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Summary:

So here’s a couple ways to create a successful game online: a), Find an investor who’s crazy enough to give you millions of dollars, or b), Put it on a distribution network and hope you get enough customers willing to buy it as a download. Then […]

DTDSo here’s a couple ways to create a successful game online: a), Find an investor who’s crazy enough to give you millions of dollars, or b), Put it on a distribution network and hope you get enough customers willing to buy it as a download.

Then there’s c), Make a Flash mini-game, let people play it for free, and watch the ad revenue pour in when the site gets 20 million pageviews a month. That’s the option Paul Preece took with his phenomenally popular Desktop Tower Defense, and though he has no professional experience with game development, the Visual Basic programmer is now making, by his estimate, high four figures monthly for his ferociously viral little game.

As such, it’s an ideal case study for an often-overlooked revenue model for online games, one that developers and investors would do well to learn from. Working with a low budget on a game designed for maximum stickiness, a small team of developers can create a single title which earns thousands yearly— or in Preece’s case, close to six figures.

After the break, Preece explains some of the secrets to Tower’s success.

Take a Well-Known Genre, Make It Better

There are numerous “Tower Defense”-style games with the same premise—stop a horde of monsters by building a variety of defense towers. “I have been mulling over doing a proper ‘mazing’ Tower Defense for a year or so,” Preece says, “but I felt that the learning curve for Flash was too great. Then a good friend of mine created the successful Flash Element Tower Defense, and when I chatted to him about his experience… it suddenly seemed much less difficult than I had thought it was.” [His specific inspiration was a mini-game from one of Blizzard's classic real-time strategy titles: "The basic map layout was based on Autumn Tower Defense, which was one of my favorite Warcraft III TDs."] Though most of these games are fantasy-oriented, Preece gave his version a quirkier, more cartoonish feel, and added a number of elements that made it more viral— particularly a group-based ranking system which encourages competition between friends and co-workers.

Promote through Web Aggregation Sites

“I didn’t do any promotion of the game beyond sticking it on StumbleUpon.com,” Preece tells me. “It gave the game a slow start for a week or so— which was good to weed out the bugs. Then it got ‘picked up’ by a few large game sites, then Digg and then I-am-bored.com. When DTD got Dugg the first time, the server overloaded and I realized that it was becoming popular game.”

How popular? “I am unsure as to the number of unique visitors,” he says. “My logs show 4 million visitors and 20 million page views for April. The game itself has had 9 million plays during April (excluding older versions).”

Debuting in March, his site, http://www.handdrawngames.com, is already among Alexa’s top ten thousand sites.

Profit Through Ad Revenue and Keep the Budget Low

DTD’s main revenue source is AdSense, but with its avalanche of popularity, advertisers have approached Preece directly, leading to “Affiliate deals, sponsorship, custom versions for other companies etc. The last two are in the pipeline but I thought I’d add them in at a low level.”

Preece’s main expense is running the server. “Hosting fees are negligible,” he says, “at $130 per month. But I am getting very close to the 1200GB bandwidth allocation!” That plus “the continuous supply of late night Red Bull” comprise the bulk of Desktop’s budget.

“I do feel that with a little more market place knowledge I could make a good living from DTD until it stops being popular,” Preece e-mails me. “With less popular games I would probably need two-three on the go every month to make a good living. That would equate to releasing a game every month which I think is doable.”

But what’s that odd voice you hear, when you win the game? “It comes from a children’s cartoon I grew up with in the UK called ‘Ivor The Engine’,” Preece explains. “It was about a Welsh train, which is where the accent comes from.” But keeping the budget low is his main consideration. So, he adds, “I have removed it in the next version for bandwidth reasons.”


Update, 5/28
: Added Preece’s acknowledgement of Warcraft III as an inspiration for DTD.

  1. This is such a well-tuned, addictive game. When I was at Railsconf everyone was talking about the hours they’ve spent playing it.

    It’s the highest-rated game on our games site, Kongregate (out of nearly 750 uploaded to date). Also the best-performing Google search term we see.

