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August 03, 2007

Making serious cash off casual web games

Casualcollective_2 David Scott is living a game designer's dream. Seven months ago he created a popular online game called Flash Element TD, in which you build towers to kill creeps before they reach the end of a maze. The game has been played more than 40 million times. The success of his hit game led him to build two games exclusively for Wrigley’s Candystand – Circle TD and the highly-addictive Vector TD. Scott would not disclose how much he was paid for building the two games, but says it was “a significant amount," and certainly enough to let him quit his job as a programming consultant and provide seed funding for his gaming startup, Casual Collective

Scott convinced a fellow programmer friend, Paul Preece, to do the same. Two months after Flash Element came out, Preece built a more popular version called Desktop TD, which has raked in more than $15,000 in ad revenue, and quit his job too. Last month the tower defense duo joined forces to start Casual Collective, which will be a social networking site where users play multiplayer flash games.

A beta version was just released this week in which players get to create groups and join games while comparing each other's scores. Scott saw an explosion of web games, but very few sites dedicated to building multiplayer flash games. "We see this hole, and we're hoping to fill it," he says. Seems promising so far. The site registers 500 new users daily (with virtually no marketing) and the game's not even in beta yet. So how did these two British programmers quickly build a cult following in the online gaming world?

Vectortd3_2 Their programming background helped popularize their games. While the graphics of the TD games admittedly aren't great, cool features like a leaderboard is what keep players hooked. "A lot of people are coming at flash games from a design side. We've approached it from the programming side," Scott says. "It allows us to create more sophisticated games."

One way both Scott and Preece stand out with their TD games is by embedding a group scoreboard and hosting their games on their own site. There's more at stake when there's a personal scoreboard or a group leaderboard, which adds a community element to the game. "A lot of games we see built in flash are standalone games. Designers often don't have that second language to make use of a scoreboard or website," Preece says.

They deliberately release a game before it’s finished. Both Scott and Preece modified and updated their games as users tested it and gave them feedback. Expect Casual Collective to not be fully formed when it comes out. “I released my games knowing full well that there’s stuff I still want to do,” Scott says. Many designers make the mistake of sending their low-budget flash game into the wild as a final product. By taking the extra step to update the game, it becomes more attractive for users to come back and try a new, improved version. Preece made three versions of Desktop TD since he released it in March, and the last two revisions each had more than 23 million plays.

There's nothing wrong with trying to improve on an existing product. Preece was inspired to build Desktop TD after he played Scott’s Flash Element TD. Scott was inspired to design his game after playing Tower Defense mods within a game called Warcraft III. He created Flash Element TD because he saw a niche for playing browser-based defense tower games. "We're seeing a big burst of new content," Scott says. "Before we saw people making copies of Pac-Man and shoot 'em up games, but we're now seeing designers push ideas and technology of flash games."


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Great writeup! Congrats to David and Paul for their recent successes. It's great to see guys making Flash games get some recognition as the industry is quickly evolving.

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