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in Filmmaking
on Jul 12, 2009

I’m making my way through Chris Anderson’s Free, which I’d like to finish before posting thoughts on it and the current discussion of free pay models for content creators. (In order to most meaningfully connect with the deep content of the book, I am reading it for free — or, rather, listening to it for free in the downloadable audio book linked to from Anderson’s site.) But Anderson’s colleague at Wired magazine, Kevin Kelly, just linked to a great article that’s relevant to filmmakers whether or not you subscribe to all the tenets of Free, so I’m going to link to that now too.

The post is by Danc over at Lost Garden, a blog devoted to issues surrounding game design. In a piece entitled “Flash Love Letter (2009), Part One,” Danc discusses the challenge facing the creators of Flash games, a rapidly growing section of the online gaming market in which players are accustomed to getting their game fix for free. In this early section he details the problems stemming from this:

Only cockroaches survive without money.

It doesn’t matter much raw talent you possess. With the right support, you could be the next Miyamoto. Sorry, not important. All that really matters is that you possess what I call the ‘cockroach gene’. Can you churn out ‘good enough games’ and survive if your games repeatedly fail to make money?

The following are survival strategies employed by successful Flash developers:

Be a full time student: This is the dominant category of Flash developers.

Live in a socialist country: I’m looking at you, Scandinavians.

Have (rich) family that will support you: I’ve met folks that do this but it is uncommon.

Starve for your art: The Jason Rohrers of the world are also rather rare.

If any of these fit, congratulations. You are in the small percentage of developers that have the financial support necessary to be a Flash game developer. Everyone else, thousands upon thousands of talented developers, fall in a category called ‘churn’. They can’t even survive on ramen and passion. So they move on to richer markets or leave game development behind forever.
Such a loss. Such an incredible waste. I’d guess we are losing 95% of our best Flash games because the people with the talent to make great games find the Flash market financially untenable.

The article goes on to detail ways in which game creators can monetize their work beyond the punitive metrics of ad-based models. It’s got charts and fancy graphs and a lot of good advice about when and how to ask for money from an audience that lives in the marketplace of free. Substitute “filmmakers” for “game creators” and at least half the material here is still great advice, even more so if you are marketing your work online or, especially, creating trans-media projects. Dan promises part two in a few days, and I’ll make sure to link to it.

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