Category Archives: business

I might be unpopular in this post. If you are a huge minecraft / star citizen / flappy bird and gangnam style fan, look away now.

I think there is a phenomena that is becoming stronger and stronger and I think its bad news for all content creators. Well, for 99.99% of us. That phenomena is the globalization of media, and the concentration of it in a few hands.

Zap back a few hundred years, and you could be the #1 best Lute player in the village. Nobody else could touch you for lute playing. You rocked. 30 miles away there was a better lute player, but nobody ever left their village anyway, so who cared. You could play the lute, and people would pay you to hear it. Happy times.

Zap forward a bit and we have TV and radio. And thats different, because now you can hear that Lute / guitar player from the next village on the radio. And that means everyone in the country can hear him. So that guy gets to be a big national star, and the lesser local people don’t do so well. And thats tough for them, but probably not a total disaster. After all, competing with every guitar player in the UK is tough, but you aren’t competing globally. BBC radio doesn’t play in Islamabad, and  (and this is crucial) even if it did, nobody would like your weird English music over there anyway, due to cultural differences.

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The latest transformers movie had a scene set in China, and dialog where people say to trust the government to save them. Both put in to keep Chinese audiences / government officials happy. This is what happens now. Nobody makes a movie based on selling it to people in their country. The stuff is global. It has been, obviously for decades, but its becoming more and more so every year. Now entertainment is predominantly digital, there are literally no borders now. Staggered release dates wont last much longer. Cultural differences are eroding.

So now for the first time we seeing the emergence not just of monopolies on a national level, but an international level. Not just in terms of software and services, but in terms of culture. I never thought I’d see a Korean rap star become a global phenomena. I witnessed middle aged men dressed up as the ugly sisters from Cinderella doing a gangnam style dance one Christmas in Longleat house, England. This is new.

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When culture is global, and popularity is global, there is only one chart. THE chart. Everyone knows what everyone likes, and what already has coverage gets more coverage. Saturation coverage.

The itunes charts are pretty much *the place* for apps. Get to the top there, and you are laughing. The problem is, because there is less variety in charts / news outlets / media globally now, you are getting more of a centralized consensus on what is good. People who are only going to write about one pop song (the very mainstream non specialist media) would write about gangnam style. One mobile game? well flappy bird obviously (or angry birds…), one desktop game? well obviously minecraft.

And this leads to the crazy irony of the most successful, popular content getting more and more publicity. Thats always been true but its getting much, much worse because now that is global. Why do I care? why is this bad?

I think its bad because it leads to random perturbations becoming exaggerated. A slight boost in popularity of something bumps it from #100 in a chart to #9. it gets more attention so it goes to #1, and then so much attention it stays there, and then the mere fact that it stayed there becomes newsworthy making it even more popular, and the cycle continues, all potentially from a tiny, tiny bump, maybe a single media personality took a liking to it. A minor disruption in a flat surface is exaggerated to a mountain.

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What I’m saying is that gangnam style, minecraft, flappy bird and star citizen are not *THAT* good. I’m not saying they aren’t good, or great even, or amazing even, but the level of popularity is totally disconnected from the quality at some point above the ‘ten million copies sold’ level. Stuff is getting bought *because it is getting bought*. And stuff is becoming popular *because it is already popular* and that sucks, because when you produce content, the success of it is too much attributed to luck. And thats bad, bad bad.

One of the bright points in all this is actually steam. Steams front page re-coding is awesome, and exactly what was needed. Beforehand, if a game got a front page feature, it became popular, and sold a lot, and the word of mouth generated a lot of sales which led to a front page feature and…. etc. Now, there is no such thing. If you love complex PC strategy games and politics, you might be staggered at the promotion my game ‘Democracy 3′ gets on steam. But thats just for you. Steam now has hundreds of micro-niches, and lots of developers have the chance to be popular in that niche.

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We need the same for all media. Why do ‘pop charts’ even exist? or movie charts? Why on earth does the fact that ‘fast and furious’ made X dollars have any newsworthy value outside of the industry? Should I go and see it because its popular with everybody else? Fuck no. Charts suck. Charts encourage a homogenization of culture and promote the bland and inoffensive.

So why don’t apple do what steam do and fix this problem? Because *they do not need to care*. As a developer, its terrifying to know a game I make will almost certainly fail, but *might* become minecraft or flappy bird. Thats a very very risky industry. But for people with an online store, they (except steam) don’t care. Why should they? They don’t care if the #1 game is awesome or a fart joke. They collect their slice of *all* the money anyway. Running in app store is the ultimate hedging strategy in games. I wish I owned one :D.