  2. Nice job Paul. I have spend countless hours on this game — it’s the right amount of complexity and fun to provide for a truly addictive game. I also started a game site on a shoe string budget and in my spare time. It is now doing over 10m page views per month and ended up funded me while I started another company. God bless the internet and people with too much time at work.

  3. love the game!

  4. This is my plan exactly for the next couple of months – learn flash, program some really cool games and quit my job to move to hawaii with the millions earned from the games.
    I hate you guys for telling others this secret. Shame on you! :)

  5. Bart Noppen Monday, May 28, 2007

    The concept of tower wars comes from a very popular Warcraft 2 custom game which is played by thousands on Blizzards BattleNet. There are like a hundred different versions and it looks cooler on BattleNet then in Flash :)

  6. I absolutely love this game and spent many hours playing this and I think you should get a developer for Xbox Live Arcade to really get this game started. It deserves so much more for all those hours.

  7. eCostin.com – Caminando por la vida Monday, May 28, 2007

    Desktop Tower Defense

    Vă mai aduceţi aminte de joculeţul pe care l-a găsit Alex? L-am jucat şi noi la birou vreo 2 săptămani. Clasamente, levels… tot tacâmul.
    Via Victor aflu că Desktop TD a ajuns un real succes. 4 milioane de unici, 20 de milioane de page v…

  8. seo blogger Monday, May 28, 2007

    This is such a well-tuned, addictive game. When I was at Railsconf everyone was talking about the hours they’ve spent playing it.

  9. Please, don’t mention Warcraft 3 or Starcraft anywhere. The game came directly from it, and no one seems to remember that.

  10. This flash game is a weak rip of one of the best Warcraft III tower defence maps that was ever created. Autumn Crossing tower defence. It’s not really well tuned, it’s dumbed down a notch.

    GJ on bringing a great TD to the browser, but give credit where it’s due.

  11. Wagner James Au Monday, May 28, 2007

    Paul did tell me it was based on Autumn TD from Warcraft III, actually– it’s my fault for editing that mention out, will add in an update.

  12. That money should just barely pay off his lawyer when psygnosis sues him for ripping the lemmings sounds effects… great game, but Lemmings was 10x better.

  13. I would pay money for this game on Xbox Live.

  14. Forget Warcraft, this is the best thing since Dune II

  15. I can see why the game has become such a big hit, give ‘em credit where credit is due. They deserve the success they’re getting with their game.

  16. Brandon Defender of the Tower Monday, May 28, 2007

    Desktop Tower Defence is much olde than Warcraft, I wrote up a history of the game and some of the top online versions of it awhile back.

  17. Dood serisouly good job on this, i can honestly say that i spend more time playing this than i do world of warcraft hahaha jk’s but i look forward to the second installment…

    Jaz

  18. Sherri Caldwell – The Rebel Housewife Monday, May 28, 2007

    My kids are still on Webkinz and Runescape — this is all amazing. How do ya’ll get any work done?! I saw your article on http://www.FetchRex.com — cool!

  19. Ahhh yes, my boss and I wasted many days of work playing this game. Well done :)

  20. LOL @ you guys. Well I guess you all are new to TDs.

    Play the original Autumn Crossing on Warcraft III, you would all be amazed. Instead of one square it’s four players, so some co-op work is required to win.

    Plus when your friend costs you the game you get to say OMG YOU NOOB!

  21. Top Posts « WordPress.com Tuesday, May 29, 2007

    [...] Desktop Tower of Money: 3 tips to profit from casual games [image]So here’s a couple ways to a create successful game online: a), Find an investor who’s crazy enough […] [...]

  22. video game wallpapers Wednesday, May 30, 2007

    I can’t help it… I just love TDs :)

  23. “when in doubt, do it” » Blog Archive » serendipidity Wednesday, May 30, 2007

    [...] link via Paul [...]

  24. how do u make a tower defence game i got a great idea for one but i dont know how to make it

  25. mobmash blog » Blog Archive » links for 2007-05-31 Wednesday, May 30, 2007

    [...] GigaOM Desktop Tower of Money: 3 tips to profit from casual games « (tags: adsense marketing business casual games ideas) [...]

