August 6, 2007
A shortened version of a lengthy feature about the different ways of earning money from games you have created. This was written for the 7th issue of MarkUp (released August 2007).
Game Maker, its community, and the games people are creating with it have certainly come a long way. When I first found the Game Maker Community in late 2002 there were very few commercial games that were made using Mark Overmars’ software, in fact had someone suggested creating a commercial game back then they would probably have been laughed out of the forums.
Jump forward to 2007, when after a couple years spent away from Game Maker I returned to the community. I see a much larger number of games are now being released commercially – albeit with a varied degree of success. There has also been a huge increase in the number of Game Maker ‘teams’ who now have their own domain name, suggesting to me that the users of Game Maker have certainly grown up.
With many people believing that Game Maker itself has recently becoming more commercialized with the advent of YoYo Games it looks like the growth in the number of commercial Game Maker projects will only continue. In a world that is favoring more open-source and freely available software this may be surprising, but once people see that there have been successful commercial projects it is natural that they too want a piece of the action.
As well as what you might think are the traditional methods of making a commercial game, i.e. selling physical CDs or digital copies of the game there are other methods available to enable a game creator to receive monetary gain from their software.
Although people who have decided to go commercial may not like to share the facts about the success of their projects it is obvious that it has been varied. One anomaly to this rule is StudioEres who have been very open about their commercial project entitled “Immortal defense” posting updates of the game’s progress on their forum. Revenue generation methods:
Shareware is one of the oldest and most popular distribution methods out there. The user gets a chance to try a program for free before deciding whether or not to purchase the full version. The free version of software is offered normally with feature or level limitations or a gameplay time limit. The difference between shareware distribution and the use of a demo is that shareware can be converted into the full version by entering an activation code whereas use of a promotional demo would still require the full version of the game to be installed on your computer.
Shareware games are often accompanied with ‘nag screens’ which encourage the user to purchase the full version of the software. WinZip is an example of a popular shareware program offering a ‘free trial’ version of their application. Game Maker itself is shareware as the pro version of the software has additional features which can be unlocked by paying a fee.
Software supported by in-program advertising is known as Adware. Once the game has been installed or is being run adverts will be displayed on the user’s computer. Often the adverts are downloaded remotely from the Internet.
Advertising software is bundled with an application and earns the game promoter small revenue for each installation. If a piece of software is popular the advertising revenues can quickly add up.
A benefit of adware is that the programmer can be rewarded for their work without the user having to purchase the software, however this isn’t always that case as some software producers ask people to pay a fee to upgrade and remove the advertisements.
Many people see adware as intrusive as the sponsored messages displayed can cause a nuisance if they disrupt their activities. Adware has had a bad press due to the misleading and deceptive tactics various companies using the method have used to distribute their software.
It’s may not be seen as commercial but some developers are rewarded by asking for donations to support their products future development. They may also choose to sell merchandise related to their product enabling consumers to choose whether or not and to what degree they would like to support the project. Likewise traditional internet advertisements can be placed on the creator’s website. These methods cause minimal annoyance to users who are able to use the software for free, whilst enabling those who choose to support the product to do so.
The best way to see the different methods used to distribute commercial games is to look at specific examples. So I set about cataloguing a handful of Game Maker made creations which have tried (successfully or otherwise) to generate an income. I also caught up with the creators of some of these games and asked them how they choose which commercial path to take. If you are considering making one of your future creations commercial listen up to what the people who have already tried say.
Next Page: Magi (Shareware)
In their words
“Magi” is a cross between RTS and RPG, yet it is very different from other games of those genres, actually it’s a genre of its own.
In Magi the player creates a wizard (choosing from various available classes, attributes and styles) and immerses in series of magical duels in a never-ending pursuit for the power and immortality.
Magical spells and projectiles, summoning mythical creatures and calling spirits to curse the opponent are common ways to victory in Magi.
Limitations of the free version
- Only 5/10 characters available.
- You can only learn 4 spells
- No save option
- Limited to 30 in game years
Why did you choose shareware as your distribution format?
Frankly, I did because this is the way to sell Indie games. The downloadable games market is growing dynamically and there is some good money to be made there. Portals dealing in “casual” games (like BigFish or Reflexive) are making millions of dollars every year and many “Indie” developers are making serious business out of selling games from their websites. With the recent expansion of broadband Internet connections, downloadable games are getting more and more accessible. They also don’t suffer from some issues that retail games do such as “shelf life” and relying on distributors.
When you started work on the game did you plan to use shareware?
MAGI wasn’t started as a commercial project. It was just a game I always wanted to make. Still, I knew that if I’d sell the game in the end, I’d make it a downloadable shareware title. After I got some really great feedback from the players and Indie gaming press, I decided to go commercial.
Do you believe your distribution method has been successful?
Yes. I wanted to break into the gaming industry with this game, while making some nice money out of it. The whole project taught me a lot about the business, got me a job in a big game-dev studio (CD Projekt – makers of www.thewitcher.com, I used MAGI as my portfolio) and earns me some nice cash at the end of each month. I’ve started as an amateur and ended as a professional game developer with some actual experience and a nice game under his belt.
What would you say to anyone who is considering making a commercial game?
Making Indie games can be much more than a hobby. If you are patient and prepared to learn a lot (mostly by mistakes), browse many forums and most importantly – develop a great game, go for it! The worst you can get is some good deal of serious experience. Just remember that the Game Maker Community is not the end of the world.
Any advice on promoting a commercial project?
Get your game reviewed by the Indie game sites and blogs out there. It’s as simple and as hard as that. Remember that GMC (or GM sites in general) are not the end of the world. You want to advertise a game, not an amateur project.
Next Page: Galactic Hacker (Adware)
In their words
As a hacker in a futuristic world dominated by corporations, you must use your skills and technology to survive. The player must take jobs from corporations to earn money. Money can be used to buy equipment such as proxy by-passers, or other computer upgrades. No two games will ever be the same in this dynamic world. Galactic Hacker even features the ability to play with friends on a LAN, for some great multiplayer hacking action.
Note that the installer includes adware… When you install Galactic Hacker it installs the adware. This is no secret! Some Antivirus software may say that the installer contains a virus. The antivirus software just detects the adware and reacts accordingly. If you install GH, you can easily uninstall the adware from your Control Panel > Add/Remove Programs. 90$ was spent to put Galactic Hacker on download.com, so I included the adware because I get paid per install.
Why did you choose Adware as your distribution method?
I didn’t, my marketer did for a half-half split of what profits he could make from Galactic Hacker – and he chose adware.
Until the approach you had no plans to make money from the game?
That is correct.
Do you believe your distribution method has been successful?
Relative to the time I spent making Galactic Hacker, yes I do. I do not believe it can be done again though. As stated, Download.com was used, and they no longer allow adware.
An interesting introduction into using Adware here, Natso didn’t have any plans to generate revenue from the game until an approach was received from a distant friend who wanted to distribute the game in this format.
As complaints inevitably came Natso released an adware free version of the software however with 24,000
downloads and counting of the pay-per-install adware supported version someone is making money somewhere. Thankfully a very open approach to the use of Adware was made, at least on the Game Maker Community.
Personally I think that Adware has past its peak now as more people have become aware of what it does, and computer security has improved