Monthly Archives: October 2017

So I have put it off long enough, due to fixing and improving existing things, but the ongoing clamour from the user-base to include these features into Production Line (which for new readers, is my PC car-factory tycoon game), means that I needed to give in and stasrt work on getting it into the game, which is what I’ve done for the last few days.

The design basically comes down to defining each car as being one of three types, based on what people generally refer to as the ‘power-train’. A car is either ICE (internal combustion engine (diesel/petrol), Electric or Hybrid. This is simple enough, and I can work this out from a cars design simply by seeing if certain mutually-exclusive features have been added, for example ‘hybrid power-train’. Any car that is not explicitly hybrid or electric is assumed to be ICE. (This system also allows support for me to at some later stage maybe implement diesel/petrol as two distinctly different technologies.

The slight complexity comes from the fact that for the first time in the design of the simulation, this has to be applied to each CAR, not each design. This is because you can (and players do) change the features of a car design while cars are actively being produced. Its no good changing car type A from ICE to electric when 33 cars of that design have already skipped battery installs and have fuel tanks and radiators…

So thats the first obstacle I had to get over. the second one is to add new power-train-specific support to each production slot. For example, the ‘fit fuel tank’ slot will now fix a battery instead if the car at that slot happens to be a hybrid or electric car (and each of those their own battery size). There also is now support for entirely skipping a slot if the task its performing is irrelevant, which in the case of radiators and pure-electric cars is indeed the case (also exhausts).

So those are the big code changes that have been needed, along with support (with backwards compatibility) for saving and loading the power-train type of each car currently in the game. The other steps are relatively simple, in that they involve setting up new research, new unlockable upgrades and the applicable car features for Hybrid power-train, Electric power-train, and Large Battery support. (Electric cars will initially default to small batteries, with large ones being a researchable option). I also needed to add new resources for electric motors, and 3 different battery types, plus a composite resource for a hybrid power-train. That gives me ‘basic’ support for a choice between ICE, Hybrid and Electric . From then on, in future updates, I can introduce slots to manufacture those components, such as make battery, make electric motor etc, and maybe some researchable techs for higher power-density batteries etc. Thats all in the future.

For now it just feels good to know I’ll have this new tech in the game in a few days time.

In the meantime I am off to Indiecade Paris where I will be giving my down-to-earth honest talk called ‘how not to go bankrupt’.

Oh and by the way, if you are a steam customer, or a direct-bought customer with a steam key (which comes with every order), you might be interested to know that we now have cool Steam Trading cards available for the game.

Oh…and last thing, the steam Halloween sale is on, with a ton of cool positech bargains. Production Line is NOT discounted, nor will it be in any other sales this year, but you can buy it from the link below for $17.99 :D

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How many people are playing PUBG now? 2 million? 2 billion? 2 trillion? Whatever the number, we know its insane. We also know that its player-growth was not slow and steady, but what seemed to be an accelerating exponential growth. It seems that pretty much everywhere I go, I keep seeing those same exponential graphs of growth. A few things are growing at an incredible rate. Its not especially relevant, but lets look at the robot company KUKA and its share price:

Holy fuck. Now one could argue (and I do), that this is people suddenly realizing the potential for future revenue and market share that a long established high quality robotics firm has in a super-accelerating market. But one could also argue that its just the herd mentality, or people buying KUKA because other people have bought KUKA. Be honest…if you have savings you are thinking about it now aren’t you? FWIW, I’ve doubled my investment :D

I remember a long time ago standing in a physical store (GAME) fondling a boxes copy of world-of-warcraft. I was not the target market for the game. I didn’t really play MMO games, I didn’t like fantasy games, I was not excited by the name, description or the videos I had seen. But there I was, holding the box thinking that maybe I should play it too.

Maybe I SHOULD play it TOO.

Bizarrely this is normal, and in some ways primitively rational. if everyone in your cave is only eating the red berries, you only eat the red berries. if everyone else flees from the tiger, you do too. Its a decent survival instinct when it comes to identifying both danger, and a decent source of food. Its absolutely fucking useless when it comes to entertainment.

I saw the comedian Stewart lee live last night, and he has a hilarious rant about people asking him if he has seen Game Of Thrones. I especially loved it, because I dont watch Game Of Thrones, but the SOCIAL PRESSURE to watch it is quite high. I even tried an episode of Westworld (FFS can they squeeze any more sexual violence or rape fantasies into a single episode?) because ‘everyone’ was watching it…

And I admit I am part of the problem. if you haven’t seen Silicon Valley, I will lecture you on how you should, because its awesome, everyone agrees etc…

So how does this relate to games and indie game development? Well basically there is a line, somewhere, and above that line, you go into a positive spiral of awesomeness. More people play your game, so more ‘friends’ see that their friends are playing, and they grab the game too, then steam notices that the time played and the ‘conversion’ is going up, so it gets displayed to more people, so more people get the game, so more streamers notice it and start wondering if they should stream it and…

And there is also another line. below this line, nobody is playing the game. The steam forums are empty because nobody has any questions. Nobody sees their friends playing, and the game is not in any charts. Nobody streams it, because nobody is playing it. Nobody is buying it so the dev earns no money for any PR. No journalist writes about it because frankly nobody is playing/streaming/tweeting about it…and down we go into the vortex of failure.

