Mar 312010
 

People have been practically begging me for the numbers behind SteamBirds. Now you can stop IMing me every other day :P

As an aside, I can’t help but feel that this post is coming way too early. The game launched on March 3rd, which means we’re coming up on the 1 month birthday soon. There hasn’t been enough time to collect all the secondary licenses (some of which are scheduled for mid-April and beyond), and definitely isn’t enough time to get a clear picture of the user traffic and how big the tail is. I hope to rectify this by making some update posts as things progress in the future.

Note: Some sponsors have asked that I don’t reveal exact figures, or associate their names with their pricetags. I’ve fudged all of the numbers by a certain percentage and made some anonymizing edits so I don’t step on any toes (though I’m sure some basic sleuthing can get you any answers you need).

The Development Split

I had a really tough time deciding on a proper revenue split model. I wish the game had 150 percentage points so I could pay everyone a bit more, but I think the ratio I have is fair to everyone. I won’t lie; I do wish I had more money for myself. Who doesn’t? But even if I cut someone’s wages back I’d feel like giving it to someone else, not myself. At least I’m happy. :)

Of the upcoming iPhone port, courtesy of SemiSecret Software (makers of the excellent games Canabalt and Gravity Hook HD):

  • 30% of all revenues go to Apple first;
  • 50% of the remaining revenue goes to SemiSecret Software
  • 50% then goes to the SteamBirds Team (see below)

Outside of the iPhone,

  • 10% of all profit FlashGameLicense inspires goes back to them. They get paid first, because without them I’d only have made a fraction of the money. Their service is truly excellent for the flash-portal-distribution model and not using them is foolhardy. Not paying them is just mean.

Of the remaining profit, the sTEAMbirds team divvies:

  • 50% goes to myself, for game design and programming. I dare say I put some kickass lines of code into the game and I wish I could showcase them as easily as a work of art. :)
  • xx% goes to Daniel Cook, a true game design genius and excellent artist to boot. Before SteamBirds, I don’t think I ever would have worked with a “GameDesigner,” thinking it was mostly elementary. I primarily hired DanC on to be an artist. Now I don’t think I can make a game without his advice.
  • xx% goes to DannyB for his musical genius (and who also pays Jordan Fehr for sound effects out of his cut). I get a lot of shocked looks at this one, and I agree; I’m used to paying only a meager sum for audio. But the services Danny offers (perpetual unlimited music!) and the quality of the end result is astounding. Absolutely astounding. I do believe in the gameplay as a standalone product, but the music takes it to a whole other level of awesome. I think it’s worth it.

(Percentage splits classified upon request)

And yes, I just casually dropped the “iPhone version” bomb like it was nothing. Bitches.

The Bidding Process

Bidding for SteamBirds opened on FlashGameLicense on January 30th, 2010. I purposefully chose an early-month entry so that any larger companies bidding would have fresh monthly budgets at their disposal. I also consulted with FlashGameLicense’s Sales Statistics to give me some insight; it looks like January is the worst month of the year, and February is a close second. I wanted to wait until later in summer, but I didn’t want to wait any longer!

Eventually 7 sponsors would bid on the game, and a dozen more EMailed me offers and discussed options on the side (they were typically complex enough offers that posting them to FGL wasn’t appropriate).

Those 7 actively-bidding sponsors made 27 bids in a nice (for me) 10-day battle for control of the game. Bidding opened at $500, and quickly made it above $6000. Here’s a quick rundown of the stand-out bids I received through all mediums (including EMail):

  • 1/30: $500: Opening LOL bid.
  • 1/31: $1,500
  • 2/01: $2,000
  • 2/01: $6,000: A big jump right away. There were no bids between $2K and $6K.
  • 2/04: $8,000: A bidding war follows.
  • 2/04: $10,000
  • 2/05: $16,000
  • 2/06: $20,000
  • 2/07: $21,000
  • 2/10: $22,000
  • 2/10: $25,000: The deal I went with.
  • 2/12: $30,000
  • 2/12: $35,000
  • 2/15: $45,000

I closed bidding around February 16th and notified Dan at ArmorGames that his bid had won.

