Introducing Vulcan Games

I’ve been away from this blog for a while, but that’s because I’ve been doing some development work on a new site. It’s called Vulcan Games and you can see a screenshot below or visit the site directly at vulcangames.com.

Readers of this blog may recognise some similarities with an older site I developed called Craverz. Essentially Vulcan Games uses a modified version of the same WordPress theme. In case you’re wondering, the theme was available for purchase in the public domain but was withdrawn by the coder over a month ago now.

In any case, I’ve gone for a space-age type design, it’s very dark and there are still quite a few things to iron out. Let me know what you think. What works for you, what doesn’t. And if you need any WordPress arcade building advice, drop me a line either in the comment section or by email (see contact page of this blog). Thanks. P.s. I’ll be getting back to the Webmaster guide from now on.

Vulcan Games

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10 things not to do when starting an Online Arcade

Webmaster Guide Part 1

Welcome to the first part of the Arcade Webmaster Guide. This is a new comprehensive series of ‘Arcade 101’ articles, written by experienced webmasters who highlight the benefits and caveats of running an arcade today. The series aims to help newcomers to make the most of their arcade building experience and to avoid the many pitfalls that new webmasters fall prey to.

These articles are exclusive to the Sly5 Arcade Blog and will consist of some of my thoughts on making the most out of your arcade, along side some much welcomed input from fellow webmasters in the form of guest posts.

In order to keep track of this series, I have created a new page in this blog’s navigation menu so if you like the idea please link back there. Please also feel free to leave feedback and questions in the comment sections of these posts, both for myself and for guest writers, and we’ll try to provide the best possible advice we can. So let’s get started! The first post in this series comes from David Blackard, owner of www.gamehopper.net and the topic is 10 things not to do when starting an online arcade:

As the owner of several online arcade sites, I have found that most new users do something very wrong when they start a new arcade. They all look to the bigger sites and they want to emulate those sites right away. The problem with following the “big guys'” footsteps is that they already own this real estate, and the majority of traffic will be theirs in the end.

So here are a few things you should never do when starting up an online arcade site to help you get an edge on these “A-listers”.

1) Don’t use the default template

Sure you just paid 50 bucks for you shiny new script, and seven hundred new arcade owners this week just put up a site that looks just like yours. If you can’t design a template yourself, and you cant afford a professional designer, at the very least find a paid one and change the images a bit. The default template of any arcade script will not win you any new users. They see that one all the time. I am always very surprised at the amount of arcades I see that use the default script template.

2) Don’t buy game packs

The idea is that if you fill a site with games you create 1000’s of pages for the search engines to search, the problem here is that all the content you just paid for is on 1000’s of arcade already. You will have little luck with google using this method. Only add games you actually play and think are good. Chances are if you think the game has merit so will your users. Write you own descriptions and make your own thumbnails if you can, this will make your content more original and will benefit your users and the search engines.

3) Don’t try to be everything

Some new owners think they need to cover every game category, from gory sniper games to pretty dress up games. The trouble is it will not give your site a direction and users will fast become bored trying to figure out what you specialize in. Sure the “big guys” can serve up a huge variety of games, they also already have a substantial audience. Try to find a category that you yourself like, and make that your main theme. Users will appreciate the ease of locating similar games without leaving your site. It is far more important to have a strong dedicated audience than a disperate, ad-hoc one.

4) Don’t undervalue traffic trading

On some level you say to yourself “I do not want my users leaving, what sense does that make?” Yet it is a well known fact that some measure of trading is essential for faster site growth. You dont have to trade traffic with other sites like some do (and stay tuned for a forthcoming article devoted to the do’s and don’ts of traffic trading), but at the very least it is a good idea to add in a few banner exchanges. This will give you some traffic variety and expose your site to users who otherwise may never get to see it.

5) Don’t forget to network

Probably the most important thing you will ever do in this niche is network. There will come a time when you need help with something and it sure is a plus knowing someone with experience. I myself trade graphic work which I am good at for coding work which I am not good at. I meet people through other people to gain good backlinks and new sources of information. A good place to start would be the popular arcade site owners forum TalkArcades.com. There are a number of other forums, blogs and information sites that facilitate networking and the Sly5 Blog will be covering those in another part of this guide. For now, try exploring some of the entries you find in google. Bookmark the sites that you find valuable and come up with a handful of places you visit and contribute to on a regular basis.