  26. Thank god for Flash and the internet browser.

    Taking games back to the basics of fun gameplay rather than the latest pretty 3d engine graphical effect.

    http://www.gameboar.com

  27. This game is brilliant and addictive cant wait to see what projects this guy has in the future

  28. Uptonian Thoughts » links for 2007-05-30 – Thomas Upton And His Musings Thursday, May 31, 2007

    [...] GigaOM Desktop Tower of Money: 3 tips to profit from casual games « “Then there’s c), Make a Flash mini-game, let people play it for free, and watch the ad revenue pour in when the site gets 20 million pageviews a month.” (tags: game flash article interview development) [...]

  29. shaneneville.com » links for 2007-05-29 Thursday, May 31, 2007

    [...] Desktop Tower of Money: 3 tips to profit from casual games How a new game developer makes money from ads with his tower defense game. Pretty awesome! [...]

  30. TGIF (and a marathon update) Friday, June 1, 2007

    [...] love those home-grown success stories. Read all the details over at GigaOm.com. Oh, and see if you can beat my high score — just add your score to the [...]

  31. Great article.

  32. GigaOM Game Business & its crisis of Attention « Sunday, June 3, 2007

    [...] As traditional MMOs besides WoW go extinct, user-created online worlds will thrive, and budget-conscious game studios will turn to Multiverse, Areae, Second Life, and other open platforms. Individual developers willing to make do with a little less geek glamor in exchange for more independence will leave the industry, and follow after the Flash-enabled success of games like Desktop Tower Defense. [...]

  33. Desktop Tower Defense ‹ bensite.net Tuesday, June 5, 2007

    [...] über Daring Fireball auf das Spiel gekommen, der Autor verdient allein durch Werbung mittlerweile vierstellige Dollarbeträge pro [...]

  34. Kaedrin Weblog Wednesday, June 6, 2007

    Link Dump: Flashy Edition

    As per usual these days, time is short, so just some quick links to various flash oddities and games. Desktop…

  35. Coding Horror Thursday, June 7, 2007

    How to Get Rich Programming

    I originally discovered the fiendishly addictive Tower Defense as a multiplayer game modification for Warcraft III. It’s a cooperative game mode where you, and a few other players, are presented with a simple maze. A group of monsters appear…

  36. Top Posts « WordPress.com Thursday, June 7, 2007

    [...] Desktop Tower of Money: 3 tips to profit from casual games [image]So here’s a couple ways to create a successful game online: a), Find an investor who’s crazy enough […] [...]

  37. Desktop Tower Defense Creates Startup Friday, June 8, 2007

    [...] Tower Defense currently ranks at just over 6,000 on Alexa. According to a report at Gigaom the game had 4 million unique visitors on 20 million page views in [...]

  38. Desktop Tower Defense Creates Startup : Forecast-Blog Saturday, June 9, 2007

    [...] Tower Defense currently ranks at just over 6,000 on Alexa. According to a report at Gigaom the game had 4 million unique visitors on 20 million page views in [...]

  39. Desktop Tower Defense 作者 Paul Preece 准备单独创业

    Desktop Tower Defense 已经成了风靡一时的 Flash 小游戏了,估计很快就要成为一种文化元素了。其作者 Paul Preece 准备"伙同" FlashElementTD 的作者 David Litsky 全职开发 Flash 小游戏,当然首当其å…

  40. Just a random blog ! Saturday, June 9, 2007

    [...] Tower Defense currently ranks at just over 6,000 on Alexa. According to a report at Gigaom the game had 4 million unique visitors on 20 million page views in [...]

  41. It is a good game. Independent game developers (like myself) can learn from this. Question to Paul if you read this: Can I include the game on my website?

    This article has inspired me to follow-through with Paul’s revenue model for an original web-based trading card game that we have on alpha now.

