“I’ve finished my game – now what?”

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.

Contracts

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?).

Cracks

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 http://www.greyaliengames.com/holidaybonus.php – 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 Gamextazy.com (not Alawar.com) 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.

Affiliates

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.

Summary

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….

17 Responses to ““I’ve finished my game – now what?””

  1. "I've finished my game - now what?" » Games News and Reviews » Binary Joy Says:

    [...] finished my game – now what?” Grey Alien Games has posted a blog entry about finding a publisher or self-publishing and contacting portals. If you are an Indie developer [...]

  2. Grey Alien Games Says:

    Seems no one is posting comments here, but there is a good discussion going here:

    http://forums.indiegamer.com/showthread.php?t=10188

  3. Verse00 Says:

    Boo, this guy is more interested in making profits than anything else. I like your little puzzle games, but I doubt that you have much of a passion making the games. Which may be good, or bad. I’ll see once I finish a game of mine.

    I like the perspective that Jeff Tunnell has better than Grey Alien’s, but that’s just my opinion.

  4. Grey Alien Games Says:

    Verse00: haha, you don’t know me. I’m 31 and have been making games non-stop since I was 8! That’s 23 years. Making games on my home computers was a hobby of mine for 21 years then I finally made my dream come true and released a commercial game 18 months ago. I put a lot of passion into my match-3s because I wanted to make them great. Also, when making games becomes your job and source of income, naturally you are interested in making profit as well so that you can survive. There is no rule that says just because you are intersted in profit this means you cannot be passionate about making games. I am both :-)

  5. Tex Pine Says:

    Hi there Grey,

    We are making a word game to be finished by the end of May. I was thinking on sending a beta version for publishers and portals next week, but I reconsidered reading your post. We don’t have a back catalog to sweet talk them. I believe it would be much wiser to wait for the beggining of May, when it will be 90% done, just missing some final levels. For now, I only got 3 levels and some features still to be implemented. What do you think?

    Best regards,

  6. Grey Alien Games Says:

    Hi Tex. Yes I personally think it’s worth waiting until you have a finished version, and a website, and nice screenshots and have carefully crafted your marketing material. Also the beta testers will have pointed out any issues including accessibility (tutorials/controls etc) and playability. You need to have all your polish in place before showing the portals as you’ll only have one chance to get them interested! Some are more accepting that others, but even though you are excited to send it off – hold fire until you are REALLY ready. That’s what I’d do anyway, even though I didn’t for Holiday Bonus, I just talked about it early then later on sent screenshots to keep them interested then finally I sent V0.99 which was pretty much the release version so it was very polished and that’s what they accepted.

  7. BitterSense » Blog Archive » Carnival of Game Production Articles Says:

    [...] “I’ve finished my game – now what?”. which is about the ideas you might want to encounter after finishing your games. Or maybe you should want to know before you start your document. [...]

  8. Levelord Says:

    I’m having trouble, or rather my publisher is, wrapping my game with Trymedia’s DRM. Any suggestions?

  9. Levelord Says:

    This is the real Levelord, btw ;) I’m doing casuals now, at home, sort of on sabbatical. Please help me if you can, it would be appreciated!

  10. Levelord Says:

    Of course, I am using BlitzMax!

  11. Grey Alien Games Says:

    Hi Levelord. I too had trouble with the Trymedia DRM a couple of years back. You have to get just the right settings otherwise your game gets rejected and it also seemed like a very slow process. However I haven’t seen their wrapper since so many things may have changed. I got a couple of my games on there in the end but gave up on the third (sales were crappy compared to other portals). I wasn’t receiving decent customer service either. However they’ve been taken over by Real now so things may well be very different. Anyway, this is a roundabout way of saying that my knowledge is probably too old to be useful, try contacting their support. Good luck with it and you game and you casual career using BMax! :-)

  12. Levelord Says:

    Damn, customer support ;) Thanks anyways!

  13. Levelord Says:

    Wow! This really sucks. I hate when there’s trouble with something I have little control over.
    I’ve searched and searched but can not find out the best way to pack my BlitzMax game and send it to my publisher so they can wrap it and then send it to the portals (BigFish, RealArcade, etc.). They’ve tried ActiveMARK and Yummy.
    Any suggestions, O’ Wise One?
    I am using MoleBox. I pack the exe in the default pack and all other files (that don’t need to be updated by the player) into a “Resources.DAT” pack.
    Game runs fine, but it doesn’t after being wrapped in the DRMs. If they wrap an unpacked version, then it seems to work better.
    Really appreciate the help, if there is any ;)

  14. Grey Alien Games Says:

    OK I too looked into molebox a while back but heard it had problems with some DRM (I use Armadillo for games on my own site). Then I thought about it some more and thought the only reason I wanted to hide the assets was in case someone stole them or reverse engineered the game. But I realised that this was extremely unlikely and if it was done blatantly they could be sued anyway. And there’s no guarantee that their game would be any good anyway. So I figured out that I really don’t care, I should just focus on making great games instead. So my games are not moleboxed, they are sent to the portals with all the files loose in the data folder and the publisher wraps it. I only used the Trymedia wrapper for putting on Trymedia because they insisted on it, and then sales were way crappy anyway.

  15. Levelord Says:

    Again, thanks!

    Btw, you are spelling “Gray” incorrectly.

    Richard “Levelord” Gray ;)

  16. Grey Alien Games Says:

    No I believe *you* are spelling it wrong! ;-) Actually I was considering registering the other spelling just in case.

  17. Grey Alien Games » Blog Archive » How to get your game distributed on Big Fish Games Says:

    [...] Check out this post for more info: I’ve just finished my game – now what? [...]