Design Notes

MONEY

Posted by on 31 comments

It makes the world go 'round or so they say. There are a lot of things that are more important than money but you do need a lot of it to keep a game company going. 

What Dumb People Think


I'm not rich. I'm not poor either but I lease a Nissan Quest minivan (UPDATE: after this post I traded the Quest in for a 2010 Prius to save on gas), I don't own a Lamborghini. I still haven't paid off my student loans. My wife makes clothes for my kids or gets them from the thrift shop or yard sales. If any of our clothes come off the rack, they come off the clearance rack at Target and I'm still broke at the end of the month. 

When I was working on AQW there was always a very vocal group of people who thought that I (somehow) personally took home all the money from every AC spent in the game. That I just slept on a bed made of cash. The truth of the matter is that I didn't even get a percentage of AC sales. I work on a fixed salary regardless of how well AQW did or did not do. 

I'm not telling you this to get you to take pity on me. I'm telling you what things are really like to try and dispel any illusions that any of us are getting rich off of any of you. 

I know it's easy to look at the money that Minecraft or Flappy Bird raked in and think that if you make games, you get rich. But you need to remember that there are literally THOUSANDS of games, maybe TENS of THOUSANDS of games, released every year and almost all of them make no money at all. 

SO, where does all that money from Memberships, ACs, DragonCoins, Battle Gems Founder &c go? It goes back into the games. It goes toward paying as many people as AE can to work on the games because without developers, there's no game. I know a lot of people would do this job for free (myself included) but it's nice not having to get another job to support my family so I can try to find time to make games on the side. Very little would get done that way. AE is also very good to its employees so we have very decent medical insurance which is not cheap even for a company as small as ours. 

The money goes into the costs of running the games. The servers required for the amount of traffic that our games get are not cheap and they are ALWAYS on. 

The money goes into bandwidth. Every time you complete a quest, equip an item, pick a new hair color, say Hi or even move... a small bit of data is sent to the servers, then sent from the servers back to everyone in your room so they can see that you said HI or moved an inch. There are thousands of people playing AQW so every one of those little data transfers add up quickly. Our bandwidth bill is unbelievable... but if we don't pay it... you can't play. 

The money goes into advertising. Back in the early days of AQ Classic, the internet was a very different place. There were very few web games so getting people to come and play was cheap and everyone came to play. Now things are different. There are social media sites and a million other games to play online not to mention so many people heading to the consoles and mobile and leaving the web. The price of traffic has grown so much that we can't even afford to advertise in the the major markets where we once swam freely.

Traffic is tricky but I'll try to explain. AQW is a free to play game. Yes, there are significant advantages for people who want to support the game with a Membership or even buying ACs but the game is still free for anyone out there who wants to make an account. Of course most people won't pay for something unless they have to so 98% of every character ever created has never spent a single cent on the game. If you take the 2% that have paid something and the 98% that have not and average them out, you get a very, very, very low Average Revenue Per User (ARPU). 

WARNING: MATH AHEAD: If you take the money that you spend on getting traffic (let's say $100) and the number of new users that you got from that traffic (let's say 10 new users), you can find how much you are paying per sign-up (100/10 = You just paid $10 for each new user). If the ARPU (Let's say $0.02) is less than what you're paying per new user ($10 per new user) ... you're losing money ($0.02 < $10). 

There is organic traffic (as opposed to paid traffic) that comes from people telling their friends over twitter and Facebook (which is why you see so many games with viral components... they are trying to get organic traffic without paying for it) but you can't count on it. It's rarely very effective unless you make freakin' Portal and EVERYONE is talking about it. 

Here's the thing about traffic. People leave the game ALL the time and since the players are the ones funding the game, if we don't get more players in... the game dries up. 

So making a game, and keeping it alive is very expensive and all the money that you pay AE goes back into the games (except HeroMart items. Those go back into making new HeroMart items). We're not getting rich off you guys. We're just making ends meet THANKS to you guys. We don't have a big name game company throwing money at us like a lot of places. We survive almost ENTIRELY off of you (we get some help from ads and AExtras but it doesn't really even make a dent in our expenses). That's part of why it cheeses me off so badly when someone asks for free stuff. They are essentially asking to be given a chunk of what YOU paid for, and when I say no they just let me know how greedy I am being. 

SO, when I say thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for making it possible for us to keep making games for you... i could not mean it more. I hope what I said helps you understand how much I mean that. AE is YOUR company. You built it and you keep it alive. Thank you.