There is nothing relaxing about the day after launching a game. Especially when you do this for a living, and other people depend on you. Its a huge, big deal. Its basically betting your one and a half years income on a roulette wheel. And the worst thing is, it can be weeks or even months before you really know if it worked. Terrifying. I read a lot of books about similar (more established industries) to give myself some perspective. One of the Harry Potter movies (not the first one) LOST money at the cinema. Despite tens, probably hundreds of millions of people seeing it, it LOST money. They broke even, then made a handsome profit, only after all the TV rights, DVD, Blu-Ray and merchandising income came in. Imagine taking in $200 million+ and thinking “Yup we are still in the red guys. Don’t worry, it’ll be fine in the long run.” Holy fuck.

Thankfully I’m not *that* much down right now, but I’ll still have a celebration pub lunch on the day I break even.

The launch has gone ok, in that people are buying it, it jumped into the steam charts, people are playing it, they are uploading steam workshop entries for their ships, and I’ve got some very nice comments about the graphics. That’s all awesome, and trying out some of the challenges is hilarious. You people are very inventive when it comes to both ship and fleet design. I’ve got my ass kicked many times already :D

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I’ve already patched it twice (yup I’m nuts). and am planning another one in a few days. There is a lot of admin overhead in patching the game, so I want t make each patch worth it, especially as I’ve fixed a bunch of urgent issues, and can now track down more obscure issues and the odd crash.

Of more interest will be what I’m learning about releasing a game in 2015 vs one in 2013. Holy fuck, its got harder. here are some observations.

1) There are so many games the media (inncluding youtubers/twitch streamers) won’t care that you released a new game without real hand-waving and pleading. Just being a good, quality game isn’t going to cut it any more. Unless your game has a famous actor in it, or is hilariously weird in its premise, or has some other non-game related ‘hook’ for the press to get excited about it, you can forget it. I hate worrying about all that. I’m a coder at heart, and this is meaning its getting tougher for me.

2) Ad costs are creeping up. The site takeover costs are stupidly high anyway, but even facebook, google adwords, its all got very very pricey.

3) There is a definite tendency for everyone to just add a game to a wishlist and wait for the sale. The inevitable sale. Kinda weird because…

4) There is still the inevitable abusive anger about a game daring to cost $24.95. People moan that the price is too high, then say they only ever buy games at 50% off. There may be some logic there but I can’t quite see it myself. Every game I’ve ever released on steam has had a thread saying its cost too much. I suspect every game on steam has that thread. I suspect its the same posters too…

5) Nobody leaves steam reviews. Seriously, its like pulling teeth persuading people to do so. Which means only people with a bug, or a problem bother, and that drags down the scores. I can see from my stats I have a lot of happy people playing the game, I wish I could interrupt them to ask them nicely to leave a review :D

I’m guessing things are a bit quiet because GTA just came out, and it just started getting nice weather. Games are a long tail phenomena these days. GSB1 made 1% of its total earnings to date in its first week on sale. By that measure GSB2 is going to do well :D. Fingers crossed anyway :D

 

 

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Yup, it’s true, the much-awaited sequel to the 200,000+ selling Indie Strategy game Gratuitous Space Battles, is finally on sale. Hurrah! This has taken us twenty months to make, involved a complete redesign and re-engineering of the graphics engine, numerous changes, improvements and fixes, not least the fact that the game now lets you design the look of the ships from scratch AND has steam workshop support, achievements, trading cards and so on. Plus it has one-click easy to use multiple-monitor support, which I HIGHLY recommend. Behold: the cheesy trailer:

The game has been in beta a while, so its hopefully vaguely playable by now! Big thanks to all the beta testers, and of course everybody who worked on the game. You can grab it from a variety of sources, and I’m just going to flat out assume all of their buy links are active right now…so here we go:




Of course the world is a different place now to when GSB1 was released. Who knows how well this one will do? Will anybody like it? One of my biggest fears is people assuming it wont run on their PC. It will! Its actually not *that* demanding. And if you happen to have two monitors you OWE it to yourself to grab it :D. So please do it, help me feed my cats! And if you like the game, PLEASE review it on steam, or wherever you buy it, tweet about it, tell all your friends. And your enemies :D. If you are someone who makes youtube lets-play videos, I hereby give you permission to use the game in your videos, and to monetize those videos, this is fine with me. The more video footage of the game the better. (The battles look much better in motion than as screenshots).

