Category Archives: business

Thats probably the big thing for indie developers right now. Its about a week until Political Animals appears at PAX West, in the minibooth at the megabooth. Thats already 2 levels removed from being ‘at pax west’, and its not like there will be a shortage of stuff to grab peoples attention at PAX in general, and the wider world of gaming anyway.

Sure, we can email people who we know are going there to write about games and say ‘hey we have this cool game…’, but those people get a LOT of emails. If we lived in the USA, or better still, west coast USA near Seattle, we would have met a lot of the press people before/several times and our email *may* go to the top of the lsit…but probably not.

Which leaves 3 strategies:

  1. Dumb Luck. This is the strategy most indies go with. You never know which game will catch peoples eye. I see a LOT of indie side scrolling puzzle games…. I see a lot of amazing unity tech demos with a game wrapped vaguely around them. Hopefully as the ONLY political game at the show (we hope), and certainly the only one featuring ryans amazingly cute artwork… we should stand out, meaning we get coverage purely by being different. This could work. In this case, I’m saying the ‘smart move’ was to pick the right game early on, and give the team time to polish it and make it good
  2. Do something silly, crowd pleasing and hard to ignore. We could dress the team up as animals, or maybe hold a mock rally outside PAX, or commission a giant Donald Trump ice sculpture for our booth, or something like that. I think this sort of thing maybe *can* work, but there is a huge randomness factor involved, and it can seem kinda desperate. Also its drawing attention to you and your stunt, not the actual game.
  3. Splash the cash. The PAX booth thing is an experiment for me, I’ve never even been, so didn’t want to do a full non-megabooth setup without knowing how it would go, so the option to have a bigger or louder booth didn’t apply here. What I *could* do is to promote the game in the run up to the show, and hope that gives people name and logo-recognition as they walk by, encouraging them subconsciously to try the game. I may well go with this.

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Frankly, the whole thing is kinda scary. I am pretty lucky, because I only have 2 fears here, and compared to other peoples fears, they are pretty mild.

The first fear is that the PAX appearance is a waste, the game flops, and people think I’m a crap publisher as a result.

The second fear is that as a result of the first, I lose money when the game is released, and feel like an idiot/failure.

The reason I say I’m lucky, is that fortunately, neither of these outcomes really has any real material effect on me, its all perception. I didn’t get into any debt for Political Animals, or Shadowhand, or my next game, so I’m not going to be cancelling a holiday, selling a car or downsizing my house if any/all of them fail. There are a LOT of indies with more at risk and more to lose than me who will bee pinning  all their hopes on some internet celebrity loving their game at PAX.

But it still scares me. I like to win. I like to do well. I hate to lose, and I don’t like looking like a failure to other people. I’ll still be biting my nails checking twitter and hoping people try, and talk about Political Animals.

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Greetings Mr/Madam president! And welcome to the land ofcCorrupt crocodiles and meritocratic mice! Yup… we finally have our first teaser video to show political animals to the wider world. This is a political strategy game being developed by Squeaky Wheel, the studio founded by ex prison-architect & spacechem artistic genius Ryan Sumo. Its being published by me! Who would have thought I would choose to publish a political strategy game huh? SYNERGY BABY!

Anyway…here is the teaser video. Nothing is final, as is normally the case with teasers…

Why release this now…? well partly because <insert drumroll.wav> Political Animals is in the Indie Megabooth (technically the minibooth) at PAX. Details on the megabooth are here:

Indie MEGABOOTH PAX West 2016 Line-Up!

That means the intrepid Ryan will be propelled around the globe to stand there and talk to members of the press and public alike about how Mousey and Croccy will battle it out for political control of the island. I’ll be honest… we are a bit of a disadvantage on the US press/PAX stakes. Ryan is from the Philippines, and I’m from England and I will not be at PAX (I’m not keen on too much long distance flying for tree hugging reasons), so we don’t have a ton of contacts in the local press. This means we are relying on Ryans intense charm, and my own ability to shout loudly on twitter to persuade members of the press to go check out the game.

It is the ONLY game featuring politically motivated mice in the entire show. So that’s one scoop right there. Plus I’m not sure how many other Philippine dev studios are showing at PAX but I suspect not many, so there is the whole ‘covering international dev scene’ angle to it all too. Plus…in case you have not noticed there is an election coming up soon in the USA (Seriously, its been quite low key, but I assure you that it is this year), so what better way to reference current affairs than through the prism of cute mice with megaphones.

PosterMousey300

Seriously US voters…if mousey ran as a third party candidate right now, he would win right?

Feedback on our teaser is most welcome. Its obviously not our final trailer, loads more details to follow, plus I intend to finally get the hang of youtubing to the extent that I’m going to do weekly playthroughs of the game to get people in the mood as it approaches release. For UK press…do not despair, we are at EGX as well this year, so we recommend you pop along to that. More details on the Political Animals Website, plus we are on facebook and Twitter as you would expect.