  42. De juego online a StartUp: Desktop Tower Defense Saturday, June 9, 2007

    [...] datos los que se aportan: 4 millones de usuarios únicos, 20 millones de páginas vistas al mes, 9 millones de partidas en [...]

  43. Desktop Tower Defense (DTD) – Walkthrough, comments and more Free Web Games at FreeGamesNews.com Monday, June 11, 2007

    [...] Scott, was released in March and currently ranks just over 6,000 on Alexa. According to a report at Gigaom, the game had 4 million unique visitors and 9 millions plays during [...]

  44. Desktop Tower Defense (DTD) – Solution, conseils et commentaires sur FreeGamesNews.com Tuesday, June 12, 2007

    [...] été mis en ligne en mars dernier et se classe actuellement autour des 600 dans Alexa. D’après Gigaom, le jeu a reçu 4 millions de visiteurs uniques en avril, pour quelques 9 millions de parties [...]

  45. Gaming for money- Intresting Article « positivecapitalism Wednesday, June 13, 2007

    [...] Internet Business , Articles of interest  While doing some blog checking, I came across this link(non-aff). It was interesting to hear how someone made a income stream by having a casual game. [...]

  46. Eric Nehrlich, Unrepentant Generalist || Donation Culture || June || 2007 Friday, June 29, 2007

    [...] And even for those who are motivated by money, the best route may not be donations or subscriptions, but ad revenue. The creator of the ludicrously addictive Desktop Tower Defense game is apparently making close to $10,000 a month from Google ads. [...]

  47. GigaOM Accel Invests in Mochi Media « Friday, July 13, 2007

    [...] company has a lot of traction in the web, and has some of the bigger casual games such as smash hit Desktop Tower Defense game are using Mochi Ads. Hsu and his co-founder reportedly have a lot of stret-cred among the [...]

  48. William Bland Wednesday, July 18, 2007

    Totally addictive game. I’m hoping to follow in Wayne’s footsteps with my own game site that will hopefully help me to fund a startup…

  49. H1DD3N.R350URC3 » Getting rich with Free Flash Games? Wednesday, August 22, 2007

    [...] and rethink … at least for earning money it seems to pay off if done right! Check out this interview with Desktop Tower Defense creator Paul Preece! Obviously it is possible to create a monthly 8000$ [...]

  50. Friday Smackdown Links Helping You with Photoshop Brushes, Making Money and watching the Muppet Show Friday, August 24, 2007

    [...] – The best set of Photoshop brushes out there. Desktop Tower of Money: 3 tips to profit from casual games – great article with link to the super fun and addictive game. Top 25 Web 2.0 Apps for Money, [...]

  51. Desktop Tower Defense: the story behind the hit Flash game « Playable Web Games Tuesday, October 2, 2007

    [...] read more | digg story [...]

  52. Desktop Tower of Money « A Parade of One Tuesday, October 9, 2007

    [...] Tower of Money Desktop Tower of Money: 3 Tips to Profit from Casual Games “Make a Flash mini-game, let people play it for free, and watch the ad revenue pour in when [...]

  53. Today’s Flash and ActionScript 3 Links « Untitle Dream Thursday, November 1, 2007

    [...] to Get Rich Programming: a good article on Tower Defense games, with a link to an interview with Paul Preese, the creator of the most popular one, Desktop Tower Defense (Paul was a programmer that taught [...]

  54. Gwyneth Llewelyn Wednesday, November 21, 2007

    I’m addicted. If you don’t see me in Second Life so often, it’s because I found about Tower Defense a few days ago :)

    Then again, clever programmers are porting Tower Defense to Second Life :)

  55. brandon stineman Saturday, November 24, 2007

    yea but some one needs to make wmw or ware others can fight you on line ware u can send stuff get money ever 20 seconds and make tawers thats wmw i was a big fan but naw my comp cant install it cuse it got scroud up then we need to reinstall but it wont dl it all so man i begg u can u make wmw(winter mual wars)

  56. trademark registration Tuesday, November 27, 2007

    It’s really refreshing to know that you don’t need millions of dollar to make a successful game. All you need is some inspiration, and a quality game idea that can be readily accessible by the public.