6) Don’t be a link hog

From time to time I see people requesting links to their arcade, yet when you go to their arcade you see no links out. They trade all the links in a “three way” method with the link coming from another site. Actually if you read up on SEO you will find that having no outbound links is nearly as bad as having no inbound. Google in particular will penalize you for being a link hog. So build a good mixture of backlinks and link outs.

7) Don’t try to get rich in a day

So chances are you got into this for the money, but to think you are going to start a site on a nine dollar domain and a 35 dollar script and instantly make thousands of bones a month is just plain unrealistic. If you have lots of capital you can make a site that competes with the “big guys” within a relatively short armount of time, with little to no capital expect the growth rate to be a lot slower. The main point is that if you’re dedicated to your arcade it will grow in stages. The first few stages until you start hitting that $2-3/day mark will be tough. But if you keep working at, you’ll see significant changes as you go along. Think of it as building a character in WOW. You start off with little to no experience and as you progress, complete quests and create relationships with fellow players, your character develops. The same applies to building an arcade.

8 ) Don’t forget to set goals

Without goals you are just sitting there wondering what to do next. So if your goal is money and you made 1 dollar a day your first month, set your goal to 2 dollars a day for next month. If your Alexa rating has been halfed from 1 million to 500k this month try to half it again next month. Each goal you set will help insure you keep momentum and don’t end up going round in circles. This is generally known as a business strategy. Mapping yours out early on and making adjustments as you progress will definitely be a huge advantage.

9) Don’t give up to easily

So you have been at it for 3 months now, you have made 8 dollars in adsense money and you think to yourself that you may never reach the cashout so those 8 dollars are useless. This is where most people pack it in and just abandon their site. Wheras this should be the time when you fight the hardest, setting higher goals and just trying harder in general. Not everything works for everyone. I myself took nearly 7 months to get my first Google payday. Now each month I get a nice fat check.

10) Don’t treat it as a hobby

If you treat your site like a hobby, you will end up paying to own it. Treat it like a business. Money in = money to spend. I started with 100 dollars and a bad idea, turned all that into a site that makes a whole lot more than my initial 100 dollars every month. It can be done if you start with nothing, but your main expenses will be time and dedication. If you cant give your site those things, you should probably look for another niche. Arcades are work, but can be the most fun you ever had working, particularly since you get to play some of the best games now and again, not to mention forging new online friendships with other webmasters.

I built and sold three arcade sites before I finally found an idea that I liked that worked. If you love this niche you will know it from day one. When I first started I thought to myself ” This is what I want to do” and now I am well on my way to doing this for my income. If you go into it expecting instant success from a domain, script, and a game pack, you will surely fail like all the rest. Just keep your chin up and keep trying new things, and you soon will have an arcade and a business you will love.

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My Favorite Shooter Game: Robokill Titan Prime

There are good shoot em up games and there are great shoot em up games, but once in while an amazing shoot em game is released and that’s exactly what Robokill Titan Prime is. Simply amazing! This is a game that manages to merge compelling and immersive gameplay with a super slick GUI and some breathtaking Space Mech graphics, all in under a 5MB flash game file. This, ladies and gentlmen is the brilliant work of the Rock Solid Arcade team.

Robokill Titan Prime

Robokill Titan Prime

For those of you who don’t know, Rock Solid Arcade are reasonable for some little titles like Stunt Pilot, Dogfight The Great War and Dogfight 2. Hardly gaming lightweights!

In Robokill Titan Prime you control a mech robot armed with some basic machine guns when you start out. Don’t worry though because soon enough you’ll be blasting enemy aliens with all manner of explosive weapons. You begin on the deck of an immense spaceship and gameplay unfolds from a birds-eye or top down perspective. You can move from section to section via the various doorways. Each new section of the ship will present a new challenge. Whether it’s a swarm of enemy drones to kill off, a bunch of supply boxes to investigate or a swicth to activate, there will always be something to do.

