Category Archives: business

I really don’t get how indies put so much time and effort into their first game. The ones who get into debt amaze me even more. the ones who mortgage/sell their house scare the crap out of me. Don’t do this.
I’ve made lots of games, here is how they went:

  • Asteroid Miner: Meh…sold a few hundred copies, was exciting to see it in a box.
  • Starship Tycoon…sold a few hundred copies, also some retail deals, tempted to quit day job… and does! That was a mistake!
  • Rocky Racers… mediocre flop.
  • Kombat kars… mediocre flop.
  • Planetary Defense…not bad considering development time was super short (a few months).
  • Kudos…surprise hit. did really well. 3rd party publishing deals that paid actual royalties!
  • Kudos 2… even better. Seriously good sales. hit $20k in one month. unbelievable.
  • Democracy…not bad, not enough to quit job, but really not bad.
  • Democracy 2: Really good, enough to quit job. *quits job AGAIN*. pays off mortgage.
  • Gratuitous Space Battles: OMG teh fountain of money. Buys new house.
  • Gratuitous Tank Battles. Meh: pretty good, but nowhere near as good as GSB.
  • Democracy 3: LOLLERSKATES. Orders brand new car & stupidly expensive laptop. Starts flying business class. Eventually buys stupidly flash electric car.
  • GSB2: Yikes, that didn’t go down well. Ouch. what did I do wrong?
  • Democracy 3:Africa. Fuck. Americans REALLY don’t care about Africa then? Barely breaks even.
  • Production Line: LOL. Almost physically crushed by stampede of pre-orders.

My point is…holy crap you never know what will happen next. Your next game could flop, it could be huge. I *really* think that GSB2 is underappreciated and am surprised it flopped. I’m still amazed at how many people like political strategy games. YOU NEVER KNOW. So be cautious, and experiment a bit. if I’d bet my house on Asteroid Miner, I’d be renting a bedsit whilst still working in IT support trying to pay off debts. I’ve never borrowed money to make a game, I’ve never remortgaged, I’ve never worked for more than 18 months on a single game before putting it on sale.

That might be a bit clinical and unromantic, but its worked for me. Your life is not a feel-good Hollywood movie starring Tom Cruise. Don’t get stuck in confirmation bias. Many indie games fail. Some fail HARD.

This has been the softest launch of a game I’ve ever done. I spent about $100 total on facebook post boosts, I tweeted, I blogged and I posted to the ProductionLine facebook page. Since then…thats it, I’ve been pretty much going along on word of mouth, and even then, sales have exceeded my expectations! This is really good news, because so far the development of the game has gone exactly as I had hoped, with a lot more focus on what actual players of the game want, rather than me guessing, or doing just want I want, or me trying to guess what makes the press happiest.

This has resulted in a lot of bug reports! (many thanks for that) and some really good suggestions and ideas, some of which have already made it into the game. People do seem to be surprised how quickly stuff goes in or gets improved, but frankly thats because I worked on this game for about a year in silence so there is this whole huge library of decent engine code in the background that is *done* and thus I only really have to code new features and GUI stuff now. New GUI does not take that long, and thankfully I’ve got good enough at debugging multi-threading and recursive stuff that this is not a huge bottleneck either. I’m almost disappointed nobody is having frame-rate issues, because I love optimizing :D

This is just as well as there have been a LOT of ideas and suggestions. I’ve already seen factories way bigger and more efficient than anything I have managed to create. It never occurred to me to re-use the conveyor belts in cunning roundabout-style loops with the individual processing elements happening at different junctions…until someone found a bug in it.

Users feedback has been excellent, encouraging and invaluable.

But anyway! I’m actual;y sending out a puny mailing list today with 7,500 recipients, so that should open things up a bit, especially as some are press. I don’t expect massive press coverage, but I’m not relying on it either. The game remains very much in Alpha (not even beta) so I expect a lot of people, gamers and press alike will stay in a ‘wait and see’ mode.

