There is a hard truth I must face every day with Shamoozal.com and in particular, the Flash animated series that the site is built upon. It isn’t that I’m doing the work for “free.” The “starving artist” does this stuff because they enjoy the work, right? Exactly. The problem is that it pains me to see that people are making money off of our work. That is the problem for us Flash animators, many times we’re handing our work away for free, and in return we hope for a handful of hits back to our site. Does it really pay off? It depends on what you want to get out of it. The following is an account of the experience I have had with getting exposure and the price it cost.
In the year and a half Shamoozal has been around I have done some serious whoring of the material. The fact of the matter is that there aren’t any “guides” to making a successful cartoon series without selling your soul. By this point, I kind of know what works and what doesn’t work. Flash portal sites like Newgrounds.com, and the cleverly titled FlashPortal.com do exactly what they say. They allow you to upload your work and have it viewed by potential hundreds, thousands, even millions within days. What you’re doing however, is handing them the SWF file, and with that they’re able to do whatever they like with it. When you click that little agreement box, you’re basically allowing these sites to own your material. Because of this, I picked and chose the websites I uploaded to very carefully. Newgrounds is an obvious choice, and the most popular Flash portal in town. You upload to them and you will have a couple hundred views to your short within hours. I won’t lie, but I get a little giddy whenever I upload something to that site. It’s fun to read the “reviews” even though they refer to animation with terms like “smooth” (it’s called timing) and site owner Tom Fulp has been genuinely nice to me. Though it must be said it is a little maddening when something you worked on for weeks, sometimes months, gets brushed to the side by something that was clearly done in a night.
The key here is that you’re giving your SWF to these sites. You’re handing them the keys to your car and trusting them to bring it home safely. Well, we’ve all watched Ferris Bueler’s Day Off, and we know these people like to drive off hills in slow motion with the Star Wars theme playing. The problem with a cartoon that does well on these sites is that they seem to “appear” onto other sites, and before you know it the thing has spread like wild fire. What do I mean? Well, let’s type “Shamoozal Ninja” into Google and see what pops up.
Somehow Ninja has ended up on all of these sites. I know for a fact that I have never submitted Ninja to arcadeonline, boredtodeath.co.uk, Pro-Arcade, Really Fun Arcade (that place must be great), Flash Ring, Dropalink, and countless others. First off, Ninja isn’t even a game, so I don’t know how it ended up all these “arcade” sites. On one of the sites someone left a comment “this game is broken.” I guess he never figured out that it was a cartoon, must be a big fan of Dragon’s Lair. The fact of the matter is that one of (or more) of the sites I submitted Ninja to has sold the SWF to another site. How else would these places get a hold of the material? The reason I say “sold” is simply because I doubt these sites are buddies with each other and just handing off important things like user SWFs of popular Flash videos. The only explanation is that there is a possibility that one company owns these other sites.
So what do you do and who do you trust? It’s a tough call really. If you want exposure, Newgrounds has it in spades. Our work gets more views off there than any of the other sites I submit content to combined. Another popular site is UGO Flash Player, whom I will not submit anymore work to ever again. If you want to know why, read the above paragraph again. Personally, I plan on easing off on the submitting process on the upcoming Shamoozal episode, and I will only be uploading it to one site. It’s a bit of a test and at the same time, I want to try and have as much control over our work as possible. This means the episode will have the least amount of initial exposure than our other cartoons, and I’m fine with that. If it’s good, it will catch on.
Another point worth bringing up is that people will contact you when you have made a successful Flash cartoon. I have had plenty of offers from “professional” sites to use my work and they have even offered the prospect of making money as a way to tempt me. I spoke to one company for months to work out a deal about mobile distribution of the cartoons and in the end it was nothing but a headache. All I know is that I signed a contract with these people, sent them a DVD with a few episodes on it and haven’t heard a thing since. Who knows what they did with the package I sent them. I just know they’re never getting anything from me again. That was my first offer though, so of course I was willing to jump at anything. Since then I have gotten contractual offers ranging from Internet distribution deals, companies claiming to “air” the cartoons on TV among others. I suggest ignoring these offers like the plague. It’s flattering to get them, but unless it comes from an established company, don’t follow through with it.
More recently I’ve been acquisitioned by AtomFilms for them to host Ninja. I asked to read the terms before I went ahead with anything and in the guidelines they required that I hand them the actual FLA file or a DVD copy of the short. AtomFilms is a rather established site, but by no means do I want them to have access to my FLA file. Not the SWF, the FLA. Word to Flash artists, NEVER hand your FLA out to anyone. Think of the FLA as the secret recipe for the family’s special sauce; guard it, and don’t let anyone have it. I know I could easily send them a DVD copy of the short, but the fact that they even asked for the FLA file was enough for me to be turned off by them. I have had people ask for all sorts of different items from Shamoozal cartoons, ranging from an actual model of Jacquo to the DS Grey holds in Stroopid Test. I don’t know how much I can stress it, but never give it away to anyone. It is worth noting I have even turned down people that I actually do trust.
Submitting links to particular sites instead of uploading your SWF is a safe bet for a little exposure and keeping an eye on your work. Places like Milkandcookies, and Jengajam are highly recommended. Your link goes up, and the traffic comes right to you. You remain in complete control of your work, and if it does well on those sites, the link will spread to others. Nothing disappoints me more then to see my work submitted to a link portal and the link leading back to a flash portal site.
In the end, you need to use your own judgment when it comes to submitting your work if you’re a Flash artist with a budding idea for a series. If you’re just working on a cartoon for the heck of it and don’t have a website for the series, then by all means submit it to whoever. However, if you’re serious about your work, pick and choose wisely. Always remember that these sites benefit from user work, and if they didn’t, they wouldn’t exist. Users are the ones who help them pay their bills and go on vacations, and you can’t forget that.
Good luck, it’s a tough world out there on the Internet for us animators.