Can you make a living developing casual games?

That’s the question on a lot of people’s minds. Here’s my story anyway…

6 products

I have made 6 products since starting to program games properly in November 2004 (I was a hobbyist since the age of 8 and a professional Delphi/SQL developer for 9 years). The first 7-8 months were spent learning the ropes and making freeware games as practice.

My first commercial casual game, Xmas Bonus, launched in December 2005. This was followed by Easter Bonus in spring 2006. In Spring 2006 I switched from BlitzPlus to BlitzMax and began developing my BlitzMax Game Framework which is continually in development. I used the framework to make The Wonderful Wizard of Oz which launched in November 2006, and Holiday Bonus in December 2006. In 2007 I only made one game, Fairway Solitaire. You can find all my games here. I’m contracted to make two games in 2008 for Big Fish Games, so wish me luck!

Show me the Money!

OK so here’s the low down. In order from best to worse, here’s how much money I’ve made per hour making my products (I keep a detailed log of time spent programming and on related tasks for each product):

- Fairway Solitaire (cannot say how much I’ve made due to contract)

- Wizard of Oz = £11.48 (this is continually rising with royalties + Mac version is about to launch)

- Game Framework = £8.47 (this is rising with sales but goes down when I do more work on it. The framework is used for all my recent games so it’s more than a standalone product – it’s extremely useful, vital in fact)

- Holiday Bonus = £9.18 (It sells a good number of copies all year round so it will keep going up)

- Easter Bonus = £3.75 (Yep, that’s below minimum wage! but it was all good experience)

- Xmas Bonus = £2.43 (this is based on an estimated number of hours as I didn’t keep a proper log. This was my first game, so the fact it made me any money at all is cool).

My next game should make me more money per hour than Fairway Solitaire which will be nice :-)

Conclusion

So you can see that I worked for nothing per hour at first (when making freeware games), then a very low amount per hour for my first two games (I was doing IT consultancy work @ £30 per hour and getting out loans at the time to keep my finances in check). Then Oz was pretty good (and the game framework provides a regular low level income) and Fairway was great. Also I make money from affiliate sales and adsense revenue, although not very much (it’s rising all the time, however).

Bear in mind that each game took 250+ solid hours to make (except for Fairway Solitaire which took WAY more) and that I still have business admin to do (accounts, filing, tax returns etc) and run my home finances etc. So when I’m doing that other stuff, I’m not making any money by programming games (thank God for royalties and affiliate sales which occur 24 hours a day). Also bear in mind that it’s taken 2 years for the Xmas Bonus money to reach the level that I’ve reported above. When you finish a game, assuming you are not being paid to write it, it will take about 2 months before you’ll get the first batch of royalties through and then they’ll keep on coming through at a lower level for years, so it’s a long term game. You don’t just program the game and collect the money (unless it’s a contract job).

Clearly the amounts I was earning at the start are not enough to provide a full income unless you have very low overheads (which I don’t). That’s why I was doing IT consultancy work (my old job) and gradually phasing it out and doing more programming work. Some weeks though I did tons of hours and had to work really hard in order to meet game targets and get jobs done for my consultancy clients. You’ve all got different life situations and skills so I suggest you way them up carefully before deciding to make games for a living. I think it’s a great job, but getting here wasn’t easy…

Hope this info is useful to you! Thanks for reading.

10 Responses to “Can you make a living developing casual games?”

  1. Jon... Says:

    Assuming you’ve taken off the money for resources (Artwork, Music, SFX) – did you have a fixed price for those or did you enter into royalty share agreements.

    Any advice for getting contacts with professional, talented, reliable artists / musicians ???

  2. Grey Alien Games Says:

    Xmas Bonus, Easter Bonus and Holiday Bonus are my IP and so if I sell direct I get all the money and if I sell via portals I get 25%-40% depending on the portal. For Oz I get a royalty share from the producer. Fairway I can’t talk about.

    The art and music for my games was either bought in from stock sites (or got from royalty free sites) or commissioned for a fixed fee. I believe the Oz artists are on a royalty share. I think that BFG paid the artist and sound people for Fairway, probably on some hourly rate or maybe a fixed fee, I don’t really know.

    Basically if you are lucky, you may find pro artists/sound people on the forums who will work for a royalty share or a small fee + royalties BUT you must have a proven track record of completing games first yourself otherwise they won’t touch you with a bargepole (and who’d blame them). So I go to Blitzbasic.com and Indiegamer.com (which also has people posting adverts for their services) but there are special artist and musician forums around too. However, for quality, in theory you should just hire someone and pay them up front, but you need a budget for that of course!

  3. Karl Says:

    Interesting read!
    Very professional of you to relate working hours and profits. If you don’t have to update the games much, the numbers can only rise.

  4. Grey Alien Games Says:

    Well basically with most jobs you want to know your salary or hourly wage and I wanted to know that and other stuff like how much of my time was spent programming, how much communicating with team members, how much marketing etc. So I kept detailed logs. There are in Excel and very quick to make an entry on.

    Yeah, once a game is made and out there (and pretty much bug free) you can jsut sit back and let the money roll in over the years until the game is non-viable I guess. My oldest game is only 2 years old though, some people have had income from a game for 5+ years!

  5. Seb Says:

    I wonder why you don’t just make some more 3-match games?!? Since you have already done the game framework (3-match games are always quite the same) it seems to be a good option just to hire an artist for a new theme, and “resell” your old game with a new look. you could still add some more elements (in my opinion “treasures of montezuma” is the best 3-match game so far – it still uses the well known 3-match game mechanics but the combos give the game a new twist – absolutely addictive!!!).

    you wouldn’t need to invest so much time, because most of the work is already done. the time-input/money-output rate should be rather good.

    i guess you have already thought about that. why haven’t you followed that idea then? there must be a reason i haven’t yet thought of, i guess…

  6. Grey Alien Games Says:

    You are correct in that I definitely considered making some non-seasonal match-3 games and probably would have made one (had lots of ideas) if I did not get the contract job from Big Fish Games to make Fairway Solitaire. Plus because that was so successful, they now want me to make some more games for them so I’m doing that now. However, I’m not ruling out a match-3 at all, so watch this space ;-)

  7. Grey Alien Games Says:

    Just updated the Holiday Bonus figure with my latest royalty reports (more are still pending). It went up from £5.15 per hour to £7.36 which is not too bad now.

  8. Grey Alien Games Says:

    OK got another royalty report for Holiday Bonus. Updated the figure from £7.36 to £9.18, nice!

  9. Grey Alien Games Says:

    Just wanted to add that these figures are now way out of date. What a difference a year makes! Just goes to show how it’s a long term game…

  10. Grey Alien Games » Blog Archive » Xmas Bonus Sales Stats Says:

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