I’ve been asked if I am still working on Gratuitous Space Battles 2. And I am not. I’ve been accused of all sorts of stuff as a result. I wont repeat that here. What I want to talk about is the economics of this question, why people get angry, and why it makes sense that I am not working on Gratuitous Space Battles 2 right now.

First some facts. GSB2 started work around November 2013. It was released on the 16th April 2015. So the dev time was about 17 months.

Now the game was in beta for a while before release, with sales from my site, and is on sale also at GoG and the humble store, but most people wont have any idea how well it sells on any of those, so lets just look at the steam sales as reported by steam spy:

Owners 10,876. Assume average of 50% off maybe? so assume $10 a copy? so lets say it made $108,000 and add in another $50,000 from other sources. However steam take their cut so thats really only about $120,000. Actually thats a bit shy of the real figure, which is just over $150,000. So I guess some people (mostly kids) are screaming at me at this point for being a greedy scumbag and so on, because I am implying the game failed or I can’t afford to keep working on it.


The development & marketing cost for that game was $115,000. The *profit* so far is about $40,000. If I look at the hours I spent working on it, I earned about $12.74 per hour. That is assuming I stopped work on it when it shipped, even though I did not, and continued to add patches, fix bugs, add new features and polish existing ones for months after release. Something that made zero economic sense.

If you think $12.74 an hour is good for a software developer with more than twenty years experience you are flat out wrong. If you think that you can run a business in the UK earning £17,549 which is the sterling equivalent, you are flat out wrong.

Gratuitous Space Battles 2 failed, partly because it was released into a sea of space strategy games that are so numerous I cannot possibly list them all. I still think its a darned good game and am very proud of the engine that was coded for it. I think it is superior in every way to the game that came before it. I’m sure it will continue to earn some money in the long run on steam, but not nearly enough to make it anything other than a relative flop.


And yet…people will still hurl abuse at me for moving on. Of course I am moving on, that is why I am still in business, and that is why I am able to pay the rent for the server on which this blog post resides. Some games are hits, some are flops. Almost all indie game studios have flops and it normally puts them out of business.  I am not asking for any sympathy, I do not want any, I am not blaming anyone but myself, and …oh for fucks sake, why even bother typing any further, as I know I will get nothing but abuse and vitriol for even posting this because many teenage gamers think that I should be working from now until my death bed to implement every possible idea, tweak, or change that they can imagine for the game because they paid $10 for it once.

That makes no economic sense, and when you harass and bully and scream at the devs of ‘your favorite games’ to do this, all you do is accelerate the date at which they go out of business and stop making games. If there is a way to turn off comments just on one post I’m going to do it here, but I expect abuse on twitter and so on anyway. Apparently thats what you have to put with for $$11.74 an hour in 2015.

FWIW positech overall is doing just fine, I’m developing a new game and publishing others. I am also personally fine, I just know many devs feel this way but are too scared to say so, I’m doing their venting for them :D


The battlefield 4 ‘meta’ game is a thing of beauty. You only really notice it when you start looking at Battlefront: Star Wars. I consider BF4 to be a standard I one day aspire to. Not in terms of the length of its grind to unlock, which is frankly nuts, but in terms of the wealth of stats, and the freedom you have in self defining your own metrics for success. Here is my Battlefield 4 main stats page.


There is SO Much stuff here, and every tab has additional data in excruciating detail   Its just awesome. What really makes it work for me are the multiple streams of data. I never care about my win/lose ration because I routinely swap sides to keep a game balanced (I hate one sided slugfests), but I can ignore that and focus on my unlocks, or my assignments, or awards, or maybe the leaderboards or kill/death ratio. It basically says ‘here is a whole bunch of cool stats, have fun with it all, and gives you a great gui and some shiny graphics to show off when you reach a milestone.

Basically, even the worst BF4 player in the universe has probably got a bunch of awards/icons/scores that they are proud of, and everyone’s style is different. This contrasts massively with the approach of far too many games which is “Game is done, throw in some achievements before launch and we are done.”

I’m as bad as the next guy. Democracy 3 has some pretty cool achievements (especially after the recent update), but thats all it has. There are not separate stats to measure stuff like the average crime rate over all your games, or per-country achievements or stats, or maybe the number of countries each situation has been achieved in, or your highest ever election victory…etc. There is a lot more scope for me to improve on stuff like that.

I’m working on my next game now (release date: errrr maybe next year?) and I’m already thinking I need to be aware of how cool this kind of thing is from a much earlier stage.

Look into my gorgeous eyes.

November 20, 2015 | Filed under: business

Self promotion is a weird thing. I remember that as a young teenager I was very very shy. I remained a bit like that right up until I started playing gigs in a heavy metal band. Its hard to pull off the meek shy thing when you want to be yngwie malmsteen. I once read that metal leads guitarists were basically a mashup of musicians and strippers. Presumably only in the area of arrogance, and maybe leather trousers. Anyway…

What being a guitarist taught me is that people in ‘showbiz’ are so pushy and full of themselves that even people with no ability act like they are gods. So if you have actually knuckled down and learned to play guitar well you had to be AT LEAST as arrogant as them. Its not something that sits easily with a naturally shy English guy, but I tried. Anyway, here I am twenty five years later running a company and realizing that the public face of that company (me) is generally represented by five year old photos of me holding knives, bows or cats, and he really should get someone to take proper photos like these…

Positech Games, Cliff Harris

Which is kinda cheesy and embarrassing and probably necessary all at once. At least I didn’t do that typical tech CEO bullshit thing of having some photographer lie on the floor and take a pic of me next to a skyscraper. I think I have a long way to go before I reach ‘candidate on the apprentice’ levels of deranged self-belief, so thats good.

