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Flash in the Pan: Examining Adobe's 9% Games Cut

Is Adobe's latest announcement another PR disaster in an already fragile ecosystem?

Twitter has been aflame this week reacting to Adobe's bombshell that it would soon be taking nine per cent of revenues from games using Flash Player's premium features. This new policy to turn the ubiquity of Flash into a direct revenue stream would only be enacted upon games released after August 1 this year, and only for those whose revenue is greater than $50,000.

Adobe's development of Flash is certainly a costly endeavour, and the company claimed that this move would directly improve investment in the technology, as well as encouraging, "the kind of innovation and experimentation that often helps to spark inspired and inventive games".

The Flash community is so used to being messed around by Adobe that it's very easy to jump on every bit of news from them as something negative

Mark Burvill, Antifuzz

It's not entirely clear to all developers, however, how a price hike from zero to nine per cent of revenues would encourage innovation, and it was widely decried as the latest Adobe PR pratfall.

Mark Burvill, of Flash developer Antifuzz, however, says it would unwise to judge this move hastily.

"The Flash community is so used to being messed around by Adobe that it's very easy to jump on every bit of news from them as something negative without realistically considering the details," he says. "[This new payment model] only affects the combined usage of two new ultra-high-end features of the desktop Flash player, and only on revenue over and above the first $50K. So it's really only going to affect the Zyngas and Rovios of this world who go on to develop the next generation of console-quality games for the web."

It's also true, as Burvill points out, that the nine per cent is a much smaller cut than the 30 per cent Apple bites out of every App Store payment. But the two charges are not directly comparable, says Richard Davey, technical director of Aardman Digital.

"On the surface nine per cent seems like a bargain compared to the 30 per cent Apple commands," he says. "But in return for that lofty percentage Apple provide you with a global payment solution, an audience of millions, a storefront presence and the potential for featured promotions. Adobe want nine per cent for the use of a runtime.

"A lot of devs feel this will only impact those big companies wanting to use, say, Unreal Engine. But in those cases the nine per cent will be on-top of the percentage Epic already charge. It's also easy to say, 'well I don't need to use those two features anyway', but some of the upcoming premium features sound really useful," he adds.

"Proper persistent local storage could genuinely benefit a lot of games, reducing subsequent load times dramatically, and local desktop shortcuts sound great, too. Those are the sorts of things that I could see really appealing to the likes of Zynga. But when you're at Zynga-level income, nine per cent becomes a phenomenal amount. I'm sure they will negotiate their own special deals, but at the end of the day it's still lost revenue where it wasn't before. All it can really do is expedite their investment into alternative technology."

But is taxing the likes of Rovio and Zynga only fair? As Burvill asks, "Considering that those developers probably wouldn't even be using any Adobe-purchased tools to actually build their games, why shouldn't they be making a contribution to the platform that their games are running on?"

He's also sceptical that this move will really discourage the use of the platform by the sorts of companies who are required to stump up that nine per cent: "If the big developers can see that Adobe is actively making money out of high-end gaming on their platform, then it might even make that platform appear more attractive to them. After all, a platform that makes money for Adobe is one they will continue to improve and invest in."

New terms may damage what is already an extremely fragile ecosystem. And honestly I don't know how much more it can take

Richard Davey, Aardman Digital

Both Burvill and Davey agree on one thing, however: that the major hurdle to this policy is how Adobe will police it.

"If you want to use the premium features then your SWF [Adobe's Flash file format] will need to be licensed, regardless if it's going to directly earn any money or not," explains Davey. "We fully expect this to take the form of a digital certificate, creating a signed SWF."

This would seem to undermine Adobe's suggestion that the new pricing would encourage experimentation, as Burvill points out, "even developers who are just mucking around with the premium APIs and don't ever hope to make £50K will still need to go through this licensing process."

"And who knows what terms and conditions you'll have to agree to in order to sign your SWF," says Davey. "If there is any clause along the lines of 'Adobe have the right to audit your accounts' - well, that will rightly put the fear of God into our clients. Damaging what is already an extremely fragile ecosystem. And honestly I don't know how much more it can take."

Have Adobe pulled off another PR-disaster? "Yes they have," concludes Burvill. "These features have been available in pre-release for some time now, with no official announcement made that they may eventually end up charging for them. A lot of people feel shafted again, and it makes another great anti-Flash headline. Is this decision a bad thing for Flash as a high-end gaming platform in the long run? No probably not. Possibly the opposite. Is it going to affect 99 per cent of Flash developers? No not at all."