If you want more information / screenshots / wallpaper head over to the official site. Press inquiries welcome to cliff@positech.co.uk.

If you are not already aware, Gratuitous Space Battles 2 will be released on April 16th, this coming Thursday. This is scary stuff. People who are working on their first indie game may suspect that after you have shipped a dozen of them, you become more relaxed and laid back about it, but absolutely not. It always both exciting AND terrifying. The benefit of having some games ‘under your belt’ is that  if the game totally bombs, you can at least know that you *have* made some decent selling games, and thus you don’t feel like a complete failure. However, the downside is, that you have likely scaled up both your production and ambitions, and expectations, so you are setting yourself up for a bigger fall if it flops.

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Conventional wisdom in media circles is to never admit to a flop, so you don’t get to read about them, but we have all had them. Gratuitous Tank Battles definitely made a profit, but comparatively, it was a flop. Check out it’s steam spy entry compared with the first gratuitous space battles. (Not accurate data, but you get the idea)…

My plan to make GSB2 a success, apart from the obvious and ‘I think we can assume that’ strategy of ‘making the best game possible’ is basically to minimize reasons for people ‘not’ to buy it.

For example, some people might not buy it because its not in their language, but I’ve hopefully reduced that by translating to French, German, Spanish, Swedish and Dutch. (Others *may* follow). Some people may not buy it because they don’t run windows, but again I hope to eliminate that by porting to Mac & Linux (I *hope* these will be ready by Thursday). Another reason people may give is that they don’t think the game will run on their PC, but I’ve gone to great lengths to both optimize the game big-time, and also include a plethora of graphical options to ensure people can streamline the game down to whatever graphics capabilities their PC supports.

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And yet another reason is that people have their preferred store, but I am hopefully mitigating that by being on Steam, GoG, Humble store and direct. The others are too small to be worth the accounting hassle tbh.

Of course, thats all well and good, but the reason 99% of people don’t buy your game is because they don’t know it exists. I am *still* running an ongoing facebook campaign promoting democracy 3, and every few days I see a comment on the ad saying ‘whoah this looks interesting’ and I wonder where on earth these people have been hiding! There are a LOT of people out there.

So with that in mind, I have a big scary ad-campaign budget primed for GSB2. Hopefully you will see an ad somewhere, if you are vaguely in the target demographic.  And don’t email saying ‘why not advertise with us’. I’m more aware of ad opportunities than most. If I didn’t email you, I’m not choosing that as an ad option thanks :D

 

Soooo…I went to rezzed, which was cool for two days and then I just wanted it to ENDDDDDDDD. I get very burned out by shows. I could talk at length about how I was one of the chosen 0.00001% who got to try Valves new VR thing, and how it is just awesome and even better than the one I saw last year, but you know all that kind of thing anyway, and nobody will believe me until they try it…

I’ve been back working in GSB2 land since then, tweaking, adjusting, bug fixing and generally doing the 101 jobs you have to do before shipping. The current projected shipping date for GSB2 is April 16th. before then I need the trading cards set up, final bugs squashed, French,German and Spanish translations done and integrated, Linux & Mac ports done (hopefully), the final release trailer done, and some missing stuff like medium & hard difficulty enemies set up, plus default ship designs for every ship (only some are done so far). Plus those missions need some more interesting starting restrictions (something planned for today). With any luck, all that will be done by release day. Yay!

I’ve been advertising on twitter lately, with both GSB (a bit) and Democracy 3 (a lot). I got a few people complaining that they saw the ad too many time, which seems nuts because I have selected a very large group of people to target, and they shouldn’t really have seen it twice. I pestered twitter who said ‘you don’t need to limit frequency, our algorithm does that’ to which I had to refrain from replying ‘Sack your fucking programmer then’. The thing is, if you write an app that hooks into the twitter API they have a variable to set the frequency, so as usual, the front line customer service rep knows fuck all about their own product, and as usual (as with google, facebook…) I am more informed about their advertising delivery system than they are. Grrrr…

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Apologies if you see an ad from me too many times. You can always just click ‘dismiss’.

And on that topic…why do people get so annoyed at seeing a promoted tweet. Twitter is a business. Businesses need to pay their staff and server costs. If you really object to twitter ads, ask for a refund…oh wait.

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There is an argument that twitter should allow ad-free subscription service too, but they don’t, and frankly that isn’t my fault :D. Ho hum. I guess if people think they see too much promotion from me now they may have to go hide in a cave when I release GSB2 :D

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