"Paid" Game distribution for web games - do we need it?

I spend hours a day discussing with game developers about their needs, requirements, concerns and problems. My job is to get to listen and then come with a smart and effective solution. Often, instead of development of any complicated tech solutions, my job is to ask developers for proper questions which help them to realize that the things they consider as “must have” are often nonsense and would take them a huge amount of their dev time without any brought value.

Perfect example can be game distribution for browser (web) games. Especially novice developers have in mind following equation: the more places their game can be found = more game plays and revenues. This is true only in limited cases, especially in that ones where developers getting sufficient value for every realized acquisition - e.g. game licence sell. In these cases, increased work and time investment associated with pushing a game to enormous number of places can make sense, however, it's 2019 and most of distribution is digital, in the hands of few centralized services and websites which do maximum of revenues for game developers. Considering cost-effective distribution, professionals are able to drive their distribution process by Pareto principle - 20% of platforms / websites / invested time generates 80% of revenues. This applies perfectly in any industry, project, or elementary physical particle - for the whole world. We need to focus on these 20%.

Before you continue reading, remember: Everyone wants to make money for himself. Be like everyone!

Revenue distribution as a major business model

Looking back into the mind of browser games developers and their endeavor and goal to make their games available to play on as many gaming websites as possible, there is no surprise that businessmen in gaming industry decided to use it for their own benefit.

Most of these services provide advertisement for implementation into games and then apply revenue splitting between game developers, game publishers and the game distribution service. Usually 33%/33%/33%, however, especially new platforms must come with something more interesting for game developers to attract them and thus provide adjusted splitting share - e.g. 60%/20%20%.

Until now, nothing special, a classic service and business. Let’s look a bit closer why so many platform and nearly every gaming website is trying to get developers and provide them their game distribution.

Game distribution service from the perspective of gaming website. Why they do that?

  • It’s simple business, no rocket science. Everyone can do it.
  • Very small time and money investment. Create a landing page with cool texts + simple SDK to connect ingame call with an external ad system is a matter of no more than 1 week for experienced developer.
  • Ads and revenue tracking is usually delegated on an external ad provider, so no work with this.
  • Simple acquisition of websites on the list for game distribution. Websites owners have revenue share from displayed in-game advertisement so they would be silly if they would not join in the program.
  • No need to track and watch gaming websites behaviour related published games from the distribution, because gaming websites have revenue share so they are not motivated to abuse games in own benefit. As I noticed, everyone wants to earn primarily for himself and thus - if there are no money leading from games to gaming websites - gaming websites are trying to manipulate with published games and their behavior (blocking of ads via ads.txt file, blockation of external links via sandbox parameters, downloading usually no-piracy protected games followed by reengineering of ingame brand and republishements.
  • Providing high rev share for webmaster is basically getting “exclusivity” for the game. Webmasters logically prefer publish games from the platform which providing them highest rev share => high rev share for publishers is basically getting game exclusivity on web platform.

Alright, so making a game distribution with providing rev share for publishers is easy and eliminate required investment to processes to check and protect games from manipulation with them. However, there is more reasons why providing game distribution service is so popular today. Besides, it's easy, a website / service gets also following advantages:

  • Getting new source of revenue. Gaming websites live from ads displayed usually before (pre-roll) and beside (banners) games on their website. By providing game distribution service, they get part of revenue from all websites the game is on. This is extra interesting especially on their own websites where they are publisher and provider at the same time. Mathematically, 66,6% for website, 33,3% for developer.
  • Getting control. Developers using these services usually have very limited options, in fact they must respect rules. Option to display in-game ads, their frequency, placed external links, logos, brands. A website can limit this all and thus make the game more interesting for its website - e.g. make their own websites more interesting for playing by providing there a version with less or even no ads comparing to other websites. They will get benefit and developer pay it to them.
  • Getting new users and brand awareness. You probably noticed it, most browser games is distributed with ingame brand, and external links associated with “more games” and other buttons. This is dual benefit for websites, because 1) they will get new players coming from other websites and 2) they will not lose players on own website via these external links.
  • Backlinks leading to higher domain rank and better positions in searching and more visits. Personally I do not have verified this, but there is probably that Google takes iframes as links.

Benefits of common game distribution services for game developers

Bonuses for game developers can be in various forms, depends on platform’s / website’s options, fantasy and skill. Let’s look at most common presented benefits for game developers.

1) Game distribution

Game distribution is the main point presented in all marketing materials. Platforms present huge numbers like hundreds, thousands, millions or gazillions of gaming websites. It sounds really cool.

How does it work in practice?
A platform takes a game and send a link with some media kit to all webmasters joined to their mailing list. Webmasters do not have any obligation whether they will add the game on their website. They will do it only if they like the game itself, or a combination of the game with potential revenue going from rev share.

2) Free Game promotion

This is something all game developers looking for - free games promotion. This point is legit related real visibility of huge amount of potential players once a game is distributed. In fact, every developer should use this, because the web and gaming websites is a perfect way to let players know about game and option to play it with nearly no costs.

