Category Archives: business

Its a tough time out there in the world of indie gaming. I talk to a lot of devs ‘off the record’, whether we are just chatting, they are pitching a game to me, or they ask for advice… so I hear opinions from a lot of people and… its a tough time out there. 1,592 games have been added to steam this year apparently (and its only July). How on earth do you get any attention for your game? who on earth is going to buy it? how are you going to break even.

Now to be honest, I’m one of the doomsayers who will tell you that you won’t, and you will almost certainly lose money. Thats just the way things are. Only the top 20% or so will break even, only the top 5% are going to make a living. Maybe. There are a lot of poor games out there, and the globalization of attention means the distribution of attention/money to games gets more skewed all the time.

So you might think its fine for established devs, with money in the bank, and known IP. But actually those devs have a problem new developers do not have. lets arrogantly call it the success trap.

minecraft

If you are working on your first game, or have a bunch of failed games behind you and little/no press attention / audience, in some ways you have a big advantage. In fact three advantages, a sort of ‘newcomer bonus’…

1) Nobody is bored of hearing about you. You are new, fresh and exciting. If you make an amazing game, you are an ‘overnight success’ and also ‘hot new talent’ and ‘the new face of…XXX’ and all these other media friendly things. We seem hard wired to get excited by ‘new’. If I make the same game, its less newsworthy. Seriously.

2) There is nothing to compare your game to. Its the ‘first’ (even if it isn’t) game from you. MY GOD YOU MUST BE TALENTED. Literally 100% of your games are hits! you are like Guns n Roses with their first album, or the first Highlander movie. Surely everything you make will always be this good how awesome. Also insert comment about minecraft here.

3) You can take risks and do new things and be adventurous with your game, because there is no opportunity cost.

gnr

This last one needs some explaining. Right now I am mulling over what to do when I finish tweaking Gratuitous Space Battles 2. I like working on it, I want to keep improving it, making it as good as possible. I may then do a completely new strategy/sim game (designed in my head, but not started yet). I also have 2 ominous looking camera tripods in the office now hinting at something even more ‘new’ I could work on instead.

new

or…

I could make Democracy 4.

If Positech Games was actually a public, traded company, we would be making Democracy 4. We would *have* to, because shareholders would kill us otherwise. Its the *obvious* thing to do. It would sell, it would make money. We should do it. We should do it in *exactly* the same way that Valve should be making Half Life 3.

And yet…I’m trying to resist doing whats ‘easy’ and expected’ and thinking about doing radical things instead, but this takes effort, and is worrying, because there is an opportunity cost. In other words, if I do something weird and new, it has to do better than Democracy 4, or internally I’ll think I screwed up.

New devs don’t have that in the back of their mind. And thats a good thing. Be experimental while there is no downside.

 

 

There was a time when blogging was new. I used to read this one guys blog practically every day. Sadly his blog and company is no more, but back then, when dinosaurs roamed, the done thing was to use blogger. Blogger got bought by google, and wordpress became popular, and over the years I ended up with this blog running on wordpress, hosted on my site. And here we all are.

And I’m glad we are here.

What I like about the fact that this blog is here, owned by me, and hosted on a server controlled by me, is freedom and independence. These are VERY important to me, and its surprising how little freedom of discussion we really have these days. I’m not talking about political censorship (of which, despite extremist rants to the contrary we have very little in the UK), but corporate censorship.

The background of this site, the font choice, the images, and the words I type are all MY choice. This is what I think, unedited, uncensored, not restricted by the opinions of facebook, twitter, blogspot/google, youtube or anyone else. This is more important than it sounds.

Recently my twitter page lost its custom background. Interesting, because this was a corporate decision by Twitter. I pay nothing to use twitter, so I have no say in this. If twitter decide to close my account, and cut me off from all my followers, there is *nothing* any of us can do about that. In a similar way, facebook could close my account (or yours), google could close my gmail account, youtube could close my youtube account, and so on.

When you look around at all the people you know, and the way you talk to them, communicate with them, and stay in touch with what you might call a ‘community’, its worth remembering that that list of ‘friends’ and ‘community’ exists almost entirely at the whim of a scarily small list of corporate entities. This is also true of relationships with customers as a business.

I have facebook owned facebook pages. Valve owned game community pages. Google owned Youtube channels. The only real direct connection I have with customers is my own forums (hosted by me) and this blog (hosted by me).

Direct sales as a software seller are your insurance policy. Direct relationships with customers are also an insurance policy. Yup, its slightly more hassle to run forums and host a blog than just use existing solutions. But its a good idea.

 

 

I tweeted about this, but here are more details. Basically, Positech has had some pretty successful years, and we thought it would be cool to make a decent charitable donation and ‘do something good’ in the world. I’ve always been a fan of the idea of sending charity where its needed, dispassionately, rather than supporting a charity because an issue has directly affected you, or its local to you. I’m sure the nearest school to me would welcome a charitable donation, but regardless how ‘struggling’ such a school would be, it will have a proper floor, walls, windows, running water, and chairs for people to sit on. Not so everywhere.

Which brings me to the charity ‘Building Schools for Africa‘. I found them by googling, frankly, and after some digging and investigating, decided they were ideal. What I like about it, is that you don’t just send ‘some money’ into a general pot. You can actually pay for a whole school, the whole shebang, and its like ‘your’ project. In this case, the local community supply some manual labour, and I think they bake the bricks, and all the design, carpentry, construction and technical stuff gets paid for by the sponsor. In this case Me/Positech.

The school in question will be in the village of Mbalengue  in the East Region of Cameroon. The current school illustrates exactly how much they need a decent one:

school1

The village has 250 people, (the school will also cater to two nearby villages), and has no clean water and no electricity. To quote the report on the current school: “5 benches in the school. Children sit five per bench and it still not enough, others sit on sticks”. The ‘blackboard’ is just a bit of wood they draw on.

