Category Archives: business

Its that rare day where I get to announce we are publishing a game for the first time! and this one is called… Political Animals:

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Its a turn-based strategy game based upon political campaigning. Can you see why I may have been interested? The studio making it is based in the Philippines, and led by Ryan Sumo, who you may know as the artist behind Prison Architect. The studio is new, and called squeaky wheel. Its the first time I’m working with a studio in another country, so it will definitely be interesting. For those who weirdly did NOT get the press release…here is some information on the game in non-PR terms..

Political animals is an election game, not a government game, and it features a map of a fictional island (there are 3 different maps), and each turn the player allocates tasks to their candidate, and a number of their election staff. Those actions may be moving to a new district, fund-raising, holding a rally or bribing the local patron. Bribery and corruption is a BIG part of political animals. it’s a game of moral choices for politicians.

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Anyway… unlike conventional political simulations, this one is all about incredibly cute and fun animals. Politics and cute animals obviously mix brilliantly. Just imagine Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton’s speeches coming from a cute animated mouse. See?

For the eagle-eyed political game obsessives, you will know Political Animals as ‘Party Animals’, a game that’s been in development for a while part-time. When positech agreed to publish the game, we changed the name and switched to full-time development.

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We already have a fab website for the game, and also the obligatory facebook and twitter accounts. Now I’ve publicly announced my involvement I can talk about it here and on twitter, rather than just mysteriously retweeting lots of Ryans posts over the last six months :D. I’m looking forward to seeing what people think of the game, and how it fits in with us as publisher. We now have Shadowhand & Political Animals in development, plus a mystery thing (first-party) I’ll announce soon. Release-schedule wise, you will see Shadowhand releasing before PA (Are you reading this Jake?) and PA should definitely be in your hands before a certain big election event in the US this year.

Exciting times! Oh and if you feel like helping us out, a tweet, facebook like or a post to reddit is much appreciated :D

BTW if you are press and need more information, please email cliff AT positech dot co dot uk.

So recently I’ve been -rebalancing Democracy 3, my political strategy game for the PC. It looks like I released that game in October 2013, so not quite three years ago. Why would I be balancing it now? First of all, some context and the results so far of my re-balance. the game is an indie ‘hit’ by the standards of solo-developer-owner, having sold (according to steam spy) 485,000 copies. Its currently $25. if you guessed, you’d probably guess that the developer earned $3million ish from the game. Lets say $2,500k profit, which is very nice. Before we go further into strategy, numbers, and the ‘resource curse dilemma’, lets look at what I did.

Part 1: The changes:

Essentially the game was too easy, and a lot of its content remained unseen, untriggered. Some anon gameplay stats showed me that 86% of elections resulted in victory. Thats an easy game. And at election victory, only 1% had the ‘vigilante mobs’ problem, with 12% having it when they lost. There are many other situations, but a lot of them were just not being encountered enough.

maingui

So I did some re-balancing, tested it on beta players, then rolled it out, and collected some initial data. The data needs a few days to bed in and to eliminate the bias from beta-opt in players (whom I assume are more hardcore). Anyway,. initial results show that…

Percentage of election victories dropped 8.39% to 79.3%

Average debt level on victory is now up 22.59%

Percentage of games where poverty has been eliminated at election has dropped 10%.

All of these are deliberate. My results in some areas were not so good, maybe even contrary to my plans. For example, the blackmarket situation has gone DOWN, the OrganisedCrime has gone DOWN, the only negative event which is now more likely at elections is TaxEvasion. Technological Advantage has dropped 9% and high productivity dropped 10%, both of which I consider good news in terms of re-balancing the game. So TL;DR: Its moved in the right direction, but not enough. I may have to do another patch.

So part 2: Why fucking bother?

Lets look again at that not official guess of a profit of $2.5 million. Thats fucking cool, but more interestingly, that means if I was to boost sales by 1%, thats worth $25,000 in profit. Thats fucking amazing. Thats more profit than a lot of indie games will make in their lifetime. Holy crap. So if I can spend a week collecting data and analysing, a week re-balancing, a week observing beta, and a week deploying the update (4 lazy weeks), and it makes ONE PERCENT increase in sales, thats $25k / month or $300k a year.

