Ok here is some *good* news. And its about Africa, but no, not Democracy 3, it’s about that school Positech is funding in Cameroon. I just got an email from the charity handling it, and more details are to come soon, but the school is 95% finished, they have had an opening ceremony, it was in the local paper, on radio even on local TV. I’m looking forward to seeing snippets of all that soon, but in the meantime, I have two pictures that have been sent from the agonizingly slow internet connection in Cameroon. First, here are the children about to sing the national anthem in front of the old school… (old school at back on the right)…

children outside old school

And here is the representative of the charity being photographed in front of the shiny shiny new modern school, that we funded. Yay :D

Handing over of new school

This is so awesome. My first response when seeing the pics was, wow, thats a lot of children, but when you think it has 3 classrooms, I guess thats probably right, they don’t have tiny class sizes out there anyway, so its to be expected, but its still kind of amazing to think you can boost the education of so many people when you are just some middle aged dude typing in his home-office. It’s not like I had to put on a benefit concert or spend years knocking on doors. And the new school looks BIG and really cool.

I can totally understand why people who do stuff like this want to fly out there and strut about in the school. Its 100% natural. I would love to see it, love to actually be there, and be able to understand in that basic primitive way that I have really helped to do this, by touching the walls and seeing the children in lessons. That temptation is huge, but I fight it because 1) I try not to fly too much and 2) shouldn’t that potential air-fare money go to better use?

Maybe one day I’ll give in and do it anyway :D

Expect another post when I have video and more photos! For those curious about this click the ‘schools’ category on this blog post to see earlier posts about the school, where it is, what it cost etc.

…although people seem to be pricing them like they are. Which is kinda weird. I’ve seen games listed for $0.10. Thats kinda…desperate, and its either a signal that the game is an absolute botched together clone of something simple and generic, or it shows that the developer isn’t aware that games are not commodities.

About a week ago, Anno 2205 came out, and I bought it right away (in fact I even pre-ordered it, based on my like for 2070). The price of the game is interesting. here is steam spy


So…no launch discount, a price of $60.00, and so far about 40,000 owners (clearly more off-steam as well). So thats $2.4 million, so take 70% and it means 1.68 million. IO don’t know the games dev costs but I’m guessing its not stratospheric. A few million? hard to tell, but I think its safe to say the game will be a decent retrun on investment.

Ubisoft know that Anno is Anno, and other games are not Anno. If I look at the strategy new releases chart on steam…


Ok, so no denying age of empires is cool, but a bit…old, and mini metro might be fun. One of them is DLC and I’ve never heard of the others. This isn’t my point though, my point is, I could buy the entire newly released top ten strategy games for less than the price I paid for Anno, and yet…I bought Anno. Judging my sales charts, so did everyone else.

Games (good ones) are not commodities. I don’t *need* to price Democracy 3 to compete with those 10 games listed there because they are NOT competition. Big Pharma is still priced at full price because it pretty much has no competition. There are *similar* games, sure, but there are *similar* games to Anno, but they are *not* the same.

Stop pricing games like you are selling a generic commodity. You aren’t.

Its announcement day! Yay. And what do we have for you today…


Yup its Democracy 3:Africa announcement day! So whats all this then?

Democracy 3: Africa is a sort of ‘re-imagining’ of the original game, and also an ‘expandalone’, meaning you don’t need to buy the original game. This is not DLC, but a stand-alone game with new graphics, new music, and of course a completely new setting. The countries in D3:A have a different set of problems, opportunities and characteristics to those in the original game. That has meant a lot of changes and a lot of tweaking and re-modeling. There is more information, including a list of the countries modeled at the placeholder website here.

So in more blog-like terms…whats going on here then?
Democracy 3 is a pretty popular game, and actually, while I’m mentioning it, you can get it at 66% off RIGHT NOW on steam. Anyway…over the years it’s had 3 expansions, (Social Engineering, Extremism and  clones & Drones), and recently we revisited the game to tweak it with some GUI improvements and new achievements.  Because of its popularity, I’m able to ‘take a risk’ and make a version of the game that at first glance might not make commercial sense. When I told some friends about it they said, ‘why Africa? who is interested in African politics?’

