Even the diversity among Flash enthusiasts has taken something of a hit; originally the self-styled Flash community saw animators and web designers congregate alongside the game developers. "When the community was focused on the technology specifically, it wasn't just made up of game people," says Iain Lobb, of indie development studio Dull Dude Games. "There were experiments and art projects – people just wanted to see what the technology could do. That side of things has died down a bit. There is a nostalgia about it. Flash used to be cool! And now, no one thinks it's cool. But in terms of games the numbers are up."
And the games are a cut above what they used to be, too. There's still plenty of dross, of course, because the barrier to entry is so low – indeed, that remains a major source of Flash's popularity. But as the means of making money from browser games has matured so has the competition sharpened.
Rich Davey, technical director at Aardman Digital, has been moonlighting as a webgame developer under the name of Photonstorm for several years, and says the change has been dramatic, both in terms of the products and the teams making them: "It's got a lot more professional. Flash games five years ago were a bit of a joke really. There were a few break-out successes, but the majority of them were adver-games and not particularly good ones at that. But these days, the kind of games you make now have to be so much better; it's a lot harder to get noticed because there's so much more competition."
"There's still room for an individual to make a name for themselves, but there are a lot more companies behind the games now," says Matthew Annal, managing director of Nitrome – a developer extremely familiar to The Friday Game. "You don't have to go too far back to find mostly individuals making the games. Originally there were just two of us. Our background was in making Flash games for clients, but we realised we could make games for ourselves and sell licences, then as the site grew, we made more money off advertising – and now there's 14 of us."
What was once a Flash development scene in a pure sense has merged with the language- and platform-agnostic indie dev scene. Flash still remains at the heart of webgame development, however, and the money and competition to be found there has driven standards and swelled development teams. This burgeoning professionalism comes as a result of the webgaming scene settling into an unusually equitable economic groove, serving the freewheeling indie talent with multiple means of making a steady income. In tomorrow's instalment, we'll examine just how the webgaming scene makes its money and in what quantities – you may just be surprised.
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