To help you make your way around the ship, your mech robot comes equipped with a map which you can call on any time during the game. The map will start of blank for each level and will only materialize as you make your way through the ship. Gameplay is autosaveable thanks to various waypoints that you encounter as you progress.

Robokill Titan Prime Gameplay

Robokill Titan Prime Gameplay

But don’t take the waypoints for granted because if you happen to loose ground to the enemy then the waypoint will be out of use until you reactivate it.

I found the experience points and subsequent level ups to be a great way of keeping you locked in the gameplay. All shoot em up games are faced with the problem of monotony, Robokill Titan Prime does a good job of keeping gameplay diversified and aside from all its eye candy, that’s what sets it apart from other flash games in the same genre. Let’s hope the good people at Rock Solid Arcade keep their games coming! All I have left to say about this game is go and play it right now!

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Do Flash Arcades Really Need User Accounts?

Usability Image

Having run several arcades, each with particular defining features, and having had the chance to monitor the success and failure rate of user accounts, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are few cases in which user accounts actually serve a purpose. Some of those circumstances are as follows:

  • That the user account provides the user with options that enhance his/her gaming experience (e.g. the ability to access premium or special content)
  • That the user account grants access to an integrated social network (a forum, a live in-game chat etc.)
  • That the user account offers the opportunity to take control of the gaming experience (e.g. the creation of a personal avatar, the ability to record game progress, to monitor site usage etc.)
  • That the user account grants access to extra incentives (competitions, rankings etc.)

The functions in my list above describe user-side interaction at a high level. This is the sort of level that arcades such as Kongregate operate at; whereby the user actually benefits as much from the user account experience as he/she does from the gaming experience. Whatsmore the account and the games overlap and the objective is for both to be as seamless as possible. In this case creating an account is a meaningful and relevant action for the user. But in the majority of arcades, and my own included, it is far from meaningful.

The majority of arcades do not grant any of these functions to their users and yet they still offer user accounts. The most common incentives are to remove site-wide ads, to allow unlimited gaming credits, to set up a basic user profile, to record favourite games and to send private messages to other users. Based on findings from my own arcades, I estimate that 60% of users forget their passwords within the first week of having signed up. And nearly a quarter of all visitors that chose to sign up don’t validate their accounts. This has little to do with the sign up process being drawn out or complex, rather it is a reflection of the fact that the visitor intuitively senses that that the act of setting up a user account is based more on obligation than personal desire.

In my view, if an arcade cannot offer a unique user experience and adequate incentive and value in its user accounts, it should get rid of them all together. The problem is that most low to mid-level arcade scripts place user accounts at the core of their design. But they don’t recognise the fact that those user accounts are pretty meaningless. By eliminating the user accounts, not only do you make your arcade lighter, but crucially you don’t have to maintain the false pretense that creating an account will make your visitor’s lives better!

What’s your view on user accounts? Do they work for you, have you found a better way of using them? I’d love to hear your opinions and experiences so feel free to comment and I’ll happily respond.

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So apparently Hostgator doesn’t do arcades…

Flash arcades are clearly not the lightest websites around. The more traffic you get the more bandwidth you’re going to use and if your stats are respectable then chances are you will already be running your site on a dedicated server. But what about the low to medium range sites? Sites that get less that 1000 unique visitors per day? Most shared hosting solutions in 2008 would be able to take that sort of bandwidth usage well within their stride right? Well not so.

I received an email today from a well known webmaster giving a cautionary note to fellow arcade owners using or promoting hostgator for their arcade sites. The email included an excerpt from this person’s conversation. I’ve changed the names to ‘client’ and ‘agent’ in order to maintain anonymity, but you can still get the gist of it:

1:12:44 PM) Agent: All I can say is that we don’t even allow game
sites on shared servers.
(1:12:56 PM) Agent: I can’t assist here.
(1:12:56 PM) Client: arcade sites?
(1:13:01 PM) Client: its not a gaming site
(1:13:14 PM) Agent: What kind of games?
(1:13:20 PM) Client: arcade games
(1:13:24 PM) Client: arcadesitex.com
(1:13:27 PM) Client: is my demo
(1:13:49 PM) Agent: That’s what I mean. We don’t allow them. When
they’re found they typically get suspended.

