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Designing Flash Games for Fun and Profit

Will Alexander | 21 Sep 2011 15:00
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Meet the Developers

Sarah Northway's Rebuild is one of FGL's success stories, and not just for the developer. When TwoTowersGames.com sponsored her city-management-meets-zombie-apocalypse mashup Rebuild in early 2011, it saw an exponential rise in traffic, from 5000 unique visitors in December 2010 to nearly 150,000 in February and March 2011. That's roughly a 3,000 percent increase.

"Generally, I put in at least 40 hours a week. Sometimes I have to force myself to actually take a weekend," Stradwick says.

Northway received a hefty chunk from TwoTowers, as well as several thousand dollars from contests and ad revenue from other sites. Together with her husband, another game developer, she's living the kind of life many designers dream about. She's doing exactly what she wants to do professionally (currently that's working on Rebuild 2), and she's traveling around the world. Northway and her husband live in countries like Thailand, Honduras, Japan, and Scotland for two to three months at time.

Northway says she'll typically work most of the day, taking breaks to explore and soak up the local culture at lunch and by night. Finding an internet connection can sometimes be a challenge, but the whole experience is very enjoyable and cheaper than living full-time in San Francisco, Northway says. "Indie developers are very flexible, and many of us could work from anywhere, so why not from a tropical paradise?" Northway says.

Regardless of where you live, designing Flash games for a living is still a lot of work. Just ask Daniel Stradwick, a full-time Flash designer based in Melbourne, Australia. In 2007, he released Monster's Den, a top-down, dungeon-exploring RPG. He's been working on the series since. His sequel, Monster's Den: Book of Dread, has been played more than 21 million times, and two more titles are in the works.

Stradwick spent close to six months putting together Book of Dread. He's already spent more than a year on the forthcoming sequel. "Generally, I put in at least 40 hours a week. Sometimes I have to force myself to actually take a weekend," Stradwick says. Sometimes these long hours can mean working all night and sleeping during the day. "I like the peacefulness and the large block of uninterrupted time you get that way," Stradwick says, and sometimes he'll work business hours so he can spend evenings with his girlfriend.

The game industry has noticed Monster's Den's success. In 2008 Stradwick received a call from the head of EA2D, a studio owned by Electronic Arts, asking Stradwick if he wanted to work on a Flash-based tie-in to Dragon Age:Origins, one of the largest, most anticipated games of 2009. Stradwick led a small team to produce Dragon Age Journeys, a three-part action-RPG that stood on its own and helped promote the original Dragon Age.

Stradwick enjoyed the opportunity and might consider doing similar work in the future, but he's not about to stop working with Flash any time soon. "I'm designing and building my own games exactly as I want them," Stradwick says. "That's a situation that's almost impossible to reach in the traditional games industry, even after paying your dues with many years of gruntwork."

Not all Flash game designers work from their homes or from a tropical paradise. A lot of them work from an office. The 11 employees of IriySoft design Flash-based and mobile phone games while working together, attending daily meetings, following group timelines, and dealing with other routines associated with a normal day job. The larger team size and standard procedures allow for an efficient workflow; the company has produced more than 100 games in the past five years.

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