In the meantime, I have just set a big patch(1.04) live, and here is the fairly hefty changelist. (not bad for about 4 days work).

[version alpha  1.04]
1) The task ‘make fuel tanks’ now unlocks when researched correctly.
2) Fixed some crashes and routing bugs caused by deleting resource importer bays.
3) Pop-up details on the slot-picker now should show decimal places for times.
4) Vehicle details windows limited to one per vehicle and can now be dragged by the player.
5) Fixed minute format bug in save games.
6) Pause now works as a toggle, and all speed controls have hotkeys.
7) Escape key now closes slot picker.
8) Slot picker has less visual ‘padding’.
9) Double-click on the relevant window now loads a save game.
10) The upgrades section of a slot details dialog is now hidden if there are no upgrades available for selection.
11) Any open dialogs are now correctly closed when going to the main menu.
12) Fixed crash bug when a single stretch of uninterrupted conveyor belt was over 64 tiles long.
13) Added new efficiency dialog which shows efficiency over time and also a snapshot of current slot efficiency.
14) Fixed bug where slots could be placed ‘spilling’ over into a locked factory area.
15) Fixed bug on low resolutions where the slot upgrades window did not fit on the screen.
16) Floating numbers fade out now even when paused.
17) Improvements to ‘load-balancing’ at junctions.
18) New ‘Efficiency’ dialog currently just showing global state of all slots now and over time.
19) Slight speedup of creating the load-game dialog.
20) New vehicle pop-ups show the reason a vehicle is stuck.
21) Some conveyor belt graphics now have darker, more obvious direction arrows.
22) Fixed incorrect sizes of some delivered resources.
23) New upgrade for painting slot: ‘High pressure paint nozzles’
24) Fixed bug where components built inside the factory at ‘make’ slots did not survive a save and load.
25) Corrupt resource deliveries to roof making and similar slots fixed.
26) New graphics for the tyre-making slot and the window making slot.

 

Thanks for everyone pre-ordering, and I also really appreciate it when people tweet or post online about the game, its really helpful. If you don’t have the game yet, here is the order form :D

There are a lot of indie games being released these days, hell, a lot of games full stop. There is evidence of this from this wonderful graph courtesy of steamspys twitter account:

Its hard to imagine the number of gamers has increased to the same extent, or the amount of games press covering indie games, so the inevitable conclusion is that chances of the press caring about your indie game are less than 1/6th as high as they were when I released Democracy 3. In short…in terms of getting press about your game, you are kinda fucked.

And not just you. I haven’t been able to set the world of gaming media on fire with Political Animals or Shadowhand or Production Line either. If it makes you feel better…its me as well. In terms of getting press, I’m probably only slightly less fucked than the average reader of this blog (assuming you are a developer obv.).

The good news is, I don’t think this really matters. These days, I increasingly hear about a new game from world of mouth, a reddit/forum post, twitter or facebook. Or I see it on my steam front page. None of these are areas where the press is dramatically driving eyeballs. The idea that all discussion about video games is emanating like a funnel from the core seed that is planted by a number of gaming websites and print magazines is rooted in the 1990s and 2000s, not today. I actually think that if the editors of Kotaku, Rock Paper Shotgun, PCGamesN and PCGamer all HATED YOU with a vengeance, and refused to ever mention your game, its not really going to have much effect, because the percentage of the games-discussion taking place online that is controlled  by a few media people with megaphones is actually pretty small, and my gut feeling is that it is shrinking.

So how do you fight that?

You don’t, you embrace it.

The fact is, gamers like to find, play and talk about cool stuff. Despite us complaining that only 1% of steam players leave reviews, thats still hundreds of thousands of reviews, and tens or hundreds of thousands of comments, retweets, likes, upvotes and all the other social media stuff. I have to admit, given the option of a front page article on a news site about production Line, or having the game discussed in a top-voted subreddit by hundreds of redditors…I may well choose the reddit option. Social media gets a bad rap, and sure its a cesspool of trolls and people referring to each other as Hitler, but in amongst it all there are a lot of people talking about games, and these people BUY the games, they aren’t the ones getting free press passes.