So to any arcade webmasters thinking of purchasing hosting with Hostgator, make sure you’re open with staff at sign up that you intend to host a games arcade before going ahead with payment, otherwise you could be in for a nasty surprise.

My question to any arcade owners reading this post is who do you host with and do you use shared hosting or dedicated hosting? I’d also like to know what’s the general tipping point is in terms of traffic. At what point does an arcade need a dedicated server? I’d like to know.

Update.

Ok so I’ve had an information update that clarifies some of the points here in my original post. First and foremost, Hostgator have confirmed that they do host flash arcade websites on their shared hosting plans and that any information to the contrary was misinformation. Secondly, regarding my question on the ‘tipping point’ for traffic and resources and when you’d have to migrate from shared hosting to dedicated server space here’s what the Hostgator rep said:

(3:22:07 AM) Sly5: what is the tipping point between being able to host a flash arcade site on your shared hosting accounts and being requested (read forced) to buy dedicated server space?
(3:24:21 AM) Ray T: With a flash arcade script, it wouldn’t be an issue unless some way the account were to use 25% of the server’s resources ( cpu, ram) for more than 90 seconds.
(3:25:25 AM) Sly5: In order for me to understand this, I need to know what the total server resources are, is there a standard spec list for shared hosting servers or does it vary on a server to server basis?
(3:27:34 AM) Ray T: The shared server would have the same hardware specs as the elite dedicated server on
(3:27:35 AM) Ray T: http://www.hostgator.com/dedicated.shtml

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Welcome to the new Sly5 Blog!

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If you arrived here via my old blog at www.fingermonkey.wordpress.com then thanks very much for your continuing interest in my ramblings here. If you’re new to this blog then welcome and thanks for visiting. So what’s new and what’s not? Well if you had followed my original fingermonkey arcade blog you will know that it was attached to an arcade by the same name that I used to run. I no longer own that arcade but I still wanted to continue blogging.

After selling fingermonkey.net, along with a couple of other arcades I struggled to keep posting on the fingermonkey.wordpress.com blog because I felt it no longer really represented what I stood for. Just recently I had a bit of spare time so I decided to keep the blog going by transposing all the content from the original blog onto a new blog that reflects my current position in a more satisfactory way. I currently run an arcade called sly5.net (in case you missed it!) and hence the title of this new blog.

In terms of the type of content, resources and discussions you can expect to find here, that’s still the same. If you read any of my other posts you’ll no that I’m not one to put up with bullshit. I speak as I find and I call out the crap when necessary. So yes it’s critical and at times scathing, but I do my best to keep content informative and arguments relevant. If you’d like to follow me on this blog, please feel free to subscribe to my RSS Feed here. Please also drop me a line if you have any questions or recommendations. You can either leave comments on the blog posts or you can find my email address on the contact page.

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The Game is Changing

This is a follow up to a post I made on TalkArcades.com. I was discussing the way in which more and more flash games are being released at over 2MB file size, some even exceed the 10MB level. My point was that flash games are beginning to compete with downloadable PC games of the likes of bigfishgames for example. While these new large sized games are a good idea on paper and will no doubt come into their own in the near future, right now we’re stuck with broadband connections and server speeds that still struggle to load these games in under a minute.

So from a Webmaster’s perspective, and I’d be interested to hear other webmasters opinions on this later on, unless you pay for a high speed dedicated server, chances are that these mega flash games will be more of a deterrant to your visitors than the smaller games. Looking over my stats for Sly5 for example has shown a clear preference from visitors for the fast loading simplistic games. The load time factor is hugely significant for any website and a matter of 30 seconds can decide whether a visitor returns to your site or not.

In the interests of gauging a response from gamers and webmasters alike, I’ve decided to make use of a neat new feature on WordPress.com blogs which is the polldaddy integration. I’d like to find out what you think works the best: big game files with complex and visually stimulating games or small game files and simple games?

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