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Latest comments (7)

Sam Brown Lead Audio Programmer, TT Games9 years ago
I wonder, is the newly-announced ability to run Unity games in Flash one of these premium features? :)

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Sam Brown on 30th March 2012 10:38am

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Tejas Shirodkar Software Engineer 3, EA Mobile9 years ago
It can be, in case Unity uses the domain memory feature for running the game code inside the flash runtime. Of course the game should also use the 3d features. Depending on unity's implementation developers might get away without having to pay a fees if they only make 2d content.
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Thomas Dolby Project Manager / Lead Programmer, Ai Solve9 years ago
So I have to think, how much money are they realistically going to make from this, compared to the loss of goodwill from their customers and the further damage to the platform's reputation. Maybe they get four or five hit games using premium content a year doing this, generate a couple of million or so in royalties, is that worth the kind of scorn this has received? (for a company that has a revenue stream in the billions). I understand they have to monetise the platform, and maybe I'm really underestimating how many would take the platform on, but there's got to be a better way.

If you ask me they'd perhaps be better off if they introduced a developer subscription like Apple do. You pay a yearly subscription to use the premium features of Flash (although perhaps have a trial as well for people who just want to experiment).
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Show all comments (7)
Robert Mac-Donald Game Designer, Lethe Games9 years ago
Not defending nor supporting but want to add that the 9% only applies to games targeted to the Flash plugin on a browser.

If you make an Air application under the premium feature contract (using BOTH stage3D and access to domain memory) you wouldn't pay a dime.

"Developers can use the premium features without charge in apps packaged for iPhone/iPad (iOS), Android, Windows, or Mac OS using AdobeŽ AIRŽ."

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Robert Mac-Donald on 30th March 2012 4:43pm

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Dave Wolfe Game Developer, Cosmic Games9 years ago
@Sam Yes, UDK uses Alchemy (which uses domain memory) and Stage3d.

@Tejas I suspect Unity also uses Alchemy, so Unity content would also be subject to the licensing fees. Even 2d games will, because the exporter still uses Stage3d (which is just Adobe's term for GPU accelerated) even for 2d content. Angry Birds for example is a 2d game that uses Stage3d to make the rendering faster.

@Robert In Adobe's FAQ they worded it such that there's the possibility they will start charging for AIR content in the future. Perhaps they're just using the browser plugin first to test the waters. I don't think it makes much sense for them to charge for AIR though since this seems to be mainly targeted at people using UDK or Unity to export to Flash. Those both already have desktop and mobile targets, so there's no reason to export Flash and wrap it in AIR.

I'm not too thrilled about this decision. Adobe is traditionally a tools developer and charging developers to un-cripple the runtime is a bad move. The reality is that Adobe has failed to make tools that developers find compelling so they're scrambling to find some other way to milk us for more money instead of improving their tools. Flash Builder is mediocre, Flash Professional is full of bugs and has no integration with Stage3d, their compilers are a joke. And although right now this will only affect a small minority of Flash developers, what happens when they start adding more premium features that are useful to more of their customers? And this sort of thing erodes the trust that developers used to have in Adobe. Once those users go away they're not likely to come back.
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Robin Clarke Producer, AppyNation Ltd9 years ago
@Thomas Dolby

If it continues to be used to power the clients for F2P MMOs, which becomes even more attractive with Unity and UDK support, the revenue could be substantial.

The test will be whether this new revenue stream leads to improvements to the tools and tech that benefit all Flash game developers, including the vast majority who will never have to pay.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Robin Clarke on 30th March 2012 11:02pm

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Stephen Wilson graphic/web designer 8 years ago
Ever since the Macromedia merger Adobe have had a virtual monopoly and every year their greed has increased exponentially. Since they moved to almost annual releases of CS they leave previous products incomplete and buggy, all too often their reponse to bugs in a previous version "sorry, support has ended on that product, buy the latest version" Truth be told in terms of lIlustrator & Photoshop at least, these products were a complete toolset even before CS came along and almost everything added since has really been gimmicky add-on toys.

Like the dumb move to discontinue Flash on Android, this bright spark will undoubtedly be another nail in the coffin of Flash and perhaps it is indeed time to say "good riddance" to it & Adobe themselves.
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