My accountant (jeez that feels weird to type) recently said ‘as your business has grown to a considerable size’ in an email, and it made me stop and think and go ‘yeah, I guess it has’. You don’t get a marching band show up at your door when your sales reach a certain level, all you get is a bigger tax bill, so its easy not to notice this sort of thing going on.

Anyway. I have proper photos now. I still cringe a bit looking at them, but if I didn’t do that I wouldn’t be British.

A few days ago I saw an article about Star Wars Battlefront, saying its out this week. With super-slow ADSL, I wanted to start preloading, so went and ordered it right away. I think it was £50. That is about $80. For a digital game. Thats not a season pass, all I get for that is just one game. And it’s $80. Did I mention the $80?


How can a company in 2015 justify $80 for a game (standard edition) when so many indies struggle to get $9.99 for theirs? The answer is a combination of ‘brands’ and ‘animal spirits’. Animal spirits is a term by an economist which describes how in many ways we can be irrational and illogical. Its often a term thrown around on the stock market to explain all the irrational buying and selling that goes on when the fundamentals of a stock have not changed. Its basically people thinking with their emotions, and we do it a LOT with brands. You can even see it in brain scans.

You see animal spirits at play with purchasing decisions most obviously with big brands. Half Life 3 is available for download right now. It’s $100. Add to basket? y/n?. of course you do, how could you not, its HALF LIFE THREE. The same is true for Star Wars Battlefront, Fallout 4, the next (inevitable) COD game, and so on. I bet a lot of people do not even look at the price, especially if the marketers can generate a ‘rush’ mentality like they do with concert tickets, where you do not DARE waste time asking if 1direction tickets should cost that much, you must BUY IT NOW.

We probably underestimate the extent to which this sort of behavior works, as a business strategy. Lets take the example of a product that costs $10 to make, and sells for $11. Thats great, we are in profit! (obv. its not a digital product in this example). If we can spend a STUPIDLY BIG amount of money on that product to make it a ‘must have’ then we can actually charge $20 for it. We haven’t multiplied the profit by a bit, but by 900%. Even if we are spending an insane $5 PER ITEM to market it, we are still making 400% the profit we used to make.

I think there may be a ‘tipping point’ where the steam discussions about ‘is it worth getting full price’ basically evaporate. Very few people will wait for Half life 3 to be in a sale, or a PWYW bundle. Ditto the other games listed above. The trick is to have the confidence in your product (and a good enough product to warrant it), to try and push your game into that area.


Now you probably think thats bullshit, and impossible for indies because we do not have anything close to the required scale. True, we cannot make our game as *generally* desirable as Battlefront or HL3, but can we make it desirable within its niche? Can you hype up, promote and generate buzz enough about your game within its niche so people are excited on launch day and MUST HAVE IT NOW? Big Pharma was very popular on release day, people really wanted it, and paid full price for it. It can be done.

I think a lot of us could do it. I think most of us (including me) wimp out, with our fingers hovering over the ‘buy advertising’ button thinking ‘Jesus what if this is a waste of time’. I would like to make Democracy 3:Africa and Shadowhand absolute ‘MUST BUY’ products on their release dates next year.  Lots of work ahead…


Ok here is some *good* news. And its about Africa, but no, not Democracy 3, it’s about that school Positech is funding in Cameroon. I just got an email from the charity handling it, and more details are to come soon, but the school is 95% finished, they have had an opening ceremony, it was in the local paper, on radio even on local TV. I’m looking forward to seeing snippets of all that soon, but in the meantime, I have two pictures that have been sent from the agonizingly slow internet connection in Cameroon. First, here are the children about to sing the national anthem in front of the old school… (old school at back on the right)…

children outside old school

And here is the representative of the charity being photographed in front of the shiny shiny new modern school, that we funded. Yay :D

Handing over of new school

This is so awesome. My first response when seeing the pics was, wow, thats a lot of children, but when you think it has 3 classrooms, I guess thats probably right, they don’t have tiny class sizes out there anyway, so its to be expected, but its still kind of amazing to think you can boost the education of so many people when you are just some middle aged dude typing in his home-office. It’s not like I had to put on a benefit concert or spend years knocking on doors. And the new school looks BIG and really cool.

I can totally understand why people who do stuff like this want to fly out there and strut about in the school. Its 100% natural. I would love to see it, love to actually be there, and be able to understand in that basic primitive way that I have really helped to do this, by touching the walls and seeing the children in lessons. That temptation is huge, but I fight it because 1) I try not to fly too much and 2) shouldn’t that potential air-fare money go to better use?

Maybe one day I’ll give in and do it anyway :D

Expect another post when I have video and more photos! For those curious about this click the ‘schools’ category on this blog post to see earlier posts about the school, where it is, what it cost etc.