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Be the best in your (small) niche.

August 15, 2016 | Filed under: business

Have you watched The Bridge?

Its an excellent TV series. Its a Danish/Swedish crime series, with some fairly creepy storylines, thats likely either dubbed or subtitled for you. That means that it contains NOBODY you have heard of. Its complex, and not trivially easy to get into. You have to pay attention ALL the time. You have to read all the time. It can be a bit dark. It has a low budget, and doesn’t make any effort to be accessible. It’s fucking amazing. Plus commercially very successful. Almost 2 million people in the UK (note: no Danish or Swedish speaking) watched each episode, despite being hidden on BBC4.

Why? Because if you like serious foreign-language drama series about serial killers with a clearly autistic female protagonist and don’t mind reading subtitles it is THE BEST. Also because… there isn’t a hell of a lot of competition there.

Have you tried Holopoint?  It’s an archery training game for the Vive. It uses the proper room-scale setup. You need an $800 vive plus a $1500 PC to play it, plus some space to swing your arms around in. It has apparently, according to steamspy sold 31,000 at $15. Assume only $10 for discounts and thats $300k. I hope the makers won’t mind me guessing that it cost a LOT less to make. It is not Call of Duty, it is not No Mans Sky, it is not <insert name of blockbuster game here>. For the majority of the time your ‘enemies’ are blue cubes. Yup, Blue cubes. Sometimes you get orange cubes. Later you get an animated soldier. Its not exactly Elder Scrolls. BTW the game is AWESOME and you should buy it.

holopoint

What links these two (and many other examples)?

They are the best X that money can buy, where X is something extremely specific.

I happen to own the IP of the best political strategy game you can buy (there are many election games, but few actual government ones). It is VERY profitable. This means two things:

  1. I have a very nice car and
  2. You would be nuts trying to make a political strategy game to compete directly with it.

OK, maybe not *nuts* but you are making things hard for yourself. In short, there is a lot more low hanging fruit out there. In the past, people were annoyed that those ‘Deer Hunter’ games made money despite looking dreadful. The target market didn’t care, they were the only Deer hunting games, they aren’t comparing it to Call Of Duty because COD is not about deer hunting. The same is true of Farming Simulator, or Street-Cleaning Simulator, or <WEIRD FUCKING THING> simulator. Those games can be ‘the best’ in their niche without spending 10 years, the unreal engine and a ton of features/polish/cool stuff.

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Developers tend to commodify games in their mind and treat them as substitute goods, but they rarely are, unless they are complete clones. Nobody who has just added Democracy 3 to their shopping basket will remove it for Death Bastard Knife Massacre IX because they notice its cheaper. Nobody is going to swap Holopoint for Prison Architect, or The Bridge for The Waltons. If you make something that serves a specific niche (VR archery game or nordic noir with autistic crime fighting), then there is no competition. You get to sell to them merely by saying ‘Look, a game about this thing’ (which is cheaper than traditional marketing) PLUS you get to charge more for them.

If you want to make a successful game, think about the very specific niche thing you REALLY like, and make a game about that. Trust me, there are 10,000 people out there who WILL be looking for it and WILL buy it. maybe even 100,000. There are currently 35 million active users on steam. If your niche is so fucking obscure only one in 1,000 of them will like your premise, you potentially have a commercially viable game with zero competition. Thats just on steam.

One of the questions about your game that you SHOULD struggle to answer is ‘what is the direct competition?’

Defining profit

August 09, 2016 | Filed under: business

When you are the only person taking a salary from game development, the simple question of whether or not a game has made a profit becomes a bit fuzzy. Normally everyone takes their salary, and after other costs are paid, if money is left over, there is profit. The thing is, as the company owner, you normally take a tiny salary and thus working out if ‘game x’ made a profit is not as simple as it seems. Do you consider a game profitable if it makes more than the bare minimum salary you pay yourself? or if it makes ANY money at all? or if it earns more than the average salary you would get in a comparable job elsewhere? and WTF is a comparable job anyway?

Democracy 3:Electioneering is new DLC for my political strategy game Democracy 3. It was released just over a month ago. So far, total revenue from all sources for this DLC is $18,600.  The total development and marketing cost of the DLC stands at $21,500 so I have (so far) lost $2,900. Thats a ROI of -13%.

Ouch.

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But that’s kinda nonsense. Firstly, that’s for 1 month. if I look at the one month sales for Democracy 3:Clones & Drones, then compare it to the one month of D3:Electioneering and project to a year out, I should earn a net of $87,042 from the DLC. YAY!

But again, that’s nonsense because it doesn’t take into account my work. I put roughly 3 months full time work into the DLC (over a longer period), so how much should I be charging myself for the purposes of working out if this DLC was a good move? This brings us back to the whole ‘what do I pay myself question.

