Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Holidays 2009!

(Click for a larger image)

First, here is a holiday picture I painted for everyone. The creature to the left is a Hairy Elephantosaurus. His prehensile mustache and beard are well suited to both the winding of fine pocket watches and the adjusting of crystalline monocles.

As the last few moments of 2009 draw to a close, I look back with great delight on what has unfolded so far. I started the year at GDC and was struck by the immense potential of plugins such as Flash, Unity and Silverlight. At the same time, I was saddened by the generally low level of both business and development knowledge that exists in the developer community targeting those platforms. You can give a man a finely crafted fishing rod, but if he uses it like a club to beat fish senseless, he may still starve.

The Flash web market. in particular, is rapidly changing. Here are some thoughts on what comes next.
  • The quality bar will rise: Veteran developers from the vicious battlefields of casual games and social games will begin adopting Flash as their primary platform. They'll bring with them vastly superior art and larger budgets. As a result it becomes harder for the individual indie to make it into the top 0.01% that makes a living.
  • Portals get on the web-based F2P bandwagon: Some major flash portals will make free-to-play games a major portion of their offering. It is a richer source of revenue and increases retention. In the dog-eat-dog world of game portals, adapt to new sources of sustenance or die.
  • The growth of long form Flash: Due to the support of portals, the success of social games, plus the revenue benefits of micro transactions, long form Flash games will start to encroach on the dominance of short form sponsored games. Some of the first generation developers that experimented with tacking transactions onto their existing short form titles will see the light and design retention-based play directly into their upcoming titles.
  • Viral distribution will break out of the social networks: As developers figure out that the game lives in the cloud not on a portal, they'll start treating social networks as one of many marketing channels and stop equating 'social game' with Facebook alone. Viral loops will evolve into game driven marketing, a set of highly scalable, automated, experimentally verified techniques that drive an exponential acquisition of players. You need a server, you need players, you need a method of communication and notification. You do not however need a social network per se. Expect modular marketing systems built into some high end games that target multiple social networks, consoles, email address books, flash portals and any other concentrated source of potential customers. At least this is what I'll be doing. :-)
  • Gameplay will continue to dominate: We are still in the stage of the market where we compete based off innovative gameplay, business models and distribution, not non-game fluff like narrative, licensed IP and massively expensive 3D graphics. Thank God. These priorities will shift as the web games market matures, so let's enjoy it while we can.
So many exciting opportunities. Let's raise a toast to an amazing and prodigious 2010! You are going to do great things.

take care


  1. Merry Xmas. I've charged my glass...

  2. I'd like to add that from what i've seen, Flash web games are starting to get some serious competition from other plugins like Silverlight, Javascript, Java, JavaFX and Unity3D.

    While Flash is nice it lacks the raw power to pull of 3d and computationally expensive games, some of the other plugins can pull them off pretty easily due to more powerful vm's and hardware acceleration.

    Even large Flash only portals like Kongregate have started to support non flash games (with the recent iFrame support, which means any plugin that works in the browser). So IMO well see a lot of non Flash games cutting into flash games web market.

  3. The game discussion is a bit outside my domain of expertise, but the painting is wonderful. Thank you!

  4. looking forward to your posts in 2010. I've got one question though: when it comes to gaming, what is wrong with linux (say a distro like ubuntu) and why are so many developers turning a blind eye to it. Merry xmas.

  5. Ah, Linux.

    Much of it comes down to numbers.

    - How many Linux gamers are there? The Linux Counter ( estimates 29 million Linux installations.
    - How fragmented are the various Linux distributions? The Ubuntu Counter records 29644 user, which at a 4.2% response rate would equal roughly 6.9 million users.
    - How many Linux gamers can be reached through standardized distribution channels such as retail or portals? Retail currently doesn't support Linux well. It appears that you can get some Linux support for Steam. None of the console downloadable services have anything to do with Linux.
    - How much does it cost to both create the product that runs on a Linux platform and then marketed and served to Linux users? A typical port costs 6 figures.

    For comparisons:
    There are approximately 25 million hardcore PC gamers in the world. These are people who are willing to download and install. For those counting this is less than 5% of all PC users. (If the percentage of hardcore gamers is triple the broader population in the Linux crowd, that only yields 1.05 million Ubuntu hardcore gamers)

    There are around 300 million casual gamers. These are people who are willing to download in install.

