Category Archives: business

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).

box1

box2
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…

box3

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“.

love

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:

downton

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.

darcy

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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GDC 2016 Impressions

March 16, 2016 | Filed under: business

No fancy images because…I’m sat on the floor of a convention center tethered to a power socket on my laptop…and its fiddly to write this.

I’m at GDC, in the US of A, doing ‘press stuff’ and hanging out with gamedev buddies. I have the cheap-ass indie pass, so I can only get into a few talks, and I do not qualify for ‘free’ coffee. Whatever…

Frankly, apart from the indie soapbox, which was part awesome, part ‘wtf?’, I haven’t really been drawn to talks anyway. Theoretically I’m here to meet the press, and promote Democracy 3 Africa, but getting decent appointments proved tricky (I guess it sounds like DLC…and its not in VR…so…), so I don’t have *that* many of them. If I had to make a proper business case for flights+hotels+conference pass, it would be very tricky.

The highlights are basically having meals & drinks with fellow indies. There is something about game developers that makes them generally pretty witty, pretty easy-going and friendly. This isn’t true of all professions. I worked on city trading floors once. ahem.

Meeting the press is beneficial, and worth doing, but I also kinda feel weird trying to ‘sell’ to strangers face-to-face. Most devs don’t mind it as much as me, I presume. I do find myself thinking ‘if I broke my leg and couldn’t get to any press meetings, that wouldn’t be so bad right?…’. I guess that’s my very very unpredictable mood-swing introvert side coming out.

For those not here, the news is that Game Development is currently dominated by VR middleware and hipster beards. Those are basically the two major prongs of development right now. VR is BIG here. There is a whole VR ‘track’, which amusingly can only be experienced here, physically in San Fransisco, rather than remotely by tele-presence or VR-gogglez.

I do get an impression there is a lot of denial about the realities of the indiepocalypse. Part of me suspects this GDC is the last desperate roll of the dice for a lot of people who quit their jobs, bought a unity license and some stock art, and expected their first indie game to be a minecraft style blockbuster. It would be fascinating to know what percentage of indie attendees here are running down savings, or more worrying still, increasing debts to friends/family/credit cards. GDC definitely needs more talks like Jake Birketts ‘the no hit wonder’, which injected some typically British downbeat realism into proceedings. Better to be cautious and make a living than over-optimistic and bankrupt.

So..I have 2 press things, 2 meals, 1 party and 1 biz-meeting to go, then its off to detroit (I’d tell you why, but its a secret), and then off to New York, just for sightseeing and fun, before back into mega publishing crunch time. I miss the sight of fields, cows & sheep and trees. And my cats, obv.

 

Actually shipping a game.

March 10, 2016 | Filed under: business

I used to work at Elixir, famous for ‘Evil genius’ but also famous because two of the founders went off to start DeepMind, and become world famous AI gods. Anyway… when I was recruited there, I was surrounded by maths experts, people with AI phds and generally people smarter academically than me. I am pretty sure the reason i was hired was because unlike the majority of the coders there, I had finished a bunch of games already. Back then, most games got canned, or went on forever. Nobody shipped anything. Knowing how to ship was helpful.

Developer_-_Elixir_Studios_Logo

Welcome to 2016, and its no different.

The development schedules of most indie games amaze and astound me. Admittedly, I’ve been working on games a long time (I started coding 35 years ago) so I am pretty experienced, and probably work at a faster rate than most, but even so, I read about some indie games and find myself thinking ‘seriously, it still hasn’t shipped?’.

I’m not talking about those cunning indie hits like Prison Architect, which was such a dam-bursting vortex of sales in Early Access, that it made practical sense to keep it in development. I’m generally talking about the smaller games, and almost always peoples ‘first game’.

There are many reasons someones first game goes on forever, some of them technical, just a lack of experience meaning everything is being done for the first time and thus there are no shortcuts, you have to learn it all, and naturally your efficiency is lower. You may also be doing it (if you are sensible) part time with a day job paying the bills (not to mention the development cost), so you don’t have enough time to dedicate to it, and there is an inefficiency that creeps in when you work an hour a day, in short bursts. However, fundamentally, I think the problems tend to be psychological.

book

One reason is that people are terrified of criticism. When you are ‘working on’ your game, you can deflect all criticism with ‘thats placeholder’ ‘its not finished’ ‘this is just alpha’ and so on. Once you metaphorically stick it in a box on a shelf, you are saying ‘I made that, what do you think?’. Its kind of like standing naked and asking people to hold up score cards (I’m guessing…). Releasing a game means you run out of excuses and have to stand by your decisions. Thats scary. Especially if you have never worked alone before, and have NOBODY to shift blame onto.

Another reason is the inability to compromise on quality. This is the big one. All games are imperfect upon release. All of them. Its a fact, deal with it. So are all books, all plays, all movies, and everything ever made. Star Wars was the most successful film ever made, and was so flawed on release the director famously kept tweaking it decades later. ‘Revised and updated’ often appears in text books, and I lose track of how many ‘directors cuts’ and ‘special editions’ there are of Lord of the Rings.

Stormtrooper_Search

Ultimately you make commercial games to entertain people and to pay the bills. An unreleased game achieves neither. The worst, crappiest, half-assed bug-ridden unoriginal games released on PC are more successful than all those indie games that are stuck in perpetual development, because they are actually out there, being enjoyed. I’ve never once shipped a game and thought ‘this is absolute perfection’, because that way lies madness.

Now don’t get me wrong, some games definitely ship too early. Some games are unplayable on release with game breaking bugs, and gameplay flaws, and other inexcusable crap. This isn’t what I advocate AT ALL. Your game should be finished, polished, balanced and tested before release, obviously. But that doesn’t mean it contains every feature imaginable. It doesn’t mean that you change engine three times during development because you absolutely *MUST* have that latest shader tech.

duke

I honestly believe that there is an optimum development length for games, which will vary based on the game genre and the team, but I’m guessing its 18 months or less. For eighteen months you can retain your excitement at the original idea. The same team can tolerate working together. Tech will not advance *too* much. Press who cover the game’s announcement will still be vaguely interested when it releases. Game tastes will not change *that* much, and the temptation to completely rewrite the design or art style is lessened because there simply isn’t time. If you are making an indie game full-time and you are beyond 18 months development, ask yourself if you are really doing this as a sensible, managed project with a ship date, or just indulging yourself and putting off opening up your creative heart to the world.