Chris Benjaminsen bares all about his astonishing social games experiment
"I am not a smart man", insisted Chris Benjaminsen at the end of a remarkable tale on how he built a game, in his spare time, which now makes about $10,000 per month.
The crowd laughed.
Benjaminsen (pictured) went on to explain why he doesn’t think he’s always so smart, despite the incredible success of his Flash game experiment.
The crowd laughed again, but this time louder, and not at the irony.
But before that is the whole story, which Benjaminsen recounted today at the 2011 Flash Gaming Summit, in what could feasibly be remembered as the best lecture of the event.
It began with eye-popping facts.
Benjaminsen’s game, Everybody Edits, has accumulated around 250k registered users in seven months. That equates to 11.2 million individual games sessions, 33.5 million levels played, and a fan forum that grows by 2,000 posts per day.
Since monetising Everybody Edits, it has made over $39,000, at a rate of about $10,000 per month.
“These guys are crazy for the game”, Benjaminsen said, though the best demonstration of the fans’ zeal was yet to come.
Everybody Edits is a unique and openly-distributed maze-based platformer. At times it resembles a mix between the old Gauntlet games and the 2D level complexity of VVVVVV.
The game allows anyone to either edit worlds or simply play them together, in a similar model to a Wikipedia page (where people can either read or make changes).
Benjaminsen initially didn’t have any high hopes for the project. But he prototyped the idea with a close-knit group of friends, over Skype, and their reaction was so strong he felt he just might be onto something.
Quickly he built a rudimentary version of the game and published it on Flash gaming portal Newgrounds. It was well received. Now more people were thinking he was onto something.
The hook for Everybody Edits, like Minecraft it would seem, is that it allowed people to define their own experience more freely.
“People need to have an identity in a game,” Benjaminsen said. “People need something in there to feel unique, be special.”
He was still only building the game in his spare time, usually on weekends, yet people joined in their hundreds. Benjaminsen said he would irregularly build on his project, adding new ways to manipulate the levels. In return, more people showed an interest.
Popularity began to have its own issues, he said whilst half-joking (or possibly not) that he spent around thirty-minutes on developing the game’s back-end – a decision that would backfire as people complained about server issues.
Soon after improving server stability, Benjaminsen felt his experiment was ready to discover monetisation.
This is, of course, bearing in mind that the top social games developers today – such as Playfish – insist a developer should never retroactively apply monetisation models to games already made. Many are adamant that developers need to work out a payment system before writing a single line of code.
Benjaminsen went the opposite way. His first punt was a donations policy. “I just liked the idea of them,” he said.
And on the first day, he made $48.30.
On the seventeenth day a single fan donated $100, but that was the largest spike on the initial donations graph.
So Benjaminsen adopted a ‘donations for rewards’ framework – something which crowd-funded projects are often built on.
The avatar in Everybody Edits was once a red dot that would traverse the levels. Benjaminsen thought that donations could allow people to essentially buy new avatars – allowing them to modify their identity as well as the levels they play.
Now people could buy different types of ‘Smileys’ – those generally obnoxious yellow-faced characters that, due to their diversity, nevertheless seemed ideal for a Flash game like Everybody Edits.
And on the first day, he made $112.
This was still not a particularly serious project, Benjaminsen said. He revealed he had to manually take payments and provide rewards as there was yet an automated system in place. That would change soon as more and more people began to pay for unique content.
The next step was to build a Beta package. The fun of Everybody Edits is that people can create their own worlds to play in, Benjamin said. And now, for just $10, they could save their creations to a server and download them whenever they wanted.
And on the first day, he made $300.
Benjaminsen pointed out that the transaction model had not grown because of any significant rise in popularity.
“Roughly the same amount of people had been paying,” he said. “It’s just that now they were paying more.”
Soon, micropayments were added. New Smileys in exchange for cash. This was spread across numerous payment options, from Kongregate credits to PayPal.
“I used MafiaWars as my model,” Benjaminsen said of this stage in the experiment. “You had a free currency and a pay currency”.
Players could either play for points to buy, or buy them outright. “One dollar roughly equalled one day’s play,” he said.
Soon there were $2 Smileys, $5 Smileys, $10 Smileys.
“And the first response we got was people saying ‘that’s great, we want more’. I was just testing really, this was an experiment.”
So out came the next Smiley, dubbed the ‘Big spender’, yours for $50.
“We sold seven in the first hour,” he said.
“That’s a 16x16 pixel Smiley I sold for $50.”
And on the first day, he made $1,152.
“There’s a misconception that microtransactions that they are still thought of as small transactions. That’s simply not true,” he said. “People spend $10, $20 and more on Microtransactions”.
Benjaminsen said key to success was giving players a choice in what they thought was valuable.
This was still, remarkably, a part-time experiment. After Christmas Benjaminsen stopped working on the game, the revenues fell significantly.
“I was just too busy,” he said.
“So one Thursday, a month later, I added some stuff in.”
And on that day, he made over $1400.
“When new things happen, people will inevitably talk about it, and that’s something that goes viral pretty quickly within your audience,” he explained.
Everybody Edits finally caught up on Benjaminsen. It started making $10,000 per month, and soon he began to dedicate more time to it.
Key to the game’s success, he said, was how it allows people to play together – something which enhances the need to build an in-game identity.
“I personally believe that’s why I sold a $50 Smiley, because people could show it off to each other. People need to have an identity in a game, people need something in there to feel unique and be special,” he said.
Chris Benjaminsen is the co-founder of Player.IO.
“What we have decided is that we want to help other people get started. We think there’s real value in Flash gaming, so we want to offer people advice and talk to other developers,” he said.
“We are also offering investment to get people started,” he added, before displaying his email address – Chris@player.io – onto his final PowerPoint slide.
“But I’m not a smart man,” he concluded just minutes before a well-deserved applause from the packed room.
“No honestly, I’m not.
“Just for fun, we told our community that they would get a free and unique Smiley if they sent postcards to my home address. I suppose I forgot at the time how many unique users we had.”
“And on the first day, we got 57….”