Video game designers join the KongregationWith the E3 Media and Business Summit under way, the biggest video game developers in the industry are touting plenty of new product. But on a new Web site, the small fries who are shut out of the show are getting a place to show off their own casual games.
Until recently, there has been no equivalent of YouTube for games — a site where anybody can upload a game they have built, have it scrutinized by the public and perhaps make a name for themselves. Then came Kongregate.com. Gamers can find about 960 browser-based casual games on the site, the majority of them posted by amateur developers.
Kongregate.com has about 400 developers who on average have each posted two to three games. Each month, developers get a share of the site's revenue based on how many times their games were played and how tightly they integrate their games with the site. Bonuses also are doled out to those whose games receive the most votes from visitors to the site.
"The bonuses total about $8,000 a month, and the top game gets $1,500," says CEO Jim Greer, who co-founded the company with his sister, Emily. "It's difficult to say what the average developer receives. I mean, they're not all equally talented; some are really, really good, and some of them are, well, 12-year-olds."
This is Greer's 16th year in the industry, having been at Electronic Arts' Pogo.com for the past 41/2, most recently as technical director.
Kongregate.com formally entered its beta-testing phase at the end of March, and while no date has been set for its official launch, it already has attracted half a million monthly unique visitors. The average time they spend on the site is 40 minutes, for which they pay nothing to play.
"We're one heck of a great deal," Greer says, "especially when you consider that if you go to a site like Pogo.com — where there are also games and buddy lists and badges to collect — you pay $40 a year to subscribe."
In addition to playing games and voting for their favorites, visitors can create profiles, hook up with friends, engage in text chat and participate in challenges that earn them points and virtual collectibles.
Kongregate.com is entirely ad-supported, though Greer is mulling the idea of charging for micro-transactions. He admits that no developer is making a killing yet from the check they get from Kongregate.com.
"We're still a relatively small site," he says, "but we're growing. And when we get to 2 million-3 million monthly unique visitors, then we'll start to be interesting to brands that want to target their ads to a young male market."
Greg Costikyan is well aware of Kongregate.com. He is CEO of Manhattan-based Manifesto Games, a two-year-old site that also shares its revenue with developers. Manifesto appeals to a more hardcore gaming audience and relies not on advertising but on the sale of its downloadable indie titles.
"What Kongregate.com is doing makes a certain degree of sense in terms of potentially giving exposure to games that otherwise might not get that exposure," he says. "But I don't think that is a viable business model for developers. The kind of per-user revenue resulting from an advertising-supported model is pretty slim."
Essentially, he concludes, Manifesto is trying to create for games what the indie music and film markets provide for their industry. "We hope to create a viable ecosystem so that these talented developers can not necessarily get rich but at least make a living," Costikyan says. "All they want to do is pursue their kind of individual creative vision within the field instead of spending extended hours in some big publisher's sweatshop working on better road textures or something. That's not why most of us got into the games industry to begin with."