  57. This is the best game ever, and it was made with no funding, and is pulling in lots of money for its creator. Their new site, casual collective is continuing on that tradition of low cost high return.

  58. I really like this game and I can see how it has become such a success. Thanks for putting up this article.

  59. Cuộc thi Games – Free Rapidshare Megaupload Software Download Games Movies Templates Scripts Crack Serials Wednesday, March 12, 2008

    [...] The Tower Defense game mode is a business opportunity for an enterprising programmer. According to a recent interview, Paul Preese, the author of Desktop Tower Defense, is making around $8,000 per [...]

  60. Great game very addictive!

  61. All You Need is a Great Idea – PaulStamatiou.com Saturday, March 29, 2008

    [...] a world where someone can make 6 figures with a viral Flash game and a single person startup can earn $5-$10 million per year, anything seems possible. All you need [...]

  62. Friday Fun #6 Boomshine and Desktop Tower Defense « Digital Worlds – Interactive Media and Game Design Friday, April 4, 2008

    [...] game ‘went viral’ several months ago (as described in Desktop Tower of Money: 3 tips to profit from casual games), and many working days were lost as a [...]

  63. Protege tu propiedad intelectual – OMPI « Shift F12 Tuesday, April 22, 2008

    [...] de nuestra vidas. El juego completamente gratis pero tiene tantas visitas que genera, en promedio, ocho mil dólares mensuales de ganancias por ads y donaciones. Tal vez ese juego que tienes guardado puede ser el siguiente caso de éxito!. [...]

  64. brokenhattrick › Non(Ad)sense. Tuesday, May 6, 2008

    [...] this guy gives an interview about writing a Flash game that ends up netting him $8,000 a month from … and I get all [...]

  65. I have written an article on how to get a sponsorship for a flash game here http://www.lorenzgames.com/blog/How_to_Get_a_Sponsorship_with_a_Flash_Game

  66. Cool! I found a website you can submit your flash games to:

    http://www.orkgames.com/submit

    ..I must admit, that website looks damn cool… i’m finding some awesome games there to play

  67. #49. Read ‘The 1001 List Of Quality Reads’ « 6ixx Sunday, June 15, 2008

    [...] Kids 181. 13 Must-Read Destination Wedding Tips 182. Five Things to Check Every Time You Ride 183. Desktop Tower of Money: 3 tips to profit from casual games 184. Top 13 reasons to use a web framework and never look back 185. Ten Things Everyone Should Know [...]

  68. Nice post and execellent tips. However, do you think Pagerank is important in making money online? I doubt in it since many said were important to make money online.

  69. Startup Marries Games to Grid Computing – GigaOM Monday, October 27, 2008

    [...] is still in beta with a handful of partners, including Desktop Tower Defense, which is among the most popular web games of all time. Assuming all this works as billed, I think it’s definitely a revenue stream game developers [...]

  70. Desktop Tower Defense Creator Launches New Game Site – GigaOM Tuesday, November 18, 2008

    [...] year (and really, who didn’t?), you’ll love this news: Paul Preece, creator of that insanely viral real-time strategy classic, has a new game site: Casual Collective launches today, backed by $1 million in seed funding from [...]

  71. How Sonny Became 2008’s Big Flash Game Hit Tuesday, December 23, 2008

    [...] name, and when Armor Games published the title last December, it quickly became this year’s Desktop Tower Defense — in other words, a casual web game that’s attracted a huge, passionate [...]

  72. Tower Defense Friday, February 6, 2009

    Great advice. I love that game, too.

  73. Show me the money « Harry Tormey Wednesday, June 3, 2009

    [...] A famous example of a game that is making serious bank is desktop tower defence. According to one article I read this game is making high four figures monthly, the article does not give any figure so I am not [...]

  74. [...] Tower Defense ha pillado por sorpresa tanto a la comunidad como a sus creadores, y es que en una entrevista a su creador hace casi un año revelaba que su web recibe más de 20 millones de páginas [...]

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