I, like everyone in any branch of the entertainment industry, have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. Sometimes I’m right, sometimes I’m, wrong, but I like to think I make informed decisions. In a day when googling for almost any topic or question will get you video results near the top of the list, its hilarious that so many once proud gaming websites don’t even have a video channel. The same people who laughed at their bosses not understanding the shift from print to web are missing the shift from web to video. I strongly think that a constantly updated and topical video channel is not just an option for the fully staffed indie studio with a full time community manager, its absolutely essential.

I’ve done 11 blog videos to promote Production Line, and done my best to respond helpfully to all the comments on them. I fully intend to blog every week in video form until final release and then beyond. I may prefer text to video, but many of my customers do not, and they are the ones in charge. I’m no longer releasing videos as a way to persuade the ‘big press’ to run a story with the video link, the video IS my story, and it IS my coverage, and I’m fine with it.

Right now my videos average about 600 views each, hopefully this climbs over time. If the game looks good, people will share the videos and tell their friends. I am not trying to rush this, or be too pushy about encouraging it, I’m hoping to just make a great game and let it gather attention organically for now. I’m not saying i wont advertise at some point, I’m just saying that chasing the conventional press is starting to feel to me like perhaps a bit of a dated strategy.

 

 

To cut a long story short, personal interaction with me can be pretty random. Some days, if you meet me I will be confident, outgoing, friendly. I will smile and shake your hand. I will probably be very sarcastic (tis my way…) and make jokes. I will try to be helpful. Other times, depending on the circumstances, I may be VERY shy. Its very unlikely I’ll start a conversation, or have much enthusiasm for keeping things going. At a lot of social events, if I haven’t seen someone I know within 10 minutes (max) I’ll leave, even if it took me an hour to get there.

Generally, when it comes to business, I far prefer email to all other forms of communication. I don’t need to meet you to sign a contract. I don’t even need to speak to you. Email is perfect for me, its excellent in all ways. Ironically, in groups of people that I already know, I can often be gregarious, maybe even loud. It is sooo random.

I do muse if people who are like me are naturally biased towards becoming programmers, especially in games. Games programming is about creation, and creation is about control. I wouldn’t choose to create a situation I didn’t want, or people I didn’t like, or locations that freak me out. As a coder, I have total control over the entire world, the entire ecosystem, I can see what everyone is thinking, because I coded their AI.

For a long time, I got the impression that almost all indie developers, and maybe most game developers in general were people like me. Quiet people. people who didn’t draw attention to themselves. hard workers, but the quiet studious types who beaver away in some dark corner of a room somewhere learning C++ or developing a game engine. In short…people like this:

Then after Indie Game:The movie came out, indie became cool, and it seemed the total opposite happened. The last game conference I went to, I recall seeing some distressingly stylish and attractive and confident young game developer strutting the stage with a headset mic on, behaving like he was a veteran of TED talks. What the hell happened? Where did all these extroverts come from? Maybe I am wrong, and being superficial about it. A friend told me that a famous game dev (who I’ve met a few times) is NOT AT ALL as outgoing and confident as he appears at shows, its all an act. if so, its a good one. Is that the case for everyone? Is there some genetic link between being an extravert and making a retro puzzle platformer game in the same way there seems to be between introverts and simulation game coders? (molyneux excepted). Modern game devs seem to be more like this:

FWIW, if you ever saw me give a talk, it was likely this one at the GDC rant (its the biggest audience I spoke to I think, maybe tied with steam devs days #1 marketing talk). Here is the talk:

I was so nervous beforehand you have no idea. I actually thought I might vomit. No, you can’t tell (hopefully), but there you go. Maybe we ARE all faking it?

