Category Archives: business

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


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…


…although people seem to be pricing them like they are. Which is kinda weird. I’ve seen games listed for $0.10. Thats kinda…desperate, and its either a signal that the game is an absolute botched together clone of something simple and generic, or it shows that the developer isn’t aware that games are not commodities.

About a week ago, Anno 2205 came out, and I bought it right away (in fact I even pre-ordered it, based on my like for 2070). The price of the game is interesting. here is steam spy


So…no launch discount, a price of $60.00, and so far about 40,000 owners (clearly more off-steam as well). So thats $2.4 million, so take 70% and it means 1.68 million. IO don’t know the games dev costs but I’m guessing its not stratospheric. A few million? hard to tell, but I think its safe to say the game will be a decent retrun on investment.

Ubisoft know that Anno is Anno, and other games are not Anno. If I look at the strategy new releases chart on steam…


Ok, so no denying age of empires is cool, but a bit…old, and mini metro might be fun. One of them is DLC and I’ve never heard of the others. This isn’t my point though, my point is, I could buy the entire newly released top ten strategy games for less than the price I paid for Anno, and yet…I bought Anno. Judging my sales charts, so did everyone else.

Games (good ones) are not commodities. I don’t *need* to price Democracy 3 to compete with those 10 games listed there because they are NOT competition. Big Pharma is still priced at full price because it pretty much has no competition. There are *similar* games, sure, but there are *similar* games to Anno, but they are *not* the same.

Stop pricing games like you are selling a generic commodity. You aren’t.

Its announcement day! Yay. And what do we have for you today…


Yup its Democracy 3:Africa announcement day! So whats all this then?

Democracy 3: Africa is a sort of ‘re-imagining’ of the original game, and also an ‘expandalone’, meaning you don’t need to buy the original game. This is not DLC, but a stand-alone game with new graphics, new music, and of course a completely new setting. The countries in D3:A have a different set of problems, opportunities and characteristics to those in the original game. That has meant a lot of changes and a lot of tweaking and re-modeling. There is more information, including a list of the countries modeled at the placeholder website here.

So in more blog-like terms…whats going on here then?
Democracy 3 is a pretty popular game, and actually, while I’m mentioning it, you can get it at 66% off RIGHT NOW on steam. Anyway…over the years it’s had 3 expansions, (Social Engineering, Extremism and  clones & Drones), and recently we revisited the game to tweak it with some GUI improvements and new achievements.  Because of its popularity, I’m able to ‘take a risk’ and make a version of the game that at first glance might not make commercial sense. When I told some friends about it they said, ‘why Africa? who is interested in African politics?’

And thats kind of the point. In the west, we tend to think of Africa as either the target of charity fund-raising concerts, or somewhere to go on a safari. We never think about the African economies, or African industry or exports. Lets not forget Africa is home to a billion people…

The problems, opportunities and characteristics of many African countries make for a fascinating experiment in political strategy. It also makes for perhaps more of a challenge. Some people claim that the USA is ‘hard mode’ for Democracy 3, but even in the USA, you aren’t dealing with the levels of corruption found in *some* African states. Poor infrastructure and low levels of literacy are not much of a problem in the west, but they are definite factors in Africa. The problems are different, making for different strategy, and hopefully, a very different and interesting gaming experience.


Plus… When do you ever see Africa in a video game? I have no memories of it ever being anything but a destination where pirate bases or criminal gangs roam. Gaming seems to have a very distorted view of Africa, just like Hollywood does. I am under no illusions that this game will sell many copies in Africa, the gaming market is tiny, but I think it still makes sense because its such an interesting setting for a strategy game.

Also… I am not the designer this time. Modeling Africa was my idea, but in terms of all of the research, balancing, re-modeling, tweaking and any re-coding, this is all being done by Jeff Sheen from Stargazy Studios. Look at me! I’m expanding (a bit).

So there you go…Democracy 3:Africa. And yes…I am going to get even more white supremacist spam. (I got a bit after announcing the school we are building), and yes, we will probably get the tone of some of this wrong, and people will accuse us of misrepresenting African countries and people, and we expect to learn a lot, and to be in full-on listening mode. We are two white guys in the UK making a game about Africa. I’ve never even been there. I get that. I know we will make mistakes, but they won’t be intentional. If we have any ‘agenda’ here at all, its just to develop a game with an unusual and interesting setting, and to learn a little about Africa in the process.

Oh and shipping date? Errr. not sure. Q1 2016? We have been working on it secretly for a while…

So don’t forget…Democracy 3 is 66% off this week on steam :D