Category Archives: democracy3

Extremism on the way

March 26, 2014 | Filed under: democracy3 | game design

I’ve taken some time out of my GSB2 coding schedule to manage and test and work on another expansion pack for Democracy 3, called Democracy 3: Extremism. This is a huge big list of new policies and situations that represent more extreme politics. I can already predict that a lot of players will be annoyed it isn’t MORE extreme than it is.

What does political extremism mean to you? within a democratic context? I’m not talking armed mobs that overthrow the government, but parties with actual popular support. I’ve tried to walk the line between including some fairly extreme views, whilst also keeping it credible as a policy a western government might actually put into place. I’m also slightly wary of acting as fodder for any exploitative tabloid journalism along the lines of ‘Game developer endorses culling the elderly!’ for example.

When you sit down to analyze it, extremism is really a hard concept to nail down. One of the policies in the pack is ‘close all airports permanently’, presented as an environmental move. I’m sure a lot of people would think such a policy was insane, but there are quite definitely environmentalists who would argue it’s entirely reasonable. There are people who would ban private education and private healthcare, and others that would consider that practically stalinist. The base game lets you legalize or ban gun ownership, both positions that encourage cries of ‘extremism!’ in different parts of the world.

french cheese and guns

Obviously a lot of this is skewed by where you live and your background. I’m from the UK. In the grand scheme of things it’s a pretty liberal country. You can have state or private education or healthcare. Gay marriage is legal, we have pretty good freedom of speech. Divorce and abortion are perfectly accepted (abortion less so, arguably). We have very strict gun controls, and fairly strict (but not strongly enforced) drug laws. All of this gets reflected in my own prejudices. I don’t find the fact that we make gun ownership very hard to be at all extremist, yet if you banned private schooling I’d consider that an extreme move. (I went to a state school FWIW). I’d consider outlawing homosexuality insane, and consider scrapping the state health service equally insane. There is no real pattern at work here, we are all skewed by what we are used to. My position on healthcare is to the left of my general position on state-provision, almost certainly because I’ve lived all my life in the UK…

What I’m getting at is that extremism is very culturally dependent, and often entirely illogical. I consider a ban on divorce or homosexuality nuts, but many such bans exist in the world, even in the rich developed western world. Sex toys are illegal in Alabama, abortions are illegal in Ireland. It’s not a simple case of the left wing wanting to ban stuff, or the right wing wanting to ban stuff. there is no logical pattern. Stuff seems ‘extremist’ because we aren’t used to it. One of the policies in the pack is national flags on every street corner. A crazy idea in the UK, but in the USA? probably not so. Another is compulsory church attendance, seemingly crazy in the UK, maybe not in Alabama? Subsidies for new cars. Extremist? maybe a bit? but we have experimented with that in the UK. Forcing the unemployed to do community work? I bet that sounds extremist in some countries. Public Tax returns? A punitive wealth tax?

I look forward to peoples debate and discussion when the expansion gets released. My politics are very fluid. I think a lot about what I think, and my politics change over time. Twenty years ago I was against positive discrimination, but now I have finally changed my mind. Analyzing your opinions on political issues, putting them into context and rationalizing them against the backdrop of your other views is a fascinating thing to do. It’s always good to re-examine what you believe.

Except Free to Play, that’s just evil :D

 

So I didn’t win a BAFTA. I didn’t think I would. I thought Papers,Please would win it, and it did. I did get to drink champagne and listen to carol vorderman and some nobody from hollyoaks though. Quite why some nobody from hollyoaks is giving out games awards baffles me. At least Dara O Brien actually *is* a gamer.. Anyway…

By the time you drive to London & back, park in London, book a hotel room in London, BUY 2 tickets for the awards ceremony and hire special outfits that apparently in 2014 we still need to drink champagne… There isn’t actually much change from £1,000 ($1,600) in being an indie game dev at the BAFTAs. Obviously for a billionaire like me, this is petty cash, but it’s a big chunk of change none the less. Luckily those fine chaps at steam ran a BAFTA sale on the day with Democracy 3 included, which earned me about £12k that day, so woohoo! I win!

sale

Now I’m back in my sheep-surrounded country headquarters, and coding away, there are probably a number of other updates to mention. Update #1 is that for a LONG TIME, I will be working away on Gratuitous Space Battles 2, and mostly I just *can’t* show you any of the stuff I’m doing now until I reveal the ‘big feature’ in it, and I don’t want to do that until i have some newer art, which will be a month or three.

Secondly, there are firm plans now to bring Democracy 3 to the IPAD. Oh yes. the IPAD. I have not been a huge evangelist for the income-generating potential of the ipad, but I have had such commercial success with D3, and it’s such a touchscreen-friendly GUI, that I have taken the decision to give it a go. There are not enough thoughtful deep strategy games on tablets, so I’m hoping to find a niche there. I’m outsourcing this 100%.

facebook

Thirdly, I continue to throw money at advertising, despite nobody ever agreeing with my theories there :. Right now I have a pretty steady $400/day spend on facebook ads. My tracking (which I’m improving today) shows that getting someone to visit the BUY page on my site for D3 costs between $3-4. The game is $25, DLC can take that higher, and of course there is extra viral + future income. Right now, I’m content to continue with that experiment, having chalked up $4,541 on facebook ads this month. The direct+steam+apple app store sales of D3 are very good, so I’m still somehow making a daily profit on this, and as D3 has paid for itself happily, I’m looking at this process as a general ‘raising my general site profile’ expense right now. I’d stop if it ever hit 50% of my revenue.

There are also TWO other projects in the works under the positech umbrella. that probably sounds mad, but I’m slowly expanding in little dribbles, and I’m not working on either of them, so I still have plenty of time to concentrate on spaceships. yay!

