe the "collapse" is more a change in confidence that game devs have in how much they think they will earn from Flash web games, more than an actual market collapse.

No matter what the platform, web or mobile you have to work hard to earn decent revenue, the situation has changed a huge amount over the past 10 years, with even mobile now becoming saturated with gaming content. There are games everywhere, in every technological space and on every platform. One of the reasons Vlambeer has done so well is because they stand out through quality and the sincerity and passion they have for what they do.

Either way in a few days time I'm going to find out when I put my latest game on FGL :)

Zdravko Beykov
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I don't know what Chris is having in mind - that amount of licenses sold has increased, or that amount of dollars going through FGL has increased - but I can tell you something that all Flash devs I know of can agree on 100% - the amount of $/hour you can make with Flash has decreased a lot and is not sustainable to make Flash games via FGL unless you live in a 3rd world country.

I have been on FGL for 4 years, and I've done also many deals outside it. Recently, I switched to HTML5 and it's the best decision I've made as a gamedev. My expected income from HTML5 exclusive licenses just in January can surpass my lifetime income through FGL with a little luck.

Phil Maxey
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@Zdravko This is due to a few sponsors paying large deals for HTML5 games then? because otherwise I don't see how HTML5 can get good deals, as they can't spread beyond one site.

Zdravko Beykov
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You can get good money with exclusive deals (just a few sponsors) or with sitelock deals - like 10-20 sponsors. The key is to keep your development time short - a week, maximum two. Sitelocks go for $500 and up. It is not impossible to make 5 digits with that strategy. Don't go for long development periods!

I'm not entirely sure if sponsors make their money back or are running on investments, but I am pretty sure that portals that have huge traffic already and invest in Flash sitelocks should be very interested in HTML5 games even if only for their sites.

Minh Ta
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move to proper position below...

Chris Hughes
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I really didn't mean to hijack the comments. I honestly wanted to know if there was data out there to address the comments made in the article. But I do want to address some of the other comments made now. The truth is, no one knows better than FGL, what is happening on FGL :)

The reality is that developers are making money with Flash. Some are making a living. Many of them NOT in "developing countries". I actually think Radical Fishing would make $20k - $30k if it were released today (and never had been released before). I think it would make $100k or more if "Radical Fishing 2" were released today (after the success of the current). Now, note that I'm being realistic. I'm not sure if Rami would find $100k worth it for such a great title, after proven success. I think he'd have a lot of power to negotiate great terms, though (note that all the prices I mention are ON TOP of other terms... not advances, or rev shares, etc... that all is negotiated in addition to the money. At least, that's how it works on FGL).

It is true, FGL isn't a magic tool that makes every developer tons of money. And it is true that you have to make a much better game now to make as much money as say, 2 or 3 years ago. But, isn't that a good thing? I'm not sure why anyone would want to settle for maximizing money on a sub-par game. I always want to strive to make the best game possible.

And, I really don't want to confuse people: Mobile is the biggest growth in the near future. FGL believes in that, and the industry is shifting as a whole. But, even with that said it isn't correct to say Flash is worthless now, as a developer. And, not even to get into a discussion about Flash + Air for mobile, by far the most money is in creating both a web and mobile game. Pick your poison for tech. This also is the way to reach the broadest audience, which as a developer myself may be worth even more than the money aspect.

If anyone has any questions feel free to contact me directly. I don't want to distract any more from the great article Rami wrote. As I mentioned, I was hoping only to expand my knowledge base.

Zdravko Beykov
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"And it is true that you have to make a much better game now to make as much money as say, 2 or 3 years ago. But, isn't that a good thing?"

No, that's not a good thing. Especially, if you make games for a living.

Let me state just 2 facts that will help you shape the Flash sponsorship world:
1.) For the first year there will be no Flash Gaming Summit.
2.) Three of top 4 market level developers on FGL:
- 1st Berzerk studio - shut its doors due to losing 100K in 2013.
- 2nd JuicyBeast - completely switched to Unity
- 3rd LongAnimals - is 100% on the sponsorship side (turbonuke.com).

All of the above are from western countries. If top devs can't make a living, who can?

Minh Ta
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I don't see how Chris is answering his own question Rami... he's asking where you are getting your stats, and you are replying by talking about mobile. Then you basically go on to say all your info is anecdotal. It's fine to have an opinion obviously, but then your statement about Flash does raise questions for many still hoping to take that path. It just seems that kind of assessment should be researched more thoroughly.

Steven Christian
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"It was a year of disappointments, with games like the wonderful Shelter grabbing headlines early in the year, to never really be heard of again."

Shelter is currently on sale on Steam for 60% off at $3.99 USD.
For anyone who hasn't played it it's definitely worth checking out!

Samuel Green
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Steam Greenlight is going to be retired? Any more info on this? It's obviously a bit of a mess but will Valve be reverting to the old way or is Steam going to just become like the iOS App Store and let everyone in?

Javier Degirolmo
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Long ago already Gabe mentioned he wanted to retire Greenlight and replace it with something else that reduce the load even more (here's where the whole idea of user stores came in), but whether they're going with it or not is a different issue. Valve Time™


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