FEATURE: Flash of Genius

FEATURE: Flash of Genius

The Flash game sites that really kick-started the trend of user-generated content hardly get a mention, while Second Life, Wikipedia and YouTube hog all the credit.

Newgrounds.com, the large Flash games and animation site that spawned Alien Hominid, has been accepting user-produced submissions since 1999. That it has been quietly spearheading for eight years what is only now being trumpeted about in the mainstream media is indicative of how overlooked the Flash games scene is. Flash games are, after all, easy to write off as derivative and scrappy, good for a minute’s cheap entertainment and little more.

But now, Flash gaming is undergoing a blossoming of activity and creativity. The people who make the games, often teenage bedroom coders, are getting paid for their efforts. They’re used to the idea of creating something and putting it up on the web for all to see, and new websites are springing up to capitalise on their work. Flash itself is becoming more powerful as a gaming platform. And, perhaps most importantly of all, the scene is at the centre of the rise of ‘casual’ gaming.

“The rise of quick pick-up-and-play games is an important development, and Flash games mirror their rise in mainstream gaming,” says John Bardinelli, contributor to casual gaming site Jayisgames.com. And because most web browsers can use Flash, playing a game through them is an effortless pleasure: “In the same way that short-form viral videos have taken off, I think we’re seeing the same things for web games,” says Jim Greer, co-founder of Kongregate.com.

“Digg has a section devoted to them, and 90 per cent are Flash. When one gets to the front page, the hits rocket – games three years ago never achieved the same levels of audience awareness.”

Such popularity is beginning to earn the game makers money. Newgrounds, which receives around 500,000 visitors a day with 200 game and animation submissions, each month awards the top ten contributors, as voted by users, $250. Kongregate, which was launched in December 2006 gives its game-makers a cut of up to 50 per cent of the ad revenue their games generate.