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In practice thats bollocks. Will my change make the game 1% better? I suspect it will make it roughly 3% better, but this will only apply to people who come to the game now. A lot of people will have heard of it and discounted it, its only really going to apply to people hearing 3% better reviews from recent players. Say 90% of the games potential audience already have bought or rejected it, then that means there is $250k of potential sales out there, and my 3% boost will be worth $7,500. Of course, thats still a bloody good month. Also, there is the issue of what that 3% boost in game ‘quality’ does. I am assuming a linear distribution of current satisfaction among potential buyers, but what if its skewed with 90% of the potential buyers evaluating the game between 97% and 100% of the quality required to prompt a sale? In that case, a 3% quality boost results in 90% sales increase. Buying a game is a pretty binary decision. TL:DR: Its probably a very good use of my time, but might not be.

so Part 3: How could this possibly be bad.

This is something people occasionally called the resource curse. Country A has fuck-all. Country-B has bananas. Country B just throws the bananas into a ship and exports them everywhere. Job done. Country A is fucked, and cannot afford bananas unless it comes up with something worth trading for bananas, so it invents ipads, and swaps them for bananas. Country B, once a happy smug banana-owning paradise is kinda fucked, because it turns out ipads are worth more, and they never set up the ipad factory because they were eating bananas all day.

bananas

I typed that last paragraph purely because I like the idea that my old economics professors are yelling at the screen in agony at my gross simplification.

Anyway, having a big success can be a huge curse. If Democracy 3 makes me enough money that I can keep tweaking it by 1% in order to earn a decent living, why ever take a risk on making something new. This is a problem a lot of companies face. Microsoft are cursed by windows. They cant create a new O/S or office suite from scratch, it makes no economic sense, because windows & office are such cash cows. Its not so much a sunk-costs issue, but a sunk-profits issue. This is a real issue for a lot of developers and entertainers in general. A new series of the big bang theory, however desperately played-out, unfunny and now repeating itself like crazy, is so profitable it doesn’t make sense for the actors or writers to create anything that might potentially be better. he same is true of all fads. Why bother making an interesting new movie when you can dig up some crappy superhero from obscurity and monetize that?

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I know this may read as ‘woe is me!, my game sells too well’, but forget finances and think about creativity for a minute. The aim of game development is to make cool stuff, and enjoy doing it. Anything that lures you away from that might be profitable, but is it really the right thing to be doing?

(FWIW, I am working on other stuff, I did months and months of work on a potential new game that I will return to next year, plus I have a new expansion I’m working on).

Yes it’s true. Positech has some polish news. Oh yes. We have teamed up with CDP.PL to distribute polish copies of both Big Pharma and Democracy 3. Evidence can be found below (Actually boxed copies are AMAZEBALLS).

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Coool huh? Plus CDP have done some amazing thing with democracy 3 that includes polish scenarios and other cool stuff. They have really gone the extra mile. Plus they have put up with my dumb ineptitude of having not coded the engine in unicode and all the HELL that has resulted from this mayhem… Here is a box with some stuff…

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So yeah…I don’t normally work with retail publishers because some total bastards really screwed me over once and I am still annoyed about it, but CDP seem really cool. Also, as a result Democracy 3 on steam is now also available in polish. I know the way it all works is a mess, we will eventually fix this to be like Democracy 3 Africa with a simple drop-down box to select language but thats all in the future. And if you aren’t excited enough already, here is a youtube video with Tim talking about the incredibly cool new Big Pharma expansion pack thats coming VERY soon:

So…I’m a white guy from England. You can see a picture of me on the right there. I grew up in London in the 1970s and early 1980s. Racism was a thing, for sure. We had TV programmes that i remember watching such as ‘the black and white minstrel show‘. That was on prime time TV. We also had ‘love thy neighbour‘ a ‘hilarious comedy’ about what happens when a non-white neighbor moves in next door. To quote from wikipedia:

He is even more annoyed when Bill gets a job at the same factory as he has, and refers to him as a “nig-nog”, “Sambo”, “choc-ice” or “King Kong”. He also has a tendency to call Chinese, Pakistanis or Indians names like “Fu Manchu“, “Gunga Din” and “Ali Baba“.

