Category Archives: business


April 20, 2018 | Filed under: business

A long time ago, wee released a game on the ipad. Its hilarious that I cannot even remember whether in this case it was democracy 3 or gratuitous space battles (edit: it was D3). At least one of those is no longer available, because its 32bit, and some genius at apple thinks that the millions of apple customers should no longer be allowed to play 32 bit games, because somehow, thats suddenly a bad thing (it isn’t). Isn’t it great when platforms restrict consumer choice? Its bad enough on PC, but on apple… you have no other store choice. This is why all my computers are windows…


We had this theory back then, that if you can propel your game into the charts, its position in the charts would become self sustaining. It was a ‘fake it til you make it’ approach to marketing. It turns out, that back then, you absolutely could get any game you wanted into the charts (not #500, but #5, #10 etc) if you just spent enough money on adverts. So thats what we did. At one point I was spending $700 a day on ads, and earning $1,300 a day in sales. awesome. So we raised it. We hit $1,400 a day on ads and $1,638 in sales… Not so awesome, but maybe a road-bump. We had a hilarious day where we spent $2,300 on ads and earned $2,394 in income… hmmm. Then we had a few days where we lost money whilst spending $2,300 in ads.

And I panicked, and I stopped, and very rapidly the game dropped like a stone from the charts and all was forgotten. However…in the long run things did ok. Democracy 3 has made $80k profit(ish) on itunes (That includes all the DLC), which is pretty good. Thats after the porting cost (I didn’t do it myself) and all the ad deductions.

To be honest with you, its not a good port. The ipad has sod-all RAM, and Democracy 3 kinda needs a fair bit, and also its not mega optimized for rendering on super-low spec PCs. We could have totally re-engineered it, but that was outside the scope. if we do Democracy 4 on ipad, that would definitely be done better. (On newer ipads its probably fine, but the ipad 1 and 2…. not so smooth)

But anyway.. my point is that I think the inertia strategy *can* work, but its REALLY hard to get it right, because you have to fight INCREDIBLE human pressure to go ‘holy crap. HOW MUCH on ads?’ especially after release when you were really hoping to finally be earning money, not spending it. Most indies dont spend anything on actual paid promotion at launch, relying on the odd tweet or maybe a cool video (which nobody watches), so persuading them to try a crazy strategy like maybe actually LOSING money in the first month of release due to a massive ad spend is probably an incredibly hard sell, even to me (I’ve never gone that crazy).

But still at the back of my mind, I think its a winning strategy. Success *does* become self sustaining. I’ve heard a lot about PUBG, Fortnite and Getting Over it, because everyone is talking about them. Everyone is playing them because… everyone is playing them. Obviously they have to be good games too, thats a given but I am talking about the effects of a certain level of success becoming self-sustaining. Think about new movie releases, especially the big budget ones. Some of these will lose money, but none of the studios act like they will lose money during launch week. Its all billboards, billboards, TV ads* and Web banner ads pimping the latest smash hit! You only find out that the movie lost $10 million years later if its mentioned in some studio financial report. Fake it till you make it.

A lot of people thought steamspy was a great way to tell if a game made loads of money or not, but there is no insight into the development and marketing cost of those titles. Some games that made $1million in sales probably made $900k profit. Some probably lost $1million overall. FWIW, with my biggest selling game (Democracy 3), Marketing represented 6.7% of total profit, and 5.47% of total revenue. With Production Line, that percentage will be way higher (roughly 30% of profit), partly due to changes in the marketplace, partly due to PL still being in Early Access, so still having untapped ‘stored value’ and it not having a long tail yet.

My goal is to teach myself (and really believe it), that the percentage of your total revenue that goes on promotion and development is not the issue, this is just ‘cost of sales’. The goal, from a business POV is as high a profit as possible. if you have to spend $900k to bring in $1,100k, thats still way better than spending $0 and bringing in $100k. Its just much, MUCH scarier.

*ads on Tv are called Tv ads. Calling them ‘spots’ is an attempt by the ad industry to reduce the association with them selling you stuff. People are so easily played…

So yeah…ill…

April 04, 2018 | Filed under: business

I was ill. It started on the Friday at the end of GDC, and I still have a bit of a cough now. I wont catalog all the symptoms, but yikes… I was not a well or happy chap. Thats the last time I ever go to GDC without a biohazard suit and a large vat of hand sanitizer. Its a real pain, because normally I come back from GDC all motivated and keen, and excited to work on stuff, yet I ended up going virtually an entire week without writing any code, which I think is the longest non-holiday pause for me in 19 years…

Luckily I got some new artwork while I was away, and plugging that in (mostly animations of new characters) required very little concentration or health, so I was still able to release a patch a few days ago with some worthy updates. I’m not operating at 95% of my usual efficiency (although have another enforced day-off due to family commitments today….), and hope to be back in full bug-fix/balance/feature mode in a day or two.

Production Line continues to sell very nicely, and we have a lot of wishlists. I have finally taken the decision that the game price should go up to $19.95, probably at the weekend. This has been something I’ve put off a long time. I can see arguments both way, and I have certainly analysed the decision a lot. PL is not ‘finished’, but its pretty feature-rich, especially for a game currently selling at $17.99. I’ve mentioned price rises a few times in my videos and the last time I did it, literally nobody cautioned against it, so I think the time for a price rise is kind of overdue. Will it affect sales? TBH unless you are making >$100k/month from your game, its really hard to tell any changes from the statistical noise that accompanies all game sales.