As a games producer/marketer/business person, your job is to aim for the high line, and live in fear of the low line. Be aware that 95% of indie games are below that second line. How can you fix this? There are basically two systems at play:

OPTION 1:  MONEY

Basically this is ads, and its also stuff like appearing at every show, and getting in the faces of taste-making players, streamers, bloggers and so-on. Appearing at a show is EXPENSIVE and its basically advertising. You do this if you have money. If a show takes 4 days and costs you £4k, then you have to be a pretty successful dev to be worrying more about the time than the money in that case. (Even then you can reduce the burden by hiring someone to go to the show, or only sending 1 team member).

OPTION 2: TIME

Social media is your friend. Hang out on every game forum, every social media site, post about your game, the making of your game, the financing of your game, the support of your game, everything. Reply to every comment thread and every review. make every customer feel special, even the angry ones. Aim to turn every player into a fan, listen to every concern and promise to address it, keep the players informed as to what you are working on. All of this is free, but really time consuming. take this option if you have no money, but are young and enthusiastic, or have a team size > 1.

Also be aware both systems rely on you making the best game you possibly can. That goes without saying.

Me? I tend to choose option 1 because a) I am time-limited, b) I live in nowheresville and 3)I’m not very extroverted. The big question is probably ‘where is the line’. To be honest, I’m not sure, but I know its definitely above $1,000 a day in steam revenue. I have some evidence that $2,500 a day in revenue will be self-sustaining for a long time, but below $1,000? thats not momentum at all, thats just heading into a downwards spiral. YMMV.

 

I own a Tesla model S, and am also a long term investor in Tesla. I’ve bought shares in them a few times, and traded the volatility a bit, and still hold a decent amount of shares. Of all my investments, Tesla is the largest single company. Why?

Fundamentals

people get can too hung up on price/earnings ratio, profit and market size. If you look at the fundamentals of the company without knowing anything about the product, TSLA is a joke. Its losing money, a LOT of it, and its market share and revenue cannot possibly justify its valuation. Luckily, there are darned good reasons for all of that…

For a very long time, Amazon made no profit, but the share was a darned good bet because it was a ‘get big fast ‘ play. Amazon now have near market dominance and everyone accepts that profitability is a choice, and a matter of when not if. Growing rapidly during development, and ignoring profit is a proven strategy.

Tesla is not losing money in the way people think. They are investing a LOT of money in capital expenditure, and some in R&D. Basically they are trying to copy Ford River Rouge factory in terms of vertical integration and scale. This is catastrophically expensive in the SHORT term. Investing to grow is fine, there is no evidence tesla actually loses money when it sells you a model S/X.

The market share of tesla is awful, but its market share of electric cars is WAY better, and nobody expects this market to do anything but grow rapidly. Most people accept that the Tesla model S absolutely crushes other electric cars (except maybe the more expensive BMW i8), so it already has a killer product. I’d be amazed if their dominance of the electric market does not get more pronounced when the model 3 is released.

Product.

The Tesla model S is incredible. Fast as hell, quiet as a mouse, looks outstanding, mine has a 220 mile real-world range, great range of gadgets, over-the-air updates and bug fixes. Impressive autopilot, incredibly good safety ratings. Cheap to insure, Very cheap to power, Cheap to maintain. It also has a great brand, and the company has a charismatic and visionary leader.

Vertical Integration.

Tesla will sell you solar panels to generate electricity, a tesla powerpack to store it with, and an electric car to use it, all seamlessly controlled by your mobile phone. When you go on roadtrips, you can stop at a tesla owned supercharger to fill up with cheap power courtesy of tesla, at super-fast speeds. When you buy any of the panels, battery or car, you do so in a Tesla store. And that car battery? its made by Tesla too. Even apple depend on samsung for major components o the iphone. Tesla are limiting their dependence on outsiders whilst simultaneously capturing the profit at every part of the sale.

Direct Sales.

All of teslas serious competitors are big old car companies. All of them sell through franchise dealerships. Those dealerships make a big chunk of their money through servicing. Electric cars require virtually no servicing compared to an ICE. Not surprisingly, the salespeople at other car showrooms want to sell you an ICE, something they understand, and which they have a financial incentive to sell. That BMW salesperson doesnt really want to sell you an electric car. All the Tesla sales peoples sell is…electric cars.

First Mover.

Tesla was the first company to bring out a desirable, sexy electric car, and the only one to design one as electric from the ground up (model s). They have no legacy ICE crap to deal with. They are not tainted by emission standards scandals or other nonsense. Their tech, their factories, their designers…all focused 100% on electric cars. The time for competitors to wake up and smell the coffee was the year the model S came out. They didnt notice, and even if they had, they needed to change direction fast. They didn’t. Tesla are way ahead.

Superchargers.

