Flash is dying. For many gamers who grew up with flash games, this is sad news. Even worse, there's a whole section of the industry feeling the effects of Adobe's decision to discontinue this service. Flash gaming are games running on Adobe Flash, and there are thousands upon thousands of these games. Dozens of websites are dedicated to hosting flash developers' games, including ArmorGames, Kongregate, and the legendary Newgrounds.
Many flash game websites are finding new ways to survive and thrive within the industry. Kongregate, for example, is now a publisher and creator of Kartridge, a digital distribution platform akin to Steam. Former Flash developers are finding ways to adapt too. Toge Productions, creator of the highly popular flash games Infectionator and Necronator, has now moved on to creating games for Steam and publishing titles, too. Having invested a serious amount of time during my childhood playing these games (including Toge Productions' titles), I wanted to see for myself how industry insiders are adapting to the fall of Flash.
I talked with Toge Productions owner Kris Antoni Hadiputra on his origins in the Flash industry and how his company adapted to the market.
Toge Production's Origins in the Industry
The Indonesian-based studio Toge Productions came to be in 2009. Hadiputra started the studio with a friend of his, both of whom were fresh graduates from university. After seeing a Flash game development competition with a $1,000 prize—something much needed for a recent graduate—Hadiputra and his friend decided to participate.
"In the end, we didn’t win," he said, "but it opened our eyes to the world of Flash games. Shortly after that competition we both quit our jobs and started making Flash games full time."
The road was bumpy to start, as Hadiputra fully admits that their earlier games were "disasters." These games were made in mere weeks, but learning from player feedback was essential and allowed Toge to improve and gain experience in the field.
"It was on our third game, Infectonator, that we made our big break," he said . "Infectonator received great reviews and was featured prominently on Newgrounds, even earning the spot of Highest Rated Game of All Time at the time. We then made several iterations of Infectonator and a spin-off that becomes Necronator."
Hadiputra credits some of his team's success to Newgrounds and Kongregate having daily and weekly spotlights which highlighted the best flash games as determined and rated by players. Kongregate also offered cash prizes for the top games—this was during a time when Flash gaming was a more lucrative trade. Of course, Flash gaming is a business. Despite these games being completely free to play, money had to be made. Like modern websites today and any form of media that's free, revenue is gained from ads, sponsorships, and the like.
"There’s a website called FGL (Flash Game License) that helps facilitate game developers and publishers/advertisers to meet and make deals," said Hadiputra. "You can even get upfront funding to develop your games. So it provided a great ecosystem for young game developers like us to sharpen our skills through fast iterations. We also got to fulfill our dreams of becoming game developers full time."
Toge Productions on Adapting After Flash's Decline
Adobe's Flash survived for years, but it wasn't going to last.
"In 2012, after Steve Jobs announced that Apple will not be supporting Flash in their iPhones," Hadiputra said, "Flash sponsorship and ads started to dry up. So we had to find a new way to survive. We started porting our games to mobile, and in 2013 when Valve announced Steam Greenlight, we jumped right in."
This was devastating news to many developers, and Hadiputra was candid in saying that Toge Productions was "on the verge of shutting down" as the sponsorships and ads became less and less common. Even though mobile games seemed like a new frontier, and indeed continues to thrive to this day, it was more difficult to get into than Flash at the time.
"We couldn’t get funding from mobile publishers," said Hadiputra, "and the process to publish your game to mobile was a lot more painful and time-consuming. Steam Greenlight, even though it was not perfect, was a lot more forgiving."
As he mentioned, Toge ported games over to mobile. Now, though, the company is fully dedicated to releasing titles on Steam such as the upcoming early access title Necronator: Dead Wrong and the soon-to-be-released Coffee Talk. Developing for Steam versus Flash is something quite different and took a great deal of adapting on Toge's part in order to be successful.
"When making Flash games we don’t think much about marketing and just focus on making the actual game (make the gameplay fun, polish the art, etc)," said Hadiputra. "The reason for this is because sites such as Newgrounds, Armor Games, and Kongregate show recently submitted games on their site and will feature the best game of the week or day based on the user rating. So, most of the time we are only competing with the games submitted that week."
He also adds that Flash games would become viral quite easily; they were free, after all. Steam is different, Hadiputra said, as it caters to a more hardcore market, while Flash was always seen as a casual sphere of gaming. While Kongregate and other Flash sites arguably put everyone on a relatively even playing field, with Steam distribution, you have studios with AAA budgets to contend with. In addition, Toge had to change up their game's designs in order to accommodate a new audience. Flash games are traditionally completely free-to-play experiences, so they needed to offer more than what was offered before.
"The game’s design has been revamped from the ground up," he said. "We took the essence of each game, identified what people love about it and expand it, added more depth and multiplied it by 100. The games are a lot more polished and offer more content."
Necronator: Dead Wrong is an Early Access title, and this allows for Toge to develop this title as they did in the early Flash years. Necronator: Dead Wrong combines tower defense mechanics with roguelike deckbuilding. Antoni says they "want to get feedback from players to validate our ideas and constantly improve the game." Websites like ArmorGames and Kongregate were very community driven, with the former having chatrooms for community interaction, and both websites containing comment sections for feedback. Because of this, Early Access is a good fit.
Toge Productions also publishes games for Steam, as well. This came after seeing many Indonesian-based developers close down. Hadiputra and his team wanted to help fellow developers, and they started their journey into game publishing for platforms such as Steam.
Toge Productions on Moving Forward
For those who either grew up playing Flash games or began their development career by creating games on this medium, it's a sad sight to see the medium go. Hadiputra said it's a "bittersweet feeling," and that Flash gave Indonesians such as himself the opportunity to realize their dreams.
The Flash industry might seem like a strange offshoot from the main industry, but it's had a significant impact on gaming today. Hadiputra cites prominent developers such as Edmund McMillen (Meat Boy, The Binding of Isaac), Terry Cavanaugh (VVVVVV, Dicey Dungeons), and Rami Ismail and Jan Willem Nijman (Super Crate Box, Nuclear Throne) as some developers that got their start with Flash. Hadiputra credits Flash for shaping the games industry in Indonesia, too. It's had more of an impact than many might expect and will have a lasting impression on developers, including Toge Productions.
"I miss it very much," Hadiputra said. "Flash was so easy to use, we could quickly experiment with new game ideas in a very short time. You can reach millions of people and get their feedback through Flash game portals (even engage in discussions in the comments section). The ecosystem provided fertile ground for indie developers to thrive and grow."
What are your thoughts on the demise of Flash games? What were your favorite games? Let us know in the comments below!