Archive for March, 2007

Difference between shareware and modern downloadable games

Tuesday, March 20th, 2007

Wow, that’s a long title, I hope it doesn’t screw up the formatting 😉

Anyway, a discussion has been going on the Indiegamer forums about shareware vs time-limited demos, which most downloadable games are these days. Shareware was popular 10-15 years ago and the shareware model was to give away an “episode” of the game (e.g. Doom episode 1) for free and then charge for two more episodes if the player liked the game and wanted to upgrade. Also, shareware was not time-limited so you could play it over and over. By comparision, most downloadable games these days are limited to 60 minutes of play before the demo expires.

So I guess the main differences between shareware and time-limited demos are: a) once a time-limited demo expires you can’t play it anymore whereas you could with a shareware game b) depending on your skill you may only complete a few levels in a time-limited demo, or maybe you’ll finish half the game whereas a shareware game has a fixed number of levels that you can play.

However, I can imagine that the old shareware model failed in cases where the first free episode was too hard or too long and people didn’t want to buy the next part. The big portals have done a lot of testing with time-limited demos before settling on the 60 minute trial, so maybe it is a pretty good model for making sales…?

I’m also wondering if the current state of the Internet versus how it was 10 years ago has something to do with the lack of shareware. For example, 10-15 years ago, computer shops used to have shareware games in them on disk (1-2 disks) that you could buy really cheaply. Also people used to copy disks for their friends, and people used bulletin boards to download stuff. These days you wouldn’t want to make your friend a copy of say Mystery Case Files: Ravenhearst on CD because it would be a pain in the arse, so you just tell them where they can download it. Also there is less “invested”, in terms of time, when you download a game from the Internet vs buying a disk from a shop or getting a demo from a BBS. In fact some studies show that 56K modem users actually have a higher conversion rate because they’ve invested more time in locating and downloading the demo.

So I’m pretty sure that time-limited demos are the way forward, and that the shareware model is dead, at least until the next new selling model comes along; for example there’s been talk of pay per minute games being a way forward – although I personally wouldn’t like that business model.

“I’ve finished my game – now what?”

Saturday, March 17th, 2007

Someone just emailed me and asked:

“You might be aware that I finally got my game finished? I’m a bit curious as to who you would generally approach apropos getting it on sale via portals and such?”

which prompted a rather large outpouring from me that I thought would make a great post, so here you go. I haven’t spent ages turning it into a proper article so please excuse the quickfire style, but there’s plenty of useful info in there.

The Reply

Firstly well done! It’s not easy finishing a game as you know now. Also, you’ll be watching the sales income like a hawk waiting for the breakeven point with regards to your costs. I bet you had a butterfiles feeling when you send it off to portals right? I also get that feeling when posting a demo on forums – what will they say? good or bad…

OK then so you have two choices:

Find a Publisher

a) find a publisher who’ll do the whole thing for you. You could find a small publisher who’ll take a cut and market it to the portals for you (look on the forums for people like this or STFI). Or you could find a more mainstream publisher – normally most portals will publish your game for you if it’s good enough. They may well make changes (not necessarily a bad thing) and will take a big cut of course and will market the hell out of it. Most likely they’ll take it exclusively, which means you can’t sell it on your own site. But I’ll be brutally honest with you here, unless you are some total marketing wizzkid with some amazing viral marketing campaigns up your sleeve, direct sales on your site will make peanuts and the portals will sell hundreds, if not thousands more copies that you will.

Self Publish

b) Self-publish; I did this for my last game after learning the ropes with the other three games and reading forums, talking to people etc. This means that I put it on my own site, which meant security wrapping the game and making an installer etc – bit time consuming but once you know it, you can repeat it for more games of course. Then I did some shareware submissions and PR.

Sending Your Game to Portals

Anyway, WAY before I did that (months), I made contact with tons of portals to see if they’d be interested in taking the game. Normally I’d say go to them with a FINISHED game not some alpha or even beta as they really aren’t interested and won’t see the “potential”. Oh and you MUST back this up with a proper website, nicely designed with info about the game and your company on it (you don’t have to be selling it on the site).

However, I was trying to get them to take a Christmas game that was not ready, I just had some screenshots! So I had to really sweet talk them and also rest on my previous laurels (Wizard of Oz). Then I sent them a beta later on. Anyway, it sort of worked and I got some portals on board, although not as many as I’d have liked.


Basically MORE PORTALS = MORE MONEY it’s that simple. But it also means more emailing and more contracts – GOD the contracts, I had to read and sign so many and fax off huge contracts (one was 30+ pages) to the US, then there’s US tax forms to be filled out, then they say a page was missing from the contract, or I missed a bit blah blah and I have to resend. However, I tried to hold the mindset that every contract I sent meant I would be making some money on the current game and future games and it felt OK. I’ve now got a folder stuffed full of them, and I’m sort of proud of it!

