Can independent Java game developers make a buck (or two)?

My question concerns whether an independent developer creating Java games can make enough income to sustain themselves (and a family) in an age where there are millions of dollars spent on console and computer games, with huge teams of developers, artists, musicians, and others…

I’m starting on a path to write Java games and (hopefully) either sell them on the web or host a site that offers them for free at the expense of users having to deal with advertisements. Pretty standard stuff, I think.

It’s been my dream to write games for a long time, and I’m very excited to finally start. However, how realistic is my vision?

For any indy developers out there, please let me/us know your experiences in this department…

I am actually just doing the same. I discussed with some people from the gaming industry and some of them said, doing independent stuff on the PC is nonsense and one should better target XBox arcade or something similar on other consoles. I also got the advice not to quit my day job, since I can’t expect to earn enought (at first) to make a living from games. A common opinion seems to be, that you need more than one game to make a buck.

After pondering the options, I ignored the advice to target consoles to benefit from my java experience. I quit my job and became a J2EE freelancer to feed me and my family and will work on my game starting in january next year when the financial aid from the German Federal Employment Office begins, which one can apply for nine month once when you get self-employed. You should try to find out if something similar is available from your government.

Since I just started this I can’t answer your question, if you can make enough income as independent java game developer, but at least you know you are not alone :wink:

Congratulations cylab, that’s very admirable. It’s also very clever how you are being realistic about it with the freelance work and the govt aid.

Been doing it part-time since 2003. Income is currently a take-home of about £100 a month. To make a proper living I’d need to shift at least 10x as many units as I do currently. So we’re not a great example :confused: Maybe if we:

  1. Wrote games that looked and played more like everyone else’s
  2. Sold our customer base in return for money and put our games on portals
  3. Got a retail deal or two sorted
  4. Had any money to spend on marketing
  5. Wrote more games, more quickly

we’ll get there.

Cas :slight_smile:

Maybe a good target nowadays could be mobile device as mobile phone/PDA … and others.

Don’t know. Mobile games are IMHO overrated (at least I don’t play them ;)). I am currently pondering if STEAM publishing could be an option to reach a broader audience (>10million :o), but I haven’t looked into details yet. Anyone experience/knowledge in this area?

A way to make money from webgames is advertising + offering them through well established portals (like shockwave, miniclip, addictinggames etc). An example from a Java game that did this was Milpa done by Brackeen, he mentioned sometime ago he earned some more than 10.000$ using that approach. Doing on your own (without a gameportal) is very difficult and will require more than good development skills (its all about marketing).

Also when choosing Java for development and gameportals for distribution you’ll have a hard time convincing them… Nowadays most portals are a bit sceptic when it comes down to Java, and prefer flash or even shockwave :confused: You’ll really have to present something polished.

Ditto princec, I make around $100-200 per month from membership fees, but $150 go back out to pay for server costs. The rest is used towards self-sponsored tournaments. It’s all about the numbers… more players would mean more money…

[quote]An example from a Java game that did this was Milpa done by Brackeen, he mentioned sometime ago he earned some more than 10.000$ using that approach.
$10,000? I wish!

It’s been pretty steady income, but it’s nothing to live off of, and the total (since April 2007) is less than half of that amount.

My contract work pays the bills.

Since Puppygames started in 2003, we’ve made a total of something like $30,000 (and spent about $5,000 on hosting, tools, advertising, press releases, and other nicknacks). So Chaz and I have had to share about $25,000 between us over 4 years, less than we’d make sitting on the social. But then, we’ve been doing it part-time really - only 1 game a year, with 2 total failures amongst them. That’s another thing to factor in. A good game in your own humble opinion doesn’t necessarily sell.

Since we went fulltime this summer we’ve made a ton of progress on Treasure Tomb but now I’m so broke I’m having to return to work to get a bit of cash, so it’ll be delayed until Easter now. Bah. So critical mass is always going to be a carrot dangling just out of reach.

Cas :slight_smile:

princec - are any Puppygames on big distribution sites like RealArcade? Why or why not?

Ah my bad :-X
I was sure remembering this, so I looked it up and it turns out you mentioned it turned in a revenue with 4 digits, my volatile memory turned this into 10K :slight_smile:

So it seems there are no “true” success stories with a Java webgame yet (at least that I know off)

As a side note, I launched my own gameportal some years ago and had skillgames be an alternate source of income besides ads. But it turned out ads where way more profitable. If I’d give it another serious go I’d probably license my games to some big portals instead, maintaining my own gameportal (marketing, contracts, deals etc) and developing my own games at the same time proved too difficult, it involved too many tasks and patience.


To correct myself:

That is if you leave out Runescape, Pirates! and Bang Howdy and Tribal Trouble :smiley:

No - we tried Arcadetown as a taster but the experiment failed for four reasons:

  1. We had to produce special builds just for Arcadetown which was irritating as they wanted them to work slightly differently to our own versions. And Arcadetown are absolutely the least hassle and friendliest portal to work with there is.

  2. At the end of the day we realised that we weren’t growing our customer base, just making a little bit of cash. An internet business survives on its ability to remarket new products to existing customers; anyone writing games for portals will eventually come to realise this and be out of business and back to database work soon enough. Having said that our route is very slow…

  3. And a little bit of cash is all we made - literally under $100, despite spending several days working on making Titan Attacks builds for them. Sales were pitiful. And inexplicably so, as they sell just fine from our own site. The whole point of portals was for them to do the marketing and advertising, and it just didn’t work out that way. If you’re not in the top ten, you’re nothing.

  4. We don’t really write portal-friendly games. We do shooters for a start, which are the least popular genre.

I’m sure there are other reasons too but it all added up to one big Don’t Bother for us.

Cas :slight_smile:

Not specific to Java, but does mention a few Java games in there.

  • Jon

Mojang currently has one person working full time just on money made from Wurm players. We’re EXTREMELY independent.

We’re not filthy rich (yet), but there’s money coming in!

Well I’ve made a few bucks (more than $5000 actually) with Jack Flowers, from a gametrust contest last year but the game hasn’t been released yet (GT having been bought by a larger company).

Definitely not enough to live but a nice income nonetheless…

Lilian :slight_smile:

Runescape must make a small fortune. :wink: made about $8000 from advertisements since august 2005, so nowhere near enough to make a living. Admittedly, it hosts only 2 of my own games that are both not finished, salesworthy products (even though one of them, Hyper Blazer, is actually still quite popular).

Wurm Online has about 1100 paying customers, each paying €5/month. After various taxes and expenses, this is enough to sustain one full time developer.

I’m very happy for him, he’s doing a great job =)

Sorry to be blunt, but: if you’re not bothering with portals, then you’re shooting yourself in the head when it comes to making money. People who make reasonable money from indie casual games tend to aim to get their games on a minimum of 10-20 portals initially, more if the game does well.

I know it can be easier to get Flash onto some portals, but even with flash you routinely have to hack in/out features to satisfy each individual portal. Most people suck that down, whilst sticking another pin in the “I-hate-portals” voodoo doll on their desk.