Tesla own the petrol stations as well as the car. Its genius. The experience of other charging networks is awful. You need a phone app to find them, then you need one of several different cables to plug in. You then need a swipe card, and an account, to swipe and authorize on an app, then you need to pay. When I find a tesla charger (which the car will navigate me to) I just stick the cable in my car and go grab a coffee. No passwords, no logging in, no hassle, nothing. Its actually way more convenient than petrol.

Diversification.

Maybe the model 3 will suck. Maybe all the tesla cars will be beaten. Big deal. Tesla is an energy & storage & transportation & battery company. Soon they will announce a tesla truck. In many ways they have a more diverse base than the big auto companies. The chances of ALL of their energy/storage/car bets failing are trivially small.

So there you go. I am not a financial advisor blah blah, but I do read everything I can about a company I invest this heavily in.  FWIW TSLA shares are $351 today. :D

 

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So I tested and released build 1.34 of Production Line today with the following changes:

1) [Bug] Fixed crash bug when dragging production line route placer off the map.
2) [Bug] Fixed bug where queued research could disappear and be untriggerable if requirements not met.
3) [GUI] Various usability improvements to the research queue and R&D screen.
4) [SFX] Factory sounds now controlled by SFX volume, and muted during research.
5) [Bug] Fixed bug where after reloading the same games, some cars were invisible at certain zoom levels.
6) [Tutorial] Hint now given if player has not done any research after producing 10 cars.
7) [Graphics] Added a bunch more machine animations for the metalpresses.
8) [Feature] Pickup truck is a new body style option!
9) [Simulation] Sports Cars, Compacts & pickups now require half as many seats.
10) [Bug] Fixed bug where wingmirror painted layers were not painted the right color.
11) [Balance] Adjustments to AI competition and component price variation.
12) [Bug] Fixed bug preventing dragging scrollbars vertically.

This is a fairly content-heavy update, with new animations and a new car body style. Who would have guessed that in the USA 18% of vehicle sales are pickup trucks? Anyway… its more stuff to research and sell, and hopefully people will be pleased to see the extra content.

I have a big list of minor things I really need to get fixed/changed/tweaked for the next build, and then eventually it will be time for me to tackle the big hybrid./electric power-train thing. In-between all that we have our super artist working away on steam trading card art, which is going to be AMAZING, so with any luck we will have those in the next update, for people who like that sort of thing. I’m also thinking that there should be a bit more variety in the games factory equipment. I would love to be able to tell from a distance which slot is which, and the re-use of a lot of components throughout the factory makes that tricky. Some items, like the Tyre-press or glass-cutter are distinct to specific slots, but a lot of it isn’t and I think its about time I addressed that and got some more little factory things made so that I can create more distinct looks for each slot. Plus that gives me an excuse to look at factory videos :D

I’ve set the new price to be $17.99 but valve have to ‘approve’ it before it changes, so if you are on the fence, buy NOW :D.

Or buy it now at full price from us direct … :D

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Balancing games is really HARD. I’ve posted before twice about using stats to fine tune Production Line, mostly because I ma better with hard numbers than I am with reading forum comments, reddit comments, facebook comments, emails, reviews on steam and everything else the community has to say in order to draw conclusions. people generally dont comment on a game, so the 1% that do can give you a very skewed view of what is going on, and I want to ensure I am working to effectively improve the game for everyone. With that in mind lets look at some stats.

Here is a graph showing the progression within games from 50-500 game hours, expressed as the median value.

It looks like I kinda screwed up with build 1.32 and it was too generous(easy) in the long run, with the median player having buckets too much cash. I prefer the way things are now, although TBVH cash accumulates too much at the end anyway. This may be the effect of outliers running cheats though? If I look at the distribution for the current version I get this:

Which has a log scale and shows that we definitely have some people cheating at the top end, but a fair few people who have more than $100mill in hour 500. A cluster seems to be around the 1-10 mill level which is fine. overall, I dont see any major balancing issue here. Now looking at profit margins:

I really dont want the player to have significantly negative profit margins over the course of the game. Its fine in the short run, as loans can allow it, but not indefinitely. It looks like the last two builds did a decent job of preveting catastrophic meltdowns over the 100-400 hour mark, but I could still do with tweaking the marketplace to stop that negative margin being so low. it looks like the system is good at preventing excessive profits, but can resulty in unsustainable losses, so I’m going to need to tweak that a bit.

This chart is showing how strongly the AI competitors compete with the player. it looks like I made no noticeable impact on this in the last build. The AI basically runs on maximum from when you reach the 200 hour mark. This is probably related to it over-punishing the player and causing that negative profit margin. It looks like I just need the AI to back off a bit quicker once it starts having an impact on the players profit margins.

All fun stuff for me to think about today, and then tomorrow I’ll just be doing final testing before releasing build 1.34 to the wild. Talking of which…

I am increasing the price of Production Line tomorrow from its current $15.99 to $17.99. I thought this was a good time to do it, as I’ll be adding the new exciting Pickup Truck to the game:

As well as lots of new animations, and we are getting closer to the eventual point where it gets described as ‘beta’ and then eventually ‘released’. The games price has been the same all through Early Access so far so I thought it was about time. if you want to save yourself $2 you can grab it from the link below. (or steam/Gog). If you are enjoying the game, positive reviews are always nice to have :D