Sorry Comments are now closed for this post.
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grayfoxrunning
grayfoxrunning: Very well said my friend. Just think, if we all keep this site going, someday it will be so big that other game sights and companies will be beating the door down just to get in. You think your working hard now; Just you wait.
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Kokujoe
Kokujoe: First of all, kudos to you for giving any aspirant a reality check! Secondly, I felt really touched after coming to know about how difficult it actually is even for a game developer such as you to make ends meet and the hardships you face even as of now. Finally thanks for enlightening me about the "traffic", I had no clue that you guys were actually paying up for players beforehand for them to enjoy the game! And if luckily some chap did decide to spend, then most of it went straight back to the game. But even through this, you guys have always put us the players on number one priority for which I couldn't be more grateful about it than this. So let me take this oppurtunity to thank you "Big Guy" for all the years of effort you and the entire team have put-in to all of the AE games and I look forward to helping in which ever way possible.
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Dage's Legionnaire
Dage's Legionnaire: Well I will always be here. I have been here for about seven years, might as well spend a few more.
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dragonmaker
dragonmaker: i have been with you guys for 7 years and have a membership in all your games... and i wanna pay even more now i never knew how hard it is to keep a game running let alone 6 or 7 ill keep supporting you in all years to come (ps i hate when people say your greedy after they just asked for free things, it makes me livid)
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kimikt
kimikt: ahhhh my ac is 56 im dont have monye to buy legion token ahhh
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Masterandrew
Masterandrew: This is a really big reality check. I can count out how I spent at least a few hundred dollars on AE and thinking about how good of a supporter I was being towards you guys. But now, reading this, I didn't even take into consideration the other expenses you have to pay just to keep the game going. Thank you for your work, Cysero.
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SMGS
SMGS: What is the budget for the armors and swords around the lab. And how much expenses go into paying for Artix's antics, such as smashing windows?
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Cysero
Cysero: The armors and weaponry around the lab was all bought by the individuals who work here with their personal funds. None of it was bought on the company dime. The window, contrary to the way that Artix brilliantly edited the video, broke mysteriously and he filmed himself breaking apart the pre-shattered window. The scene where the window was was whole was filmed after it was replaced and edited in reverse order. I'm still surprised how many people fall for that. How the window shattered overnight with nobody here is still a mystery.
SMGS
SMGS: Haha! Well you guys are saving money by not hiring people to take it down for you, I guess. Re-watched that part of the video in 0.25 speed just to take a closer look at that.
DerpSonic
DerpSonic: Your very welcome Cysero, and thank YOU! This is very enlightening indeed. By the way, mean profile picture!
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Primerose05
Primerose05: OMG you have got to give me some of that Cysero, plzz i will give u anything(well not my only pair of water dracolich wings)
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SamX
SamX: Thinking about it, could you guys make an offline game? it would be nice once in a while. It's okay if I need to purchase it, I mean, when it's awesome, it's awesome, but I actually like a simple single-player turn based RPG style games that you guys made, like mechquest, AQ, Dragonfable. It's ashame that my net just couldn't handle the lagness when I play AQW(I just went there monthly to spin the wheel and purchase AC rare items on the lobby shop, or force myself to play friday the 13th). It's great if you could read my comment and took some time to think about it(2 seconds is alright). So could you please make a simple RPG for Offline computers, or a 2D side project for the mobile device(on second thought something simple like AQ classic with a lighter art style is nice to be played with on my phone). Thank you.
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LordHeisinger
LordHeisinger: This Grand Paladin High Lord thanks you and all the other paid and non-paid workers for all the time, effort, blood, sweat, and tears you give to make this game and all the other games. /Salute
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Rui.
Rui.: Free to play games are meant to be free to play.. Companies with millions of dollars like NCSoft can afford to make a truly free to play game where do not care if they incur losses by making a game truly free to play cause they have tons of other games jucing cash... You guys insult free to play games. Its more like either support the game or we will shut it down..
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Cysero
Cysero: "Its more like either support the game or we will shut it down.." Yes, it's pretty much exactly like that. It's like a car and you guys pay for the gas because you get to ride in it. If you stop paying for gas, the car eventually stops moving. We're no NCsoft but no, even companies with millions won't run a truly free-to-play game without any option to pay for something because they are a gaming company (like very other gaming company) and they do that for a living.
Mukhamad Rizal
Mukhamad Rizal: Awesome,Cysero.
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Swindle
Swindle: I think what AE does as far as upgrades and special offers is a really good way to keep people playing even if sometimes the prices may seem outrageous. I always have to tell my friends the prices are like that for a reason. I like the way AE advertises its special offers and upgrades. I'm happy it's not like wizard101 where they literally make you pay to egt into extra areas and it's a so called "free-to-play" game. AE is what made me quit wizard101. Thanks AE.... :D
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angel7090695001
angel7090695001: Yeah, I don't like Wizard101 because of that and it's subscription based.
luna soulfire
luna soulfire: Meh. I'm not going anywhere. I've been paying for all of AE's games since 2004. i don't anticipate stopping anytime soon even at my age (38) of course almost all of my money is exclusive to AQWorlds now. also bought founder on battle gems and dragons. still pay for Oversoul etc. It's cool to see stuff posted like this, however, I am getting tired of you always having to post stuff like this. you guys don't need to prove anything to anybody. Keep making the games and I'll keep paying for them. simple as that. Cheers!
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alson
alson : Well...... it's very pleasing to read this amazing article Cysero made. I only wish I could do more to support AE as the die hard! Dragonfable and Adventure Quest Worlds player that I am. Living in the Caribbean makes it reaaallly hard to buy membership, ACs, dragon coins, ect. All in all i'd like to close by saying thank you for using the money i'm spending in positive ways and being put to good use by making my favorite online game. Shout out!! to the AE staff and company for doing a great job!
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TheOriginalFive
TheOriginalFive: Well, I can see where you're coming from, but I have one more question: Does what AQWorlds make ALSO support your other games, being the biggest celeb portal besides being a game too? Just a yes or no will suffice.
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Cysero
Cysero: Yes. A few of the games don't make enough to support themselves and the money to supplement them has to come from somewhere so it's an additional strain on AQW.
TheOriginalFive
TheOriginalFive: I thought as much about AQW supporting the other games. Now, hypothetically, if you had more than enough resources to spare to reuse the HeroSmash characters (Demolicious, DaVinci, etc.) in a minigame, and if you knew the redesigns (should you redraw them in a conventional anime style) would be a guaranteed hit, would you do it? Okay, I actually had a lot of questions, but I'm not so bitter now that I'm starting my own business.
TheOriginalFive
TheOriginalFive: I thought as much about AQW supporting the other games. Now, hypothetically, if you had more than enough resources to spare to reuse the HeroSmash characters (Demolicious, DaVinci, etc.) in a minigame, and if you knew the redesigns (should you redraw them in a conventional anime style) would be a guaranteed hit, would you do it? Okay, I actually had a lot of questions, but I'm not so bitter now that I'm starting my own business.
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