But… but why“, I hear you incredulously shouting. “Why would you take such a low offer?!

I’ll tell you,” I respond with an eerily-calm demeanor.

The extreme value deals ($35K+) had some very restrictive licensing terms. Phrases like these were most common:

  • Rights to first refusal for a sequel.
    While I understand that ‘rights to first refusal’ aren’t all that binding, it still makes me feel uncomfortable. What if I have a bad experience with the sponsor? I don’t want to feel locked into anything. If the sponsor behaves and is a nice partner in the venture, I’d be more than willing to go with them again for a sequel. Why put a friendship in writing?
  • No sequels, spinoffs, or use of any existing assets or similar assets for 1 year.
    Bah. I have some pretty big plans for the future, and SteamBirds as an IP is ripe for the picking. Especially now that the game is a resounding success, I cannot ignore it. Yes, I understand it is important to space out sequels and launches – I don’t want to over-saturate the market with my products. But I don’t want to be forced out of my own work for a year.
  • This deal is considered pre-payment for a spin-off version containing bunch-of-features XYZ, in addition to primary sponsorship.
    To be fair, these offers were tempting. But in the end the extra amount offered wouldn’t make up for the time and effort that goes into the new features.
  • Perpetual exclusive license; no secondary sales or ad revenue.
    Fair enough. As long as you can pay enough to outweigh that lost revenue stream…

How I Chose My Sponsor

What I ended up doing to help me sort through the bids was devise a “value” scale. I projected how much I thought the game would make on secondary license sales, advertising revenue (which I estimated to be near-zero, for what it’s worth), and other such income. I included figures like bonuses for performance (if any), prize money (if allowable), and any other special-case funds. I then added these values to the base price of the offer.

In my mind, the ArmorGames’ offer was worth around $30-40K. By accepting their deal I’m fully expecting to reach $35K (right in the middle of my predictions) in total revenue over the lifetime of the product.

Unfortunately for the larger offers ($35K+ up front), their restrictive licensing terms didn’t result in a whole lot of added-value. In fact, some had negative added-value when they started talking about the longer timeframes and exclusionary periods.

What I was left with, in the end, were two very similar deals I was seriously considering. They both had similar terms and ArmorGames was a little behind on my value scale. But I went with them anyway, for one very important reason:

Personality.

Dan McNeely of ArmorGames is amazing to work with. From early on in the bidding we struck up a rapport and we discussed many things (even not game-related). Several times he suggested that other deals might be better for me. He often tried to work out new agreements, suggested other sponsors I might want to approach, and is on good terms with many other sponsors. Best of all: he always kept his licensing terms wide open with amazingly few restrictions.

In short, most sponsors say the words “This deal is the best deal for you, the developer.” It always sounds like something a used-car salesman might say. Dan earned my trust, and I legitimately think he’s looking out for me and my well-being; he didn’t have to say those words. The words were implied.

Sponsors are more than just money-machines. They’re partners with the future of your game-making career. Accepting Dan’s bid is likely to have a long and prosperous relationship between us, where I can trust him to help me find the best deals (hopefully with him again!). Though not tangible, that’s worth a few extra grand in my pocket any day of the week.

You simply won’t believe the number of Sponsors that approached me with aggressive stances, insulting me, or even calling me names for not taking their offers. Some Sponsors won’t even give me the time of day (and haven’t responded to eMails in the last 2 months). Some sponsors seem to think they are superior to the developers and put on this air of “you will bend to our will.” Seriously, you guys? Not very professional.

The Terms of the Deal

Dan at ArmorGames was kind enough to allow me to post the details of the primary sponsorship (with aforementioned number-fudging, of course). Not that there’s much to say. As I mentioned, Dan was very lenient with his terms.