    There are 150 - 200 million web game players.

    All these markets have well established distribution systems that allow a developer to easily and quickly reach a large number of people who want to buy games.

    So where does this leave us?
    At the very least, the Linux market is smaller than almost any other readily addressable market. It might quality as a market expansion opportunity if you can port the game cheaply enough. However, even if you port the title, you are going to have difficulty reaching your audience.

    There is some evidence: A Tale in Desert had a positive experience releasing a Linux port. They increased their audience by 1%. (

    For most developers, this amounts to yielding pocket change and ends up sucking up valuable developer resources. The question is often posed as "Should I expand my product to a new console such as the DS and potentially double my sales. Or should I do Linux and get rounding error increase in revenue?"

    When Linux offers a unified platform of 10-30 million gamers that can be easily reached through a standardized marketing and distribution system, then you will see games made for Linux. Based on the numbers I see we are about a factor of 10X away from that point.

    take care

  6. Quite insightful, I enjoyed reading. "Long form" Flash -- hoo boy. :) Fourth point is intriguing but easier said than done. Whoever can solve that problem would find the cash raining down, though, for sure. Best of luck to you with it.

  7. I don't think innovative gameplay necessarily leads to good games.

    Personally, I think the best games take solid existing game mechanics and make use of original, uh, 'non-game fluff' like story, characters, interactions and art -- to create a game worth playing and caring about.

  8. I really hope u get to read this comment.

    I saw the art u did for an RPG back in 2006 i believe. Anyways i have basically completed an engine for such a game, but i have no art. You can see some shots with dummy & ripped art at

    Check out my gallery, in particular this image

    if you have time please look around at what i have posted. Each map was pieced together in the map editor i made out of game objects. Each object has 4 images one for each view and i have posted some of them.

    one thing to note is i currently have two versions of the game, the older is isometric and written in darkbasic, the newer is um not isometric and written in java.

    If any of it interests you at all let me know. If have any questions about what i did to make the game run, or are interested, or could lend a hand, or give advice please let me know. you can reach me at

    So much more i would like to say, but this is long enough


  9. Unity is going to be the big winner in 2010. Its available on consoles, the iPhone, Windows and Mac and even Linux (I think). It uses JavaScript and C# as its language, which has a broader userbase than ActionScript (Flash). And it performs better, in 2D and especially (obviously) 3D.

    And now it's cheaper than Flash (free in most cases).

    In the browser, it's penetration is nowhere near as high, so it's not ideal for the super casual players, particularly those behind firewalls or on restricted accounts (because the browser plugin probably isn't present or available). But for the juicy majority of players who are most likely to spend money directly on games, it's a no-brainer.

    In other words, 2010 may the biggest year yet for Flash games, but it may also be the peak and thus the beginning of the platform's decline.

  10. @Troy

    Unity is indeed impressive. I spent years making 3D a reality on the web and I'm certainly cheering for them to keep growing and bringing the love.

    I'm not completely convinced that Flash will decline. :-) 3D makes certain types of games for certain types of audiences better. It also costs about 2 to 10x as much to produce. And for many users, it makes the games *more* difficult to comprehend.

    3D on the web still has a long slow road ahead of it. Over the next 3 years I can see it gaining a solid niche status, particularly amongst core gamers moving to the web. You need to give the dudes something to make them feel loved and at home. :-)

    take care

  11. @Danc Oh, don't take my Unity endorsement the wrong way! I wholeheartedly agree that 2D is the absolute correct presentation for most games and their players, and furthermore, 2D assets are the best type for the vast majority of games (due to cost, etc.). From what I've been told, Unity is a fine platform for strictly 2D as well, and that's what I plan on exploring.

    I have absolutely no interest in doing actual 3D games, largely because I have absolutely no talent at building 3D art assets, whereas with 2D I can at least pretend! ;-)

  12. its a great info for the others keep it up buddy...

  13. I do not believe innovative gameplay will necessarily lead to good games.

    Personally, I think the best game mechanics are solid and existing use of the original, um, create "non-game fluff story as characters, interactions, and art - an interesting game to play and worry.

  14. your stuff is Awesome Danc.
    I'm using it in my game for sure..
    Check it out on youtube, or my blog...