I finished a game. To some that may not be a big deal but to me, it is.
The game is called planetRi.
It’s a nifty little game with assets I made via Adobe Illustrator tutorials, delving, coding and publishing with Unity and learning the ins and outs of Adword implementation. The music is by Jay Man. You should check him out. This little game, planetRi, is the start of my budding game development career. It’s an endless runner where your tiny ship avoids a few planetary obstacles to soothing music. It’s meant to be an intense, yet ‘chill’ experience to occupy you while nature calls. planetRi is not a break out game in the least; it was never intended to be, yet upon completion of it I had more questions than answers.
These questions were not the typical ‘Oh, how do I market this? Should I go on reddit and get skewered alive? Should I network digitally via itch.io or Ludum Dare?’ .
It was just one, with lots of mini questions relating to it: Why am I giving my work away for free again? Hell, why is any game developer giving anything away for free?
The Free Ad Laden App: Just One Rib
The above is the famous ‘How Much For One Rib’ sketch from I Gonna Get You, Sucka! by Keenan Ivory Wayans. It’s a classic comedy film from my childhood that still stands today. The sketch is about a debate over the price for a plate of ribs at a local BBQ joint. Chris Rock haggles Isaac Hayes down from the established price of 2.50 (USD..this is an 80s movie, ya’ll) to a measly .50 for 1 paltry rib. Now, this is for the meat eaters out there: ‘Would you really be satisfied with one rib?’ I wager a collective answer would be: ‘Hellz NAW!’.
The voice of descent is probably a mixture of obvious hunger pangs for a plate of ribs, but it’s also a shirking of the breakdown of cost to package that ‘one rib’. The owner of the establishment lost money with that sale, hands down. Think about it: wages (the cook in the kitchen), packaging (the styrofoam container, the brown paper bag) and time (arguing with the cheapskate instead of doing something productive to further his business). Although Isaac Hayes had a certain level of fixed costs, the above examples are variable costs.
And note, at the end of the skit, when his Friend comes in shouting ‘The Customer is ALWAYS RIGHT, my Man!’ , did you notice what happened? Yup, Chris Rock steals the ‘rib’ and runs out.
Maybe I’m not wise in the matter of mobile development, but it seems like there is a whole bunch of ‘just one rib’ rhetoric for developers who post free apps with ads on mobile platforms. For instance, as a question from Quora asks: How Much Does It Cost To Advertise On An App? The summarized answer is between 2 to 5 USD per click (CPM). Granted that maybe a lot for a small to mid tier entrepreneur / business, but that’s an insanely low amount for major corporations. (Note: As of 2015, Coke’s ‘Product Awareness budget is 3.3 billion estimated). The labor a developer puts in will be near free labor for advertisers who don’t have to worry about wages, insurance, health care and Social Security for that indie dev in their basement.
Second, the House (Apple, Google & other portals) will get their 30% off the top without doing anything except maintaining their servers. This is something I didn’t balk at because simply, this is overhead / fixed costs; they would’ve done this anyway. If I had a brick and mortar store selling fabulous games at super low prices, I would have to pay my landlord if I didn’t own the deed to my space. Do I like it? No. I think it’s highly strange that people don’t question The House for fiscally double dipping (getting ad revenue from advertisers & taking 30% from developers) While this is passive income, as they will be paid while they sleep; it does work both ways, as developers have their ‘goods on The House’s digital shelf’. What does not work both ways is that the house selectively advertises some goods, but not others.
Last, but not least, is the customer who downloads the app/game created and has the benefits of enjoyment with no cost to them. Taking from statista, the average mobile game play length in 2015 was 5.59 minutes (while ecommerce apps was 2.85). 6 minutes is a long time in cyberspace. As an example from payscale.com, the average ENTRY level JS developer in Seattle, WA is 51k.
Payscale per territory varies widely, but I wanted to do the math. Hopefully it ads up (math isn’t my strongest):
- 51K USD per year
- 3840 USD monthly
- 1920 USD bi-weekly
- 24 USD per hour
- .40 cents per minute
The figures are rounded, but you get the gist. If Super Cool Downloader Chick downloads my app and doesn’t click on any ads, then that is 2.40 out the window of the months / weeks of work done. This makes me sad because at the end of the day, the one who is shoulder the costs is me.
Yeah. It was sobering to go through all that as a new developer late to the mobile game to see a business model that’s not really about delivering the best to the customers I want to reach, but dependent on chance. I have to hope or heavily market the small app I created which isn’t going to cure cancer anytime soon. I am Issac Hayes in this developer skit, so I wondered how I can resolve this while trying to grow to bigger games and bigger platforms. I want people to eat more ribs but still get paid.
Further Findings and More Ribs
I’ll be investigating what I find in the world of mobile development; how to utilize it as a process of game development, not a sole source of income. Despite my using Adwords for my initial launch of planetRi, I hate ads; I feel like it cheapens my work and is not a long term solution unless massive amounts of subpar content is made. It may work for JackSepticEye, Pewdiepie and Markiplier, but having a majority of my earnings riding on the whim of advertisers does not bode well with me. Perhaps I am old, but I’ve won/lost enough in the stock market to know keeping up with the changing tides of public opinion is a full time job in itself.
In the meantime, enjoy planetRi and let me know how I can improve it. I want to use the feedback to make the full version better, polished and more enjoyable at cost!