  • Up-front payment of $25,000 for the game.
  • Bonus of $2,000 for providing a set of Bonus Missions exclusive to ArmorGames
  • Requirement to implement ArmorGames AGI (High score interface)
    • 1-week exclusivity period on armorgames.com (ad-free)
    • following that, 1-week of viral-version distribution (ads allowed)
    • following that, secondary sales/sitelocks/etc. can be sold (ads allowed)

Note that Dan didn’t send me a big contract to sign (he was happy exchanging a few eMails confirming the details) and that he’s very flexible and will take every suggestion on a case-by-case basis. I’ve gotten a ton of exceptions out of him, and in return for his generosity — I even gave him a longer exclusivity period than he asked for. These relationships are two-way streets, and nothing is set in stone!

Revenues to Date

About time for a money summary. And our first image!

“Other” is the combined forces of CPMStar (around $300) and Mochi ($10) advertising, as well as some award/performance money. As you can see, my near-zero ad estimates were fairly spot-on. :)

Grand total? The game has earned approximately $34K so far. Also fairly spot-on to my initial estimate. Minus FGL and the sTEAMbirds, that puts $15K in my pocket for 1 month of full-time work. Even if you go on my full schedule (around 5 months to-date), that’s still $3K/month and a decent salary!

Keep in mind that the ad revenue will continue growing as time passes and might end up making a dent. There are a few more secondary licensing deals to be made as well.

Critical Response

The game has done surprisingly well. I won’t go into the details on the reviews and good comments I’ve gotten, as I’ve posted on them previously, but here’s some of the average scores around the internet (flash devs seem obsessed with these numbers, but I don’t see the allure):

  • 87% @ ArmorGames.com (8.7/10)
  • 86% @ Kongregate.com (4.29/5), before Badges were introduced
  • 84% @ Kongregate.com (4.19/5), after Badges were introduced (lolwut)
  • 88% @ Newgrounds.com (4.4/5), ratings
  • 94% @ Newgrounds.com (9.4/10), reviews
  • 91% @ FlashGameLicense.com (9.1/10), developer rating
  • 80% @ FlashGameLicense.com (8/10), editor rating
  • 75% @ FlashGameLicense.com  (7.5/10), first impressions (these guy are idiots though ;))

The game has also won a few distinctions so far:

  • Daily 4th Place: NewGrounds.Com
  • Weekly 6th Place: NewGrounds.com
  • Front-Page Feature on Kongregate.com
  • Weekly Prize Winner on Kongregate.com
  • Monthly Prize winner on Kongregate.com (not actually awarded yet, but I’m #1! wooo)

Game Performance Tracking

Huge shouts-out to Ben at SWFStats. His very-easy-to-implement API is quite awesome and I’m very impressed with it. His data aligns perfectly with my data on other collection services, so I can vouch for it’s stability and authenticity. Right now it’s tracking everything for me. Sign up for his beta now, and it’s free to use!

First, an overview of the game’s traffic:

As of this writing, here are some stats for the game at a glance:

  • 3,500,000 game loads (people that make it to the main menu of the game; doesn’t count bounces)
  • 24,000,000 level plays
  • 26:10 average total play time
  • 1,000 sites hosting the game
  • A statistically insignificant number of players play the game less than 2 minutes(!!!). Official stats say 100% player retention rate! If you see my title screen, by gum you are playing 2 levels on average!
  • 53% of users play more than 5 levels.
  • Only 1.3% of players hit the mute button (without un-muting it later)
  • Only 3% of players look at the credits screen
  • Some per-site traffic stats:
    • ArmorGames.com has the majority of my traffic.
    • Kongregate.com is a distant second place, with less than 1/3 the views
    • A Chinese site pirated the game on day four (breaking my sitelock), and is third place so far (again, by a longshot)
    • All others of my 1000 sites have less than 50,000 views each, with most having very low figures.

Hopefully that answers the majority of your questions. :) Any other details you want to see? Let me know!

  71 Responses to “SteamBirds: By the Numbers”

Comments (47) Pingbacks (24)
  1. Amazing! Thanks for the Writeup. Congrats on the game :-)

  2. Great post! I’m satisfied. I laughed so loudly at “Seriously, you guys? I feel like slapping you with my dick.”

    It would be perfect to know how many non-exclusives you sold and how much you charge for it.

    Cheers.

  3. awesome post

  4. It was an honour to sponsor your game! You are one extremely talented developer and I’m excited to see the game come to the iPhone.