The problem occurs when these platforms promote something like promotion in their social and paid marketing channels. I would like to mention here my experience which should turn on warning lights to developers when they read something like “free marketing”, “free promotion” and other cool words and services they look for. Here’s my points:

  • If you tried to promote your game on social sites, forums and via other free channels (out of gaming websites), you quickly realized that if your game is not unique, wll-looking and interesting with cool idea and great presentation, noone is interested to click on it. And be honest, most games do not have the potential to roll social sites. Gaming website has the same game to promote, lower personal interest and need to promote it than developer + more limited ways to get quality media kit for the game, if developer does not cooperate. Get the equation and count result.
  • Free promotion of a game version available for other platforms than web is legitimate thinking, however hard to process. Take notice that players usually play games on gaming websites due to its simplicity - just click and play - no payment or installation needed. Anyway, some players can play web games due to necessity - at an office, school or library. Let them know that a game is available also on platform they can prefer more for playing is always good think. Visibility of this should be related to developer’s goal to achieve the highest possible profits and thinking: Will I earn more if I convert current players on other platforms (with losses and costs it will require), or let them play on web without harassment? There is no simple reply what strategy to set, but here’s the question you should ask yourself:
    - Does the other platform provide better engagement or revenue?
    Higher CPM, smoother running, better percentage of returning visits, higher time in your game. It all are metrics saying that you will earn more if players will play the game on certain platform comparing to other platform. Once you have verified that you need to convert players to start play at other platforms, have in mind that you need to provide the players enough reason and value to make it. Noone will switch because you want it or force it by limitations or so.
  • Free “paid” promotion. Service which platforms “offer” because developers are looking for it. Using a common sense, free paid promotion is possible only if cost of paid campaigns is lower than revenues generated by the campaign. And do not forget, that the platform would have to do this from their share which may be around 30%. Logically, to be true, they would have to run paid campaigns with LTV/CAC (value of a customer over his lifetime compared to the cost of acquiring him) with value 10 - Earn $10 from every $1 invested. If a game is not super cool with good monetization model including IAP, forget that someone will provide you free paid promotion for minimum rev share. The websites usually have a note that they run PPC or other paid campaigns for their websites which increase number of potential players who can find developes’ games interested and play it. This is super in a case of remarketing when the website really bring additional plays for developer. Selection of games for remarketing is based on historical user plays - remarketing is a tool to bring a player back to game and increase his retention. Like everywhere, also here you need to have in mind LTV/CAC to achieve sustainable profitable state. Same applies for general paid promotion of a website which increases the probability that players will find your game interesting and start to play it. Anyway, in both cases, your game must belong between the best on the website to benefit from it.

    However, if we talk about a promotion via a single website, then it is not anything to should be mentioned between benefits for game developers, because the gazillion of other gaming websites on the distribution list do not do that.

3) Hosting service for web games

Developers think that hosting is the smallest thing which game distribution platforms offer. In fact, the opposite is true. Sure, developer can buy a hosting on their own for a few dollars a month, but soon realize that their game loads slowly for all users who are a bit further then in the same country. Hosting from a distribution service is also a quality guarantee that the game will run stable, without shut downs and other problems. Hosting service is a relevant benefit which saves developers work, time and money.

Right now we have great knowledge of why game distribution services for web exist and what services they offer. To get a whole perspective to game distribution, we must go further - take a look, how gaming websites work with games in practice.

The reality - the thing we all know but don't want to admit

Internet websites earn on users consuming their website content. Gaming websites do the same, only with one significant difference - games they publish and provide for their users are not their unique content. Players can play the games nearly on every gaming website. With this in mind, product of gaming websites must be aggregation of the best games for their users - to filtrate all bad games full of ads and other limitations and offer only the ones which are addictive, good-looking and fun to play.

From previous paragraph, main factor - whether webmasters will add a game or not on their website - is the quality of a game and their friendliness to players. If a game fill these parameters, then it is added. If there is a hitch - in quality, friendliness or so - a webmaster take a look on estimated number of plays on his website and rev share going from that. It it is interested, game is added.

We have seen a big transformation of game distribution in past 4 years thanks to .io games

.io games showed us is perfectly. They are on all gaming websites without paying anyone anything. They made it right - brough excellent simple and fun to play games which gaming websites couldn't afford to ignore. This worked in a case of first games, today’s .io copycats of more popular siblings are not so unique and thus gaming websites can remember for the phrase - everyone wants to earn especially for himself. Providing a rev share is complicated for often single indie game devs and thus gaming websites require at least dofollow backlink which help them to be higher is searching. Check all the partners sections available in these games. Do you remember the old web times build on link-building? Welcome back in 2010. Google Penguin will get enough new food.

What is really important and where to invest time?

As the main point of this article, it’s all about quality. Quality and unique games do not need to pay for promotion, but they can pay for promotion to boost revenues not for publishers and game distribution platforms, but for yourself. Developers need to create quality games and care about cross-platform game distribution. Do it on their own or select suitable partner for distribution of their game on websites, Google Play, App store, messaging apps, and other valuable places. Developers need to invest their time to build a community of fans into their games. Good name and brand make miracles. Regardless of platform, good games can easily reach million plays in few days after release.

GameArter builds its services with this article in mind. We need help and allow developers to make good, unique, fun to play and quality games. This requires professional tools, services and maximum revenues going back to game developers.

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