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Thats the world I grew up in.

Luckily, that world isn’t here any more. I think Britain has come a long long way in this regard. I remember the guy who everyone knew as ‘the black newsreader’ because that was such a big deal. Recently BBC Radio 4 got a Jamaican continuity announcer and hardly anyone even noticed. If you watch ‘Life on mars’ and ‘Ashes to Ashes’, you see the world I grew up in, and its striking how different it seems to the world today regarding both sexism and racism.

So I thought here we all were in a wonderful modern non racist society and I could make a game about African Politics and the worst thing that could happen would be people not being interested.

But no! In fact the worst thing that can happen is spending a lot of time deleting, blocking, banning and reporting racist abuse on twitter, facebook and the steam forums (to name just 3). I’m not exactly a cosseted middle class liberal who has never seen online (or real world) harassment. I used to be a boat-builder and bridge builder. I was just surprised at home many people could, in the year 2016, go out of their way to tell me that the solution to all Africas problems would be ‘rule of the white man’ or that ‘they are all savages and rapists anyway’ and so on, and so on. I guess so far, so normal stupid internet abuse, albeit with a particularly offensive nature. The other thing that shocked me, and was arguable more interesting was the skewed world view…

It seemed to me (mostly from the time of day when such comments appeared) that a lot of North Americans have a complete warped idea of what Africa is like. The assumption from a large swathe of the comments I’ve seen is that no African states have Democracy, that there are no functioning economies there, that basically the whole continent is kept afloat by foreign aid, and that at least half the continent is constantly at war, or raping or beheading their neighbors. The most popular comment was ‘Democracy, Africa, pick one! LOL’.

Now of course, I’m not the one to point out that the USA is currently pitting a guy who inherited millions of dollars and is best known as a reality TV star against the wife of a previous president in a two-party race which they call ‘Democracy’ and possibly is in too glass a house to throw stones. I do have some understanding of why people have this point of view, and here it is.

This is Russia:

russia

This is Iran:

iran

This is Japan:

japanExcept obviously thats all bollocks isn’t it? This is the media ‘image’ that we get fed, and used as the ‘shorthand’ for those countries. I have not visited any of them, and in my mind, Japan really is full of Samurai soldiers guarding cherry blossom while geisha girls sing karaoke. Thats laughable, about as laughable as assuming because I’m English, I live here:

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Ok, TBH I do live there, but that isn’t the point. To turn it on its head and show the American ‘shorthand’ its probably this:

usa

Which again, we can all laugh about. The thing to remember is that ALL of these are simplifications, exaggerations and caricatures. And that means SO IS THIS:

aidBut in some parts of the world we forget that.

The population of Africa is 1.1 Billion people. It contains 54 sovereign states. I can’t even name them all, and we just made a game about 10 of them. The idea that all 54 states can be summed up in the same image, or the same way is laughable. If I said people in Chicago probably all wear sombreros and eat quesadillas, you’d say ‘hold on thats Mexico’, but thats about as daft as lumping South Africa in with Egypt, or Mauritius.

Its similarly dumb to discount African democracy. take a look at the ratio of Female to male politicians for one thing. You will find Senegal, South Africa and Rwanda all rank above both the UK and the USA. To look closer at South Africa, it has higher voter turnout that both the UK and USA. In terms of economics South Africa has a lower budget deficit that the USA, the USA’s total debt is 65% higher as a proportion as GDP than South Africa. Total crime rate in the USA is 4 times higher than South Africa. SA has 34% more cellphones per 1,000 people than the USA…etc etc. Obviously I’m cherry picking, but the idea that everyone in Africa sits in a tent waiting for an aid package to arrive is bullshit, and yet it persists.

