Flash gaming: Trouble ahead?

Flash gaming: Trouble ahead?

Flash gaming: Trouble ahead?

Listen to some and it would seem Flash dies every few years. The development platform was said to be on its last legs when Unity swaggered onto the scene, and not long for this world when Apple petulantly cast the technology from its many i-devices. Its latest killer? HTML5, so it has been reported. Terminator-like, Flash stalks on.

As we discovered on Tuesday, the figures are pretty healthy for a Flash webgame success. Nonetheless, the upper limits are modest in comparison to the iPhone market, in which the occasional canny developer can become a millionaire overnight. You'd think Apple's market would easily eclipse the other.

"It's going to be impossible to make a million on a [webgame] sponsorship," admits Chris Hughes, co-founder of Flash Game License. "I hate to say that. Maybe there would be a weird, crazy circumstance – but I'm going to say it's impossible. It's been proven, multiple times, to be possible on the iPhone market."

Matthew Annal, managing director of prolific webgame dev Nitrome, breaks it down further: "When you're talking about the browser, you are talking about getting a thousand people to play your game to make a dollar. But if you got one person to buy your app on iPhone, you've made 69p straight away. So the potential if you have a big hit on the iPhone is much greater than on the browser."

And yet, while there's a clear interest among Flash developers in becoming disgustingly rich by way of the App Store, the iPhone hasn't heralded a massive webgame diaspora. The rewards may be higher on smartphone, but the risks are too – with many a game disappearing without a trace.

"There are so many iPhone games that flop and you never hear about," says Iain Lobb of Dull Dude Games. "But with Flash games it's easier to make money on a flop, and it's quicker to produce. I made a small webgame called Owl Spin. It wasn't my greatest achievement, but I still made money by selling it to a sponsor. And I realised that if that's what I can do in two weeks, I should take it more seriously."

Dull Dude Games' Owl Spin, made in a couple of weeks

The choice isn't either/or, of course, and many developers use Flash as a testbed for mechanics before porting them to the iPhone.

"It's a great proving ground for whether your game is successful on iPhone," says Hughes. "If your game gets 100 million views in Flash – and we've seen this several times – you need to port it. You need to put it somewhere else. It needs to be in a different market. Berzerk Studio made one particular game called Homerun In Berzerk Land, and later changed the name to Berzerk Ball. They released it in Flash. It did awesome, and still does awesome. So they ported it to iOS and it did great there too. I'm pretty sure they made more [money] on iPhone than in Flash, but they would never have known they had a popular game if they hadn't put the browser game together in a month. They could have spent a year making an iPhone game and watch it flop. You can make a pretty fleshed out prototype in Flash in a month, sell it for $20,000, see the popularity of it, and then port it over. And if you see it fail, you've still made $20,000."