    -Dan
    Armorgames.com

  5. Thank you so much for sharing this information and congratulations on the great game! I remember clicking on your game just to take a quick look when it launched. I totally didn’t have time to play–or so I thought. I then proceeded to play many levels until I forced myself to quit because I really didn’t have time to play. So yeah–sticky as hell like you said! ;) It is always valuable to have these business numbers and stats so thanks again for sharing.

  6. Edited out the dick comment. I totally feel it still, but decided (with help) that it didn’t fit with the tone.

    Average secondary is about $1,700 or so so far. :)

  7. Awesome writeup. Love that all these numbers are out in the public.

    take care
    Danc.

    PS: I’ll be first to admit that my art can be a good hook, but ultimately it is of minor value on any project. One trend I’ve noticed is that most indie developers understand how to technically build a game. However, they “don’t know what they don’t know” when it comes to game design, strategy, branding, balancing, and polish. Much of the time these ephemeral factors are the difference between a hobby project and a successful game.

    When I mentioned to Andy those activities are how I make my daily living as a ‘game designer’, he looked at me and said “So…I really don’t understand what you *do*.” It wasn’t programming, or art or music so it didn’t compute.

    So I sent him pretty pictures…with designs baked into the mock ups. “A spoonful of sugar…” Now we are married!

  8. Thanks for sharing this with everyone Andy, this is awesome!

  9. Congrats on the success to date!

    PS: iPaaaaaaaad!!!!!! :D

  10. Thank you for posting this! Exceptionally informative! Great to actually read about some real world experiences & statistics versus the PR bullet points found on various websites.

  11. Very impressive! Congratulations :)

  12. I got more questions.
    1- Did you implement kong api to get more ad revenue or did they pay you to do that?
    2- Why did you use fgl if you decide to take armor games offer? (someone that you know in person) FGL is a great opportunity for guys like me who doesn’t know any sponsor but you know Dan, you had lunch with him, and %10 of 25k is really something!

    Cheers!

  13. Thanks for sharing, but mostly, thank you for the game. Like I mentioned at the FGL chat, it’s one of those games that makes not only my day, but probably my week! :)

  14. Excellent writeup, thanks for posting all that info, it will be extremely useful to developers I’m sure. Thanks for the shoutout to FGL ;)

  15. Would you mind disclosing some details of the building of the game? What I would really love to know is who long you spend on development, graphics and sound. (Because I am a sucker for stats and can’t figure out an average hourly rate without is ;-)

  16. @Zach: Check out my last blog post for that :)

  17. Congratulations on the sucess with this game and thanks for sharing, its fun to know some details like these :)

  18. Thanks a ton for posting this, that was an excellent read. Those are the most detailed stats I’ve ever seen a popular game share with the public, definitely valuable. I’m extremely impressed with the success of this game, and from the sounds of it, you have more to come. Awesome writing style as well, I like how you were very casual and true to yourself. Keep up the good work.

  19. I am pleased to hear your success story that encourages me.
    You have very detail stats. I have never thought about stats on mute button or credit screen.

  20. Congratulations on the success Andy; we’re huge fans of the game over here, and love the stats posts!

    In case anyone’s interested, we have the ratings and plays for SteamBirds broken out by site (only including the top sites though) since it became non-exclusive posted here: More SteamBirds Stats

  21. Cheers for sharing. Really looking forward to the next iteration (s)

  22. Can your game detect if the system’s sound output is muted?

    I generally mute things via that, rather than at a per-app level.

  23. Great info, Thanks for sharing it :-)

  24. Steambirds is a fantastic and refreshing game and deserves every success it gets. It’s also nice to see that Dan at ArmorGames can share in it’s success – I’ve worked with him on a few occasions and he’s a very easy person to get on with.

    I hope the iPhone version does well for you, I’ll most certainly be getting my copy. If not just to feed my terrible app buying habit.