And thats kind of the point. In the west, we tend to think of Africa as either the target of charity fund-raising concerts, or somewhere to go on a safari. We never think about the African economies, or African industry or exports. Lets not forget Africa is home to a billion people…

The problems, opportunities and characteristics of many African countries make for a fascinating experiment in political strategy. It also makes for perhaps more of a challenge. Some people claim that the USA is ‘hard mode’ for Democracy 3, but even in the USA, you aren’t dealing with the levels of corruption found in *some* African states. Poor infrastructure and low levels of literacy are not much of a problem in the west, but they are definite factors in Africa. The problems are different, making for different strategy, and hopefully, a very different and interesting gaming experience.


Plus… When do you ever see Africa in a video game? I have no memories of it ever being anything but a destination where pirate bases or criminal gangs roam. Gaming seems to have a very distorted view of Africa, just like Hollywood does. I am under no illusions that this game will sell many copies in Africa, the gaming market is tiny, but I think it still makes sense because its such an interesting setting for a strategy game.

Also… I am not the designer this time. Modeling Africa was my idea, but in terms of all of the research, balancing, re-modeling, tweaking and any re-coding, this is all being done by Jeff Sheen from Stargazy Studios. Look at me! I’m expanding (a bit).

So there you go…Democracy 3:Africa. And yes…I am going to get even more white supremacist spam. (I got a bit after announcing the school we are building), and yes, we will probably get the tone of some of this wrong, and people will accuse us of misrepresenting African countries and people, and we expect to learn a lot, and to be in full-on listening mode. We are two white guys in the UK making a game about Africa. I’ve never even been there. I get that. I know we will make mistakes, but they won’t be intentional. If we have any ‘agenda’ here at all, its just to develop a game with an unusual and interesting setting, and to learn a little about Africa in the process.

Oh and shipping date? Errr. not sure. Q1 2016? We have been working on it secretly for a while…

So don’t forget…Democracy 3 is 66% off this week on steam :D

There is a bit of a misconception among people who are struggling to get ahead in any industry, that all of the people they look up to, and see as a success, and who have in some way or another, by some metric ‘made it’, live their lives 100% of the time like this:


(I just googled for ‘TED speaker’. Apparently that guy is a ‘renowned leadership expert‘.).

Anyway, thats bollocks. And its also slightly destructive bollocks because it can be harmful to your motivation, your ambition, and your belief in yourself. Here is a little secret that people who have ‘made it’ don’t often admit… (I am putting myself rather embarrassingly in that slot, because I have a life which by a lot of peoples metrics is very good, no boss, comfortable income, blah blah. This isn’t generally how I describe myself…)

We have really really bad days too. Sometimes lots of them. Sometimes they are really bad.

I do not leap out of bed each morning and jump into my office chair and start coding flawless neural networks with one hand whilst dealing on the stock-market and making a fortune with the other. In fact this only happens about half of the time. In fact, most of the code I write has bugs and is broken and slow the first time I write it. A LOT of my code gets thrown away. A lot of my ideas get thrown away.  My current prototype project folder that I’m creating my potential next game in, is called ‘Research Cats’. Its not about cats, and its not about research. I ditched both ideas. Nor is any of the three other ‘really cool ideas’ I had, which I have also thrown away. Nor does the current game even look like it did two months ago. (It was a side-scroller then, its isometric now).

Plus my path-finding code is currently getting stuck under certain circumstances. My coder art looks HORRIBLE. I am not even sure this is a good idea for a game, and it may be a total waste of time and money.

The last game I coded and released made *some* money, but not that much. Certainly not a hit. The game before that was a HUGE hit, but every day I code I worry that maybe I just got lucky with that one, maybe I have no actual ability whatsoever, and was in the right place at the right time. Maybe I’m an idiot to not code in java or use unity. I could be wasting the next year of my life on a game that will *lose* money, plus I’m investing in three other games, all of which could potentially lose me money. Plus all the savings that I have are in investments that could go badly wrong. That iron-pellet factory in the Ukraine now looks like a dreadful investment, and the last tech company I invested in was actually in the news headlines for technical failures that wiped out 50% of its stock value.