 

I’m dumping my brain here in case it’s interesting to review strategy, from a business POV. I’m looking at the last 14 days of positech, as if I’m playing a strategy game.

The income over those 14 days is roughly $60k, taking into account direct sales, Steam GoG and the apple app store. there are some other relatively trivial sources too. This is pretty high, because obviously Democracy 3 is relatively newly released, and was just coming out of a sale.

Spending on marketing & PR during this period is relatively tiny. about $2,600 in adwords, another $1,000 ish on another network, and some PR costs, put the whole promotional cost at about $4,600 or roughly 7% of revenue. I could clearly spend more if I saw a decent opportunity to grow the customer base for my games. With this in mind, I just plonked down another $2k today for a splurge on reddit ads coming up.

So how does this all translate into growing the direct-sales juggernaut? well… Direct traffic at positech.co.uk over this period is 54,000 visits compared to 71,000 visits to steam (you get to track this data now). The average steam visitor duration is 31 seconds compared to 82 seconds on my site. This suggests steam is pretty leaky.

In terms of those users I get coming to my site, what are the best sources? The biggest chunk is ‘organic search’ which you don’t have much direct control over, other than trying to get more reviews and doing some SEO, which is a nebulous goal. The most analyzable category is ‘referral’ which is 24.6% of traffic, so quite small. They ‘convert’ in terms of hits on buy pages etc at 11.7% compared with 52% on organic search….interesting. If I narrow this down to people who show up on the Democracy 3 homepage, that figure goes up to 23% of referral visitors converting.

Luckily I can analyze further…

if I look at the Democracy 3 search campaign on adwords, that cost me £266 in that time, or roughly $441. For that, I got 618 clicks, at £0.43 a click ($0.77). This resulted in 72 confirmed buy page hits. I doubt all 72 bought the game. If we assume half of them do, and split the direct & steam takes to get roughly 80% of the money, then I got maybe 36*(0.8*24.95) which is  $718, or a profit of $19 a day. Pretty pathetic.

However, if I assume of the half who didn’t buy the game (but had visited the buy page), two thirds of them are prepared to buy the game next time it’s 50% off, then I can add on another $9.50 a day, which is still kinda crap, but better. Further to this, there is the viral effect, where word of mouth from those buyers might lead to additional sales. This involves even more guesswork….and there is more stuff I don’t know…

So the key variables I need to juggle here are:

  1. Percentage of people who bought the game directly attributable to this spending (some of this is known, but with considerable error margin)
  2. Percentage of people whose exposure to the game ‘stores up’ a purchase at a later date.
  3. Percentage of people whose exposure to the game ‘stores up’ a purchase at a lower price.
  4. Virality multiplier from new purchasers of the game.
  5. Potential upsell from new customers for future games.
  6. Cross-promotional effect of people visiting for Democracy 3 but buying GSB./Redshirt/GTB etc…
  7. Sales income through all channels from people who saw the ad, and had the brand re-in-forced, but did not click, or whose clicks were not tracked due to privacy settings/javascript disabled.

The trouble is there are just too many variables here, and this is where it becomes alchemy. My gut feeling is that I am underspending on promotion. Possibly massively so.

P.S.If you are an indie dev and read all this, and you are new to the industry, I wonder if you noticed the big amazing factoid buried in all that, that defies general assumptions by almost everyone in the industry? Let me type it again: Direct traffic at positech.co.uk over this period is 54,000 visits compared to 71,000 visits to steam. Yup, this is doable. it takes a lot of time and effort and patience and risk.

 

 

Build Management Hell

February 17, 2014 | Filed under: business | democracy3

This is part of indie life nobody warns you about. In your mind, you create a game, test it, upload it, then sit in front of windows showing the sales figures and the bug reports. That’s what happens right?

Not quite. The modern indie game, even one that is a pure-desktop (not mobile/tablet) experience can end up with a scary amount of build-management. If you are really organized and clever (clearly I’m not) you can manage it without too much stress. If you don’t plan ahead, you end up like me.

Democracy 3 has, primarily it’s ‘direct sales’ build on PC. This is the ‘master build’. It then has a separate build for steam, which is uploaded through valves tools. That’s 2 builds. Then there is a build for GoG without steams API in it. Then there is the build for the humble store. And also there is the secure copy uploaded for reviewers. That’s five builds. That’s no problem. Then each of those has a mac and a linux build. Ouch, that’s 15 builds now. This is a pain, but doable. Then it gets translated into French and German. Ok, that means 45 builds now. Yeah, 45 builds.

No big deal right? But don’t forget each one is about 40-50MB in size. That’s 2 gigabytes. No big deal? Try uploading that with 45k/s upload speed out here amongst the sheep. You can see why I don’t get to play any online games around ‘democracy 3 patch days’. Also, you can see just how infuriating it is when you find a bug that needs patching. 20 minutes debugging,  an hour fixing and checking, 12 hours uploading.

And because I’m so dumb, all of those builds are entirely separate, even though 95% of the files are shared across them all. Learn from my mistakes, get your build process sorted out beforehand!

BAFTA dev days

February 12, 2014 | Filed under: business | democracy3

So, just 2 newsy items today. Firstly the steam dev days talk videos are now up online here:

http://www.steamdevdays.com/

And I’m in one of the panels (The marketing one), which is here:

http://youtu.be/477rvRSjE5U

Plus Democracy 3 has been nominated for a BAFTA award for Strategy game. details here:

http://www.bafta.org/press/nominations-announced-british-academy-games-awards-in-2014,325,SNS.html

Yay!