So TL;DR: USA, your media gives you a very, very skewed opinion of the one billion people living in Africa. Do some research. Do not accept stereotypes as facts, just as you don’t expect us to see you all as obese, flag waving, hummer driving, gun-toting cliches. I would write more on this topic, but Carson informs me that tea is served in the drawing room, and I do enjoy those cucumber sandwiches.

Most indie devs make games at a slower rate than me, and have been around a lot less time than me (except jeff vogel, obv.). A lot of devs therefore have not gone through the ‘release a game’ phenomena that much. I’ve gone through it a lot, and would like to offer up a view into how it feels for those who haven’t done it yet, or aren’t in the industry, but are gamers.

A few points to consider:

  1. I’ve released tons of games, so I’m very experienced at this.
  2. I’m not risking a lot financially in percentage terms. If my next game flops, it will not impact my lifestyle at all.
  3. I’ve had some big hit games. I can always point to them. The next game launch will not ‘define’ me.
  4. My next game (Democracy 3:Africa) is an expand-alone to an existing ‘franchise’ thats sold extremely well. It has good name recognition.

So on the surface of it, I shouldn’t be stressed about Tuesday’s launch at all right?

Ha. Fuck that.

I am very stressed, partly because I seem to take everything way too seriously, and partly for deep psychological reasons that would take too long to go into, but basically equate to having an in built need to prove people wrong. I’m a 46 year old man, but psychologically I’m still a 12 year old kid being talked down to by the other kids at school because they had wealthy parents and I didn’t. Most people have something like that. Maybe you were physically bullied, or abused for being the wrong weight/race/height/whatever. A certain percentage of people rebel against that sort of thing by developing a ‘fuck you, I’ll show you!! *shakes fist*’ personality and I’m one of them. Thats a feeling you almost never shake. No amount of sales charts or fancy cars will shake it.

So my stress is entirely imaginary. I have no real risk here, no real danger. The only risk I have is the psychological risk of failure, and I guess, ridicule. This is much more of a thing now Steam Spy exists. I could have lied about Gratuitous Space Battles success when it came out, but you cant do that now with GSB2. If a game flops, it flops. BAM! right there in public for everyone to see, and lets face it some gamers are INCREDIBLY insensitive to the feelings of developers when they mention a poor selling game.

I have a popular blog and 8k twitter followers. Is that good? Maybe, but its also stress. I tweet and blog about selling indie games, what if I have a huge flop, I’ll look like a fraud? Essentially I’ll be like mr darcy, wondering if people are laughing at him.

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The conventional wisdom is that stress is alleviated for the successful or the wealthy but I strongly suspect thats not true. Nobody gives a shit about if your indie game sells or not, but if the last one made a million dollars, or ten million, people suddenly do care, a LOT, and some people WANT you to fail. Big success brings impossible pressure. Hardly anyone can cope. Notch was so stressed about it he sold the whole company. George Lucas got so sick of people criticizing his later star wars movies he sold the whole franchise. How many great promising musicians turn to heavy drink & drugs the minute they hit the big time? Far too many. How many game developers had huge hits and then…stagnation. fear of making the wrong move. That can go on for YEARS.

Being ‘public’ entertainers is one thing, but business people also have similar pressures. The following chart does not surprise me at all:

stress

Corporate executive more stressed than a surgeon? Yup, I think they probably are. Surgeons can only fuck up one persons life at a time. Make the wrong call as the head a of a billion dollar company and you can fuck up a lot more lives.

My way of dealing with it is to go all Klingon about it, and surge forward into victory or death. Maybe my next release will flop, but if it does, I’ll just redouble my efforts to never let that happen again. Much easier said than done of course, but I think that approach is preferable to the sitting by a keyboard and not typing any code for fear that you can never live up to expectations. Loads of things fail along the way, SpaceX blew up a lot of rockets before they worked out how to do this. They have the right attitude :D. (Can you *begin* to imagine the stress associated with that?)

Oh BTW we are releasing Democracy 3:Africa on Tuesday. Its fab, buy a copy :D.

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