Delivering the Game

In fact, now that I’ve got all these portals contacts, it meant that it was fairly easy to get them to ship Easter Bonus again this year. Mind you, you still have to jump through the various hoops to get them the files that they need to sell your game. They are not content with just the game, they need documents for this and that, marketing artwork, screenshots blah blah and often a splash screen too – you have left a facility to plug in a portal splash screen in your game right?

Hard Work

OK where was I, ah yes, it’s basically a lot of work – my logs show that I spent well over one man week (more like two) doing all the marketing stuff (this is on top of the learning about it all for over a year) so be prepared for some boring slog BUT remember it’s to sell your game and maximise your profit (i.e. no publisher taking a cut – don’t confuse publisher (indirect sales) and portal (who sell your game directly for a cut) right?).


Also don’t enter into any exclusive deals with portals, you want to spread it onto as many as possible. Oh and be prepared for finding it (or having someone tell you that they’ve found it ) cracked within a couple of days. You can ask the sites to take it down but it’s like trying to build a sandcastle when the tide’s coming in. Anyway, I see this as extra marketing. Those people would have never bought it anyway and friends/family of the pirates might see it and buy…you can’t stop it – so why worry.

Get Organised

OK then, so who did I contact? Before I tell you, I’ll tell you how I did it. I made a spreadsheet with as many portals on it as I could find – separating portals from affiliate sites is quite hard, make sure you only contact real portals otherwise you are wasting your time. Also some portals are much bigger than others. Then I emailed most of them (I never finished the whole list) and logged when I sent the email – sometimes you have to use online forms. If they didn’t reply (MOST didn’t) then I chased them a couple of times. Sometimes you get no replies EVER, sometimes it takes over a month, and some reply quite quickly in a friendly way – others just say literally “Thanks, but no thanks”! Then for the ones that said yes I further tracked the process of contracts and getting them a build on my spreadsheet. The motto being “BE ORGANISED AND PERSISTENT!”

Portals who said No (or Nothing!)

Now onto who I contacted, this isn’t an exhaustive list:

Real Arcade – they turned me down, claimed it was too cloney and production values weren’t good enough (I’m talking about Holiday Bonus – it looked pretty good to me!) also they said that they don’t take seasonal games (they weren’t the only ones who said this).

AOL – real brief reply. Basically “No”.

ArcadeTown – don’t want match-3s

Shockwave, miniclip, Iwin, gametrust, yahoo, Retro64 etc. said no or it wasn’t applicable. Many didn’t even reply as I’ve said. There were many more than these.

Portals who said YES (thank God!)

The good ones (for me):

Big Fish Games – really nice people, good rate, but they sell games at a discount, > 50% of sales are discounted versions so be prepared to loose profit! But the sales numbers make up for it (I suppose ;-))

Reflexive – again really good, great rate, sell at full price so winners all round.

Oberon Media – not a portal, they are distributors and the ONLY way to get onto some portals. They give a fairly lousy percent due to the fact that they only receive a percent of sales themselves too I guess. However, they are professional and delivered the sales.

Trymedia – professional, not great on sales yet…I’ll see how Easter Bonus gets on. They have their own specialised wrapper (Activemark 2007), which you’ll have to figure out. When you try to wrap your Blitz Max game, it won’t work properly, so ask me for help if you use them.

Playfirst – nice people, rate OK, not the biggest portal…

Boonty – said they’d sell my Christmas games but bombed out on me (i.e. didn’t sell them at all) but hopefully they WILL be selling Easter Bonus.

Alawar – said they’d put the games on (not but never did. Hopefully they will run Easter Bonus soon. These people had a HUGE contract. They can offer an exclusive contract for sales in Russia with a good percent if you are prepared to localise your game.

OK that’s pretty much it, I don’t want to say anything too negative as I’ve signed contracts etc and it’s not the done thing.


Also, I sought affiliates to sell my game, i.e. other developers who have sites. This has pretty much been a washout I’m afraid to say; my site is much more successful.


So to summarise, either find a publisher who’ll do all the hard workfor you and be prepared for them to take a cut (could be worth it to save the hassle) or do it all yourself – it’s a learning experience but it’s HARD WORK. Make a list of portals and contact them in an organised manner and chase them up. Only tell them about complete games (include screenshots and a web address) that you can send them a full version of.

OK, I’m not an expert, these are just my experiences but I hope that you find something useful and good luck to you, and hey I wanna see the beta
too! 🙂

Ask me about anything else if you have some more questions….