What appeals to me about this sort of project is that your money goes really, really far. The plan is for this school to have 3 new classrooms, an office , 3 tables, 27 benches, drinking water, and a proper toilet. The contrast between what they will have, and their current school is massive. And doing this cost notably less than my last car.  This will, to quote the study again “Promote and provide basic education to an anticipated population of 150 poor peasant Students, thus enabling the Students and their families a brighter and more equitable future.”

Thats something I can say ‘I did’. I’m extremely proud of the game design of Democracy 3, and the graphics engine of Gratuitous Space Battles 2. I’m also proud I taught quite a few people their first steps on the guitar when I was younger, but lets be honest its all just trivia compared to helping 150 kids education. And thats 150 at any one time. This school will be around for ages.

Finished schools look more like this: (From their website)

school2

Anyway…it will take ages to get the school built, but the charity already blogged about it, so I think its fine to at least announce it now. Eventually I’ll get pictures of the school under construction and I’ll share those here too. I’ve never been to Africa, let alone Cameroon, and as I don’t fly much, I probably never will, so seeing pictures & video will be as close as I get. I’m definitely going to frame a picture of the finished school on my office wall though.

Anyway, I don’t want to come over all ‘I do a lot of work for charity mate, but I don’t like to talk about it‘. I’m blogging it mostly because if people in a similar position to me are considering something similar, I thought it would be helpful to post about my own experience. Building a school like this costs about £18k. I’ve no idea if you get any tax benefits for doing so, YMMV.

Advertising Surge

July 01, 2015 | Filed under: business

So…I’m declaring July 2015 as Democracy 3 advertising surge month, to see if it boosts income from the game over the next 3 months or so. I don’t think you can judge these things purely on an immediate click-through basis.

So… to test this I’m throwing roughly $34k at democracy ads between now and the end of July. There are various targets for this, not least reddit, facebook & twitter. Some adwords stuff, some project wonderful web-comics, and some specific sites such as NewsWeek and PvPOnline. PvpOnline have done a cool thing where they added characters from the cartoon into my ads for the site:

ads

Sadly you wont see Democracy 3 ads this month on SomethingAwful, The Onion or CivFanatics because none of those 3 replied to my emails. I spend that money on wine instead. C’est La Vie.

At the end of the month I’ll have lots of juicy stats, plus I’ll do another update after two more months with my analysis of what effect I judge it to have had, which will likely have a large margin of error. Fun fun fun.

I have updates in my inbox on various secret positech projects. More details to come over the next few months, with any luck.

 

 

Its corporation tax payment day for me. Yay? Well maybe. I have the money set aside, because I’m not one of those frankly crazy people who forget to do that. How is that even possible? I’m a capitalist at heart, but not an extremist ‘taxation is theft’ kinda guy, but on the day I hand over a big pile of gold coins to the government each year it does amaze me how badly the whole process is handled.

From the governments POV, they have a problem, and that problem is that they want companies (and people) to pay tax, but they continue with the mindset that we all hate paying tax, and its something we do grudgingly, because we fear prosecution otherwise. Its also a process that is as leaky as a sieve. My company is registered in the UK, but it could easily be based in the Bahamas, with an employee (me) subcontracting from here. In short, the government s trying to persuade people to pay tax when we don’t want to, and can avoid doing so.

bahamas

Now if you think about it, this problem is pretty similar to the problem of music/game/movie piracy. In short, we all know *someone* has to pay for these things, we know its easy to avoid paying. Paying makes us feel bad, how do we get people to overcome all that and pay anyway?

Well steam fixed a lot of that. They did it mostly by convenience, but also by massive gamification. If you pirate a game, its not on your steam profile. You don’t get achievements and trading cards and other such goodies. You are ‘outside’ the club. You don’t earn points towards…I dunno how it works…extra emoticons or whatever is involved. I don’t really get into that stuff. The point is…almost everyone does, and although I don’t get the steam version, I admit I am totally obsessed with my Battlefield 4 player stats.

profile

By comparison the HMRC (Her Majesty’s revenue and customs, believe it or not), who we pay our taxes to, is a fucking amateur. Do you now what you get in return for paying your corporation tax? even if its a big phat sum? NOTHING. Sometimes you get a letter saying ‘we acknowledge receipt of your payment’. Thats it. I checked, and the word ‘thanks’ isn’t even on there. I get a ‘thanks’ when I buy a $1 game, but not if I hand over a pile of gold coins you could bury Smaug under.

Now sure, I know the tax pays for *good things*, and thats great, but why not remind me of this on pay-day? Why not send me a letter saying exactly how many nurses, doctors, police officers and so on I have helped to fund. Why not make the letter a nice glossy thing with a picture of smiling public servants, and a breakdown of government spending? Why not give me a fucking steam achievement, is what I’m basically saying!

taxes

The UK government has a ‘nudge’ department, the only half-dozen people in government who understand behavioral economics, but clearly HMRC won’t talk to them. I’ve paid my full whack of corporation tax, every year, without any off-shoring nonsense, any ‘non-dom‘ status or any attempts to game the system. You would think that would earn me a nice little badge I could put on my website to announce that Positech Games is a proud 1st class corporate citizen, but nope. Frankly you only know I’m not a tax-dodging scheming ‘predatory capitalist’ because I’m typing this and you believe it. I don’t care if a company considers itself an ‘investor in people’, but I would care if they were paying their tax or not.

Behavioral economics is a thing. Can someone explain basic psychology, behavioral science and sales techniques to the people we pay our taxes to?