 

Its not even Christmas yet, but fuck it, I’m typing this now. So how was 2016 for Cliffski/Positech?

Lets start with the easy stuff: Statistics! Oh how I love statistics. Looking at steam, my companies revenue comparing the last 365 days…

Steam revenue is down 19%. Steam units sold are down 16% suggesting not much in the way of price pressure downwards. Income from other channels, like direct sales, GoG, Humble seem pretty steady.

We released 2 games this year: Political Animals and Democracy 3 Africa. neither of them set the world on fire, although D3:A is currently profitable (yay!). PA may break even in the long run. We also released Democracy 3:Electioneering, which didn’t do quite as well as I hoped, but I’m still glad I did it, as I enjoyed making it, and it kind of ‘fleshed out’ an area that was missing in the games coverage of politics in general. Democracy 3 & Big Pharma continue to sell well, as do some older titles.

In other business news, we got a retail deal signed for Big Pharma and Democracy 3 in Poland, which was some cash & some nice shiny boxes for my shelf :D. D3:Africa was my first experiment at trusting someone else to write code that I would put the positech development name to, which was a big step. In PR terms, we were a bit too low key. I didn’t give any major talks this year, nor show any games personally at shows, although Jeff showed off Democracy 3:Africa. There was GDC, and a trip to Steam Dev days, both of which were worth doing personally, even if not really justified in PR terms.

We also invested in new games, notably shadowhand, which will be released soon, and despite being quite late development wise, may prove to be a bit of an indie hit. Its the sort of game that does very well through word of mouth. I have my fingers crossed for that one. Also… I started work on Production Line officially (I had been developing it slowly for ages secretly). Roughly a year ago it looked like this:

It now looks better.

In Business…but not games news…we carried on investing in renewable energy stuff, which gives about a 7-10% return, which is pretty good in these days of low interest rates. Technically my best non-games investment was probably a robotics tracker fund that is up 34% (yay!). I’m a big fan of diversifying investments and income sources, as I hate to be too dependent on just one business relationship. This does mean I now spend more time on the phone talking to banks and accountants than I would like, and I don’t consider either activity to be much fun, but its probably well worth my time.

In personal terms, my usual resolve to be ‘calmer’ each year hasn’t completely worked, although I do get less angry about things than I used to, especially in person. Due to hurting my arm just before summer started I totally failed to do archery this year, but have discovered the joy of casual puzzle games on an ipad attached to an exercise bike, which seems to be my best bet at losing weight. My BMI is 23.5, which is healthy, but I hate having any sort of belly. For years I was a boatbuilder, and we had muscles, not flab.

We raised some money for War Child this year, haven’t got final figures yet, but probably about $14k. We also finally met some representatives from the Cameroon organisation we built that school with. Hopefully we will do more of that soon.

One thing that *is* business related that I started doing weekly development videos for YouTube showing progress on Production Line. So far I have done 9, and I expect that to be more like 50 by the time the game *ships*. I’m well aware of how important youtube is, and how many gamers prefer content to be in video form. I don’t want to be one of those dinosaurs still updating their geocities page in 2016 and wondering where everyone has gone. I’m hopefully getting better at it, despite not having a face or voice for such things.

If I have learned one business lesson in 2016, its to take my time more with games, and to get opinions from gamers early. This was the first year we started using professional player research companies, and I intend to embrace this sort of thing more with a  paid-alpha program for Production Line. The other semi-business lesson I learned was related to the stock market, and thats to set a stop loss when my shares are high, but never sell them otherwise. I am very guilty of ‘banking my winnings’ too early.

If there has been any *theme* to positechs 2016 its been one of holding steady. We have not expanded to a great extent, and we have maintained a fairly constant release schedule and work schedule. Earnings took a dip, mostly due to a lack of a *big-name* first party release. With luck, that will be next year with Production Line.  On reflection, 2016 went very very quickly. It seems like only yesterday I was stood in a car factory in Michigan doing research.

Hope you all had a good year.