Goodbye FlashGameLicense

Selling flash games isn’t the easiest thing in the world, as you may have noticed from my grumblings every time I try to find a sponsor. There’s a lot of developers, a lot of games, and negotiating via email isn’t the most straightforward thing ever. So it would make sense for there to be a website to provide an interface for such dealings. That, it would appear, was the original purpose of FlashGameLicense.

My first experience was a positive one, though in retrospect that might have been luck. You see, games at FGL get reviewed by one of its editors and receive a rating. The Infinite Ocean got a very positive rating – a 9, I think. That got it some attention from sponsors, and it received a bid from a fairly big website for a nice chunk of money. That got it even more attention, since it was now also included in a list of high-bid games. Ultimately this led to its ArmorGames sponsorship.

I was happy to pay FGL its 10% share, even though it was quite a bit of money. Even after PayPal ate a lot of the money and the conversion to Euros turned it into even less, I thought I’d gotten a pretty good deal. I could live making games like that. We’d never get rich off it, but it would be enough to pay the rent and keep making games.

Next came You Shall Know The Truth. It got a pretty good rating, too. And in retrospect, I’m not too surprised it only got one extremely low offer, which I decided to reject. I still think it could’ve been big – people have strong reactions to it if nothing else – but I fully understand that a darkly satirical Wikileaks game that parodies hidden object games and then goes crazily surreal is… potentially a little frightening for sponsors, especially at a time when the media were doing their best to demonize the organization the game supported.

Then there was Alphaland. The first version got a bad rating, but I was pretty certain that was only because the reviewer was having technical problems due to an issue with the game’s platforming code. But Terry Cavanagh came to the rescue and turned the game into what it is now. I put it back up on FGL. The rating didn’t significantly improve, and mostly the game just sat there. With its mediocre rating, it had next to no way of getting any exposure, and FGL didn’t do much to help it. After ages had passed it got some ridiculously low offers.

I was pretty conflicted. Part of me said “Hey, maybe the game is actually crap. Maybe Terry’s just humouring me.” It’s very easy to get discouraged in this business, and deep down I’m always afraid that other developers think I’m a complete amateur. Another part of me kept thinking that I’d shown this game to a lot of really talented developers, and all of them had really liked it, so it couldn’t really be that bad, could it? And yet another part of me (my psyche is more fragmented than a postmodernist’s brain) was insisting “This is a game made by the guy who made The Infinite Ocean and the guy who made VVVVVV. The Infinite Ocean still generates a ton of fanmail, and VVVVVV is practically a cultural phenomenon. Shouldn’t this game get at least a little bit of respect?”

That latter part of me is rather arrogant, but I must admit that it does raise its head every now and then, usually to demand more popcorn.

Eventually, frustrated, I took the game down from FGL – and got a sponsorship at Newgrounds for six times what I was being offered on FGL. Still less than The Infinite Ocean, but this was a small game, and it was still enough money to keep us going for a while.

Now we are arrive at the present, and The Book of Living Magic. A game that a lot of other developers have greatly enjoyed, that various reviewers thought was fantastic, that even got us the chance to write a children’s book for a small Greek publisher. I’d gotten some offers for it, but for various reasons (quite unrelated to the quality of the game) they weren’t quite as high as I’d like. I hadn’t used FGL, because I didn’t want to end up paying 10% of my sponsorship without having found the sponsor through FGL, but I ultimately decided to give it a shot, thinking that there were probably a few sponsors that I wasn’t reaching otherwise.

It got a rating of 6.5. The reviewer complained that there was too much reading to do, and that the hand-drawn graphics (which made a publisher go “we want Verena to illustrate a book!”) weren’t “polished” enough. And I thought “Really? Well, fuck you.”

This time it wasn’t the voice of arrogance speaking. These comments were sheer absurdity – especially in the face of the rating The Infinite Ocean got, given that it consists almost entirely of the incredibly difficult challenge of reading (next they’ll expect us to think!). I have enough experience as a designer, and enough feedback from players and designers, to know that The Book of Living Magic is a good game. It might not be to everyone’s tastes, but it’s polished and accessible and pretty and funny, and it tells a good story.

By giving the game such a low rating, FGL actually made it harder for me to sell it. A bunch of sponsors now associate the game with low quality, boring text and a lack of fun, motivating them to either ignore it or to offer very little for it. That major websites like Jay is Games love it, that I’ve got a decade of experience, that my previous Flash games were successful, that my games are featured on major websites – all these things actually carry a lot less weight than a rating from some illiterate slob who doesn’t like adventure games, because a rating from an editor carries the implication of authority. Oh, FGL claims that “sponsors will make up their own minds, don’t worry about the rating,” but we all know that is bullshit. In fact, if that were the case, why have ratings in the first place?

I’d been warned by a number of developers to stop using FGL, but I foolishly didn’t listen to them. My first experience, in which I somehow got assigned an editor with an interest in unusual games, is not the standard. I got lucky. FGL may work well for hobbyists who want to make a tiny bit of money on the side, and for those who are interested in developing clone games of the Sexy Fun Crocodile Kissing Game 2 Expanded Edition type, but for those of us who want to do this professionally, and who want to make games that are a little more original, it is nothing but a waste of time.

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