Successful Flash game developers Paul Preece and David Scott have launched Casual Collective, a new free-to-play social gaming site, and have received $1 million in funding from investment firm Lightspeed Venture Partners.
Responsible for the popular "tower defense" games Desktop Tower Defense and Flash Element TD, Preece and Scott originally launched the site last December in what they describe to Gamasutra as "stealth mode." The relaunch introduces a variety of social networking features as well as several new titles.
"We've rebuilt it from the ground up, and we've spread our content over several servers," Scott tells Gamasutra in an interview conducted prior to the announcement.
"Our goal with the new site is to enhance the social features that did well, to create better and stronger games, and this time not lock them to the site but let people take them and post them all over the internet."
Pushing The Business Model
Flash games have perhaps the most decentralized distribution of any gaming segment, since they can be easily embedded into any webpage in their original form.
Rather than attempting to fight that reality, Preece and Scott are embracing it by strengthening the links between embedded games and their own site, and by exploring optional paid content, such as is common in the growing Asian free-to-play market.
Preece explains: "We hope to use the games themselves as an advert for the site, much the same way as the normal sponsor would, but we have a very high level of integration with the games and the site. You'll be able to arrange multiplayer games and tournament, and so on. There will be additional content available only on our site, and some content that can only be purchased."
He points to a real-time strategy game called Minions, which offers additional paid units and a "pro pack" of features, but added that not all games will incorporate paid content. Price points could fall in the neighborhood of $2-5, he suggests.
In multiplayer games, for example, such content need not give undue gameplay advantage. "Status is one of the easiest things to sell," says Preece.
"Even just giving somebody an extra icon next to their unit -- people will pay for that. On the old site, we saw a lot of gifting of upgrades. We've ended up with people who have spend three or four hundred dollars over the course of a year."
"You don't have to create particularly large games to do this; you've got to create good games," he argues, "as long as you price to what the people are going to be buying."
One of the most rewarding parts of Preece and Scott's current jobs -- which allowed them to move from being hobbyist game developers to full-time game developers -- has been the freedom that comes with small-scale design of successful titles. Preece's Desktop Tower Defense has exceeded 70 million downloads, and Scott's Flash Elements TD has doubled that.
"It's very much like the early 80s," says Preece of the current Flash game design scene. "Not requiring a publisher gives you immense freedom to do whatever you want, and the spread of games across the internet is so fast now."
Though games tied to social networking sites are often seen as the next big thing, Preece thinks Flash games still have broader appeal. "People go on about Facebook, but I defy a Facebook game to spread as fast as a normal internet game does," he says. "Both of our games reached millions of people across a day or two."
"And the capabilities of Flash games are now approaching that of full download games," adds Scott, referencing more traditionally-distributed casual games such as those published by PopCap.
But despite the increasingly glitzy presentation, he stresses that clean, simple design is still paramount in casual games: "You build a sandbox out of a few simple rules, and the gameplay flows from that."