    Best of luck!
    Chaz

  25. Thanks for posting the details and thanks for a very cool game!

    I very much hope we will see an Android version in the future as well! :)

    /Regards Pär

  26. Hi,
    You said 10% went to FGL. Do all Flash games sold on FGL require 10% of sale price to be given to them? Seems an awful lot.
    Thanks

    -Andrew

  27. @Drew:

    Without FGL, there never would have been a bidding war — I would have made under $10K. Considering there’s no other service like FGL – that actively finds licensees and sells your product for you – I’d say it’s well worth the money.

  28. Hey Andy, been following you since your squid game trough protonauts and now this, tested the game (further then level 5 to!), I’m happy you made it this far and looking forward to more (and yes it’s the same Irons from FC).

    Take care!

  29. Hey Andy,

    one hell of a game you made there, I loved it. I still hope you’re making a multiplayer version of SteamBirds later, that would be a killer. Also, thank you very much for sharing the numbers and process details, it gives a great insight into how such things are done, which I am interested in.

    Good luck with the iPhone porting, I hear AppStore can be quite an income source if approached in the right way.

    -Olex

  30. Great blog post – thanks for sharing. Congrats on the success!

  31. Thank you for the detailed explanation. Much appreciated.

    I agree that the 10% that FLGL charges is not that much considering the “extra” that came from the bidding process. :)

  32. Congratulations for a very cool game! I’m happy for you
    Thanks for sharing the stats and your thoughts on this with us, this is very inspiring.

  33. I was watching the bidding war on FGL and was wondering who would win the game at the end. No surprise it was Dan, he gets most of the best games under his wings .. err armor :)
    Good luck guys.

  34. I stumbled upon a clone of this game in the iTunes Store called Laser Sharks… here. Do you know anything about that or is someone just trying to rip off SteamBirds?

  35. Didn’t know about it, thanks for the heads up! I’ll have to take a closer look to see if it’s “ripping me off” or not.

  36. I’m surprised you did not make more money from ads.

    I’ve made more than 5k from cpmstar in the first month with some of my games.
    Thats really weird.

    By the way how did you get those numbers? CPM doesnt pay you until after one month.

  37. @Vania: The graph/numbers haven’t changed all that much since I made the post. Let’s say everything is roughly the same after 9 months.

    You must have had way better clickthroughs…

  38. Today I was surprised to find this blog post translated word-by-word and printed in the german “Making Games” magazine. More then half a year after i’ve first read the original and including some inaccuracies caused by a translator obviously not knowing the details of the flash game market. Hopefully they at least asked you for permission?

    I’m pretty disappointed that those journalists seem to think that a subjective blog post needs no further editing (like explaining the flash game market terms and common licensing models or putting your exceptional success into a larger context) to qualify as a report on the state of the flash game market. It was headlined with “Hard Figures: What you really earn with flash games.” and thats just plain missleading.

    Okay, not your fault I guess but I still feel like mentioning it here!

  39. @lithander: Thanks for calling it to my attention. They definitely did not ask permission!

  40. Today I’m was searching and reading flash game development as a career. I was sad to read unhappy articles in term of making money from flash game development but this post opened my eyes and I must say GOOD WORK EARNS regardless any field of life!

  41. Great stuff! I’m not new to game development, but new to this side of the business. Sadly there’s extremely little of it out there, so I really do appreciate you taking the time to document / reveal some of the stuff that helps answer a few questions.

  42. Can you outline you assesment of selling a game like this for $x on your own website using some payment processor like PayPal for example, offering maybe a demo version or just screenshots. Do you think anyone would bother buying it – if so what do you think you might make? This implies not having the exposure from a free version but the game being sufficiently good enough for people to recommend or at least talk about it.

  43. @Andrew: While I certainly have opinions on the subject, I don’t really have a platform to stand on there; I haven’t pursued that model. Perhaps you should contact http://www.greyaliengames.com/ or http://www.positech.co.uk/

  44. Thank you so much for this post !

    You Business philosophy is so great. I wish more people were like you.
    This post was very very interesting and gives me hope for the future of our business !

    Thanks.
    Dimitri

  45. This is kind of inspiring man, thanks for this, I specially liked how you write about money without being all akward about it, respect. I am a little late, but congrats on the succes, when I played the game, I felt it was very solid and polished. Cheers.

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