I have mood swings that are so rapid and variable that I’m basically impossible to work with, and I’m such a workaholic I sometimes think I have ‘no idea’ how to ‘have fun’. I could talk for hours about my various fears for the future.

Now the thing is, *you don’t see that*, because like anyone who is selling something, I put forward an ‘image’ of super-confidence, success, motivation and ambition. Nobody wants to hear someone whining all day about how things are going wrong. We want inspiration, and we want to look up to people. Thats perfectly understandable. The trick is to realize when we are going too far, and expecting to live up to an idealistic vision of how people should feel/look/behave. Women have endured this for ages with the looks of airbrushed supermodels being demanded of them. Men get similar pressures in other ways (You MUST have a job, you MUST have muscles, full head of hair, fast car blah blah). What I’m saying is the same thing happens in business.

samething(There is actually no difference between these)

When you look at a successful developer, or indie game studio owner, you are seeing the vogue cover-model image of them. All the failure, the doubt, the stupid decisions, the drunken sobbing at 3am about how they are wasting their life… thats all kept from view. In short, we all fuck up, we all get it wrong, we all get demotivated and miserable, and wonder if we are doing the right thing. Or hopefully we all do, because if its just me, I am so fucked :D. So anyway, on your off-days, hang in there. That person you think has all the answers is probably having one too.



Games industry Return on Investment

October 27, 2015 | Filed under: business

I was chatting recently to some other devs, and the topic of ‘return on investment’ and more relevantly, the time to recoup the initial investment came up. It occurred to me that the attitude that indie devs have to these values are very interesting, and often completely fucking mad.

Just to clarify how I’m thinking about these terms. Lets say you spend $200,000 to make your game, and after a year from when you commit that money, you have earned $220,000. The game then explodes and can never be sold again. You made a return-on investment, of 10% by getting that extra $20,000 back. That assumes you paid out the whole 200k on day 1, and had no access to any of that money.

If the game went on sale on day 1, and you get $200,000 back on day thirty, I’m saying the time to recoup your money there is one month, but note this is a ‘totally different thing to look at’. I think this is widely misunderstood. For example, one game may cost $200k, earn $50k a year and sell for a decade. Its time to recoup investment is a depressing 4 years, but in total you made $300k profit, and a ROI of 150% which is good. That is, however over ten years, so not as good as it sounds… Game two may cost the same $200k, make $300k in the first week, and then never sell a copy ever again. Thats a really quick and awesome profit, but in the long run…I’d prefer game one thanks… :D


This is what makes looking at steam spy a bit problematic. What you really need in there is a ‘average income per day’ which for obvious bundling/price reasons is entirely inaccurate too, but at least it allows you to make vaguely sensible comparisons over time.

One of the reasons its important to keep these distinction is mind is that often the strategy that gives you the most immediately pleasing result may be in your worst interest. If we go back to our hypothetical $200k game again, and imagine the decision process when it comes to launch discounts or pricing… Arguably game one was priced too high, it didn’t sell that well, didn’t get into the charts, it bumbled along as a failure. for THREE YEARS after that game shipped, you have to admit to your parents each Christmas that no..the game has still made a loss…


Meanwhile game two sold like gangbusters on the first day. WOOHOO! it was maybe a bit under-priced…but who cares. It made its money back and then some profit in a WEEK! OMG riches await, order a ferrari… Except, we may have priced it hilariously too low. Literally everyone even vaguely interested in the game now has it, and paid $1 for it. In the long run, despite us enjoying a smug Christmas meal this year…we will eventually find ourselves at a bus stop in the rain when game developer #1 roars past us in his Ferrari bought in year eight.

Ok, so is this a real issue? and do people make this mistake? I think it is, and they do. A lot of new indie developers are YOUNG. Its just pure maths. to an eighteen year old, the idea of earning money over a ten year period is kinda unappealing, thats like 55% of your whole life AGAIN. To someone who is 45, 10 years is just 22%. I can handle that. In other words, if I’m older than you, I am probably better at thinking longer term.

This whole topic came up because it occurred to me that breaking even in a month on an indie game is seen as ‘average’, which is insane. When you invest in a solar farm or wind farm, you are looking at breaking even within five to eight years. Five years would be AWESOME. Games have a long tail, and its sensible to think of them as long term investments, not one-night stands.