Looking at game developer salary surveys, it looks like a typical ‘lead coder’ earns around £47,000. I also run the studio, so lets assume I am a ‘development director’ and earn £59k. A salaried employee would have a pension too, plus sick pay and so-on, so lets add another £6k to that and say a reasonable salary for me is £65,000 a year. I’m 45, been coding on and off since age 11. I’m worth it :D. So 3 months at that rate costs me £16,250. Given exchange rates right now at about 1.3 £/$, lets plug it in…

Dev & PR cost  $21,500
Cliffs cost  $21,125
Projected total income  $87,042
Profit $44,417

Whoah thats more like it.  Of course that assumes that the sales of D3:E are the same curve as D3:C&D over time, which they may not be. On the other hand, this is a US election year, and a fairly crazy one, people might be really into a game about election strategy. Or they might be fed up with politics entirely. who knows.

Now before you all quit your jobs to ‘go indie’, its really not this simple. I also released Democracy 3:Africa recently and that game LOST money (so far). It’s close to breaking even, but right now, that cost me money, even assuming I personally earned zero from doing any work on it. Gratuitous Space Battles 2 DID make me a five figure profit (yay!) assuming I worked for free (boo!). Luckily other games, notable Democracy 3 and Big Pharma, are big hits and continue to bring in money, so it all kind of evens out.

The two takeaways from this are:

  1. its VERY RISKY to be dependent on just one game. It really is a hit driven business.
  2. If you have a contract with someone that mentions ‘profit’ relating to bonuses etc, make SURE you know how they are defining their costs. It really is open to interpretation.

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The last few months have been pretty tough for me. I basically did too much at once, and missed a few things, and made some mistakes and I am not the sort of person who shrugs things off and goes ‘well shit happens’. I get angry with myself for screwing up, and I don’t forget it, which means I get more stressed and argghh… I end up a bit like this:

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which is obviously *not good*.

Recently we found a bunch of bugs in the implementation of getting Democracy 3:Electioneering (DLC for democracy 3) to work seamlessly with Democracy 3 Africa (A different game) without people having to re-buy it, or move any files. This sounded like a good idea at the time, as a programmer, but when running a business you have to realize that OH MY GOD it is not that simple.

The problem is that D3 is not just ‘a game’. That would be simple. It’s Democracy 3 on steam, on GoG, on the humble store, the mac game store, direct from us and also on ipad (which does not support the new DLC). Plus…its in OSX and Linux. Oh and also the builds for the French, German and Polish language are ENTIRELY separate (and the DLC is not translated). This means we have D3(direct)D3 German(direct) D3 French(direct) D3 osx(direct) D3 linux (direct), D3 Gog, D3 Gog osx, D3 steam osx, D3 steam Linux, D3 steam. D3 steam French, D3 steam German, D3 steam polish. Humble osx, Humble win, Humble Linux. Oh and there is a browser version on humble (but nowhere else, and only in English).

Holy fucking shit.

Then we added Democracy 3 Africa, which is multiple languages but ALL IN ONE BUILD, and thats on humble, GoG and Steam. Its in Windows and OSX, but not linux. BTW Africa doesn’t have polish, but D3 does, but only on steam, and in retail, because yes…D3 is in retail, but only in Poland.

Again…

stressed

So holy fuck. And I have fucked up a few technical things which I THINK are all now sorted, despite giving cause to angry emails and twitter outbursts and general stress., Plus today is the HOTTEST day of the year in England. (don’t laugh, we have heat some days). Oh and I nearly cut my arm off in a gardening injury (yeah funny huh?) and damaged my neck doing sit ups (you can laugh here), and had to miss DEVELOP which was the first time I’d bought a full conference pass and booked a hotel . FUCK.

So ideally I’d have all this behind me now and be heading back to my favourite relaxing place (st lucia…)

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Which I haven’t been to for three years because…being a treehugger, I rarely fly, and games conferences have kinda used up my personal angst budget for long distance trips for a while. But wait! there is good news ahead…

Firstly, barring tech support, Democracy 3:Africa is DONE and shipped, Big Pharma Marketing & Malpractice is DONE and shipped, Electioneering is DONE and shipped. The only planned releases by positech games in the next six months are two third party games, Shadowhand and Political Animals. Both are looking in really good shape, and I am not writing a single line of code for either of them. YAY.

Plus its very sunny out there, the garden looks AMAZING, and today I am going to visit friends for a day and wont do much work. YAY. Plus I *have* actually learned a lot of lessons from all this stress. The most obvious one being that the less builds you have of your game the better. To that end… A lot of this mess is being cleared up by the super-talented Jeff from stargazy (he coded Democracy 3 africa). Soon(ish) we will have a Democracy 3 build for all languages (in unicode no less), and that will kill off a chunk of these useless bastard builds that cause me so much admin hell.

DOUBLE YAY.