In other news, I finally bought myself one of those big green-screen thingies, so I can have a slightly-more-professional look to my blog videos, and I also finally got to witness this amazing image:

Which is like some sort of promised land. I shopped around for an ISP and discovered the following:

  1. My current (biz-focused and overpriced) ISP didn’t reply to me in 2 days, after we emailing and saying GIVE ME THIS NOW.
  2. BT, who actually run the darned lines, had a pop-up box that just gave me a blank dialog with a close button when selecting my house (and yes…i tried 2 browsers), so I couldnt order anything.
  3. Zen, who get good reviews and have great deals, wanted me to PHONE (yes phone) them to order, at which point I was put ina  queue. I enabled ring-back, but didn’t get one.
  4. IDNet, who actually let me click buttons and order a fucking product. So I did.

So there you have it. We assume that in a free market, a careful comparison of customer service history, reputation, features and pricing is what determines success. In reality, just having a product that fucking works (in this case an order system) gets you the custom… I ordered 220Mbps down, 20Mbps up, because tempting though 30 up is…. its kinda nuts. I currently have 1Mbps up, so I think I’ll still detect a difference… No idea when they actually come to install it though. I get a new router delivered, then someone from BT is going to have to come drill holes in the wall…


GDC 2018 Diary: Thursday afternoon.

March 23, 2018 | Filed under: business

Nearly at the end now… which is kinda cool, although I have 2 micro-events tomorrow I am looking forward to. Frankly five nights living out of a hotel on my own is more than enough for me.

Today has been pretty cool it started bad with me having to drenched on the short walk to get in a queue to buy a coffee because again… US hotels seem to be resistant to providing coffee machines. Are they part-owned by starbucks FFS? I then handled emails and social media stuff before I headed off for lunch with Jake (Grey Alien Games) and Tommy (Super Meat Boy), which was cool, and good fun, from that…it was off to ichiros cool micro-GDC thing to discuss the good and the bad of steam, and questions we had for them.

During the chat, prompted by ichiro very sensibly pointing out that its better to be positive than negative, I realized that many of the ‘toxic community’ problems that steam has can be solved by carrot, not stick. Sometimes, especially in early-access, players mention really good ideas, or give great feedback, or reply to other users tech support requests and solve problems for you.

Right now… I have no way to reward those players. Maybe we should take just 0.1% of steams cut, and covert that into ‘gems’ or whatever the best way to generate a steam ‘currency’ is, and allow developers to give that out on the forums? Nice steam guide you created there… here are 100 gems. Thanks for answering that users tech request… here are 5 gems. People who act like total asses, swear a lot, are rude or abusive… yeah they aren’t going to get any gems. Carrot, not stick.

Anyway… GDC 2018 has already been good, from my POV. I don’t feel ill, I’ve had some great times, some fun meetups with fellow devs, discussed some interesting industry stuff and learned some interesting industry news, and am confident it was worth my while in a business sense, as well as a sociable / personal sense.

I am looking forward to seeing my wife, my own bed, tea! my cat jack, and to get back into coding mode though.


GDC 2018 Diary: wednesday morning

March 21, 2018 | Filed under: business

So yeah… not feeling 100%, maybe its the dreaded GDC flu from so many handshakes and talking close to people in noisy bars. Maybe its just waking up tired and thirsty in a strange city. Hopefully I’ll shake it off.

Yesterday I didn’t go to a single GDC thing, and this is the final nail in the GDC conference coffin for me. The interesting stuff is the meetups, the parties, the lunches, the hanging-out and talking about games. Next year, if I come, I’m not getting a pass.

I went to a few events at a side-conference thing that I am rally keen on, where I told people my own experiences with advertising strategy, and then was in a cool discussion of sim game design, and artificial life. The AL one was especially interesting. There are  lot of cool, talented coders who are working on, and experimenting with interesting artificial life ideas, but translating them into games people want to buy is much harder. The trouble seems to be that the coder, and the CPU have all the fun, and the ‘player’ just gets a cool screensaver. Someone will crack this problem one day.

Its funny the extent to which the more game devs you know, the less you talk about game dev. It sounds weird, but listening to people talk about the house house they bought / are renovating, or their pets, or their holidays or whatever, becomes the standard thing after a few years. I’m sure some people for whom this is their first GDC and have been in the industry for just a year or two find it weird to overhear me and a bunch of dev veterans talking about solar panels, deer hunting or growing super-hot peppers.

In the evening I went to the humble party, traditionally the best party of the show, albeit one thats still a little too busy and loud for me:

A bigger venue, with more of a ‘video game event’ vibe than the Monday night thing. Everyone is here, and its great to catch up, although TBH I’m not envious of people who have anything ‘riding’ on this event. Imagine having to justify a flight, hotel and GDC pass on the basis of the value of business-contacts made in a loud, dark sweaty nightclub. It definitely CAN be done, I’m just glad I don’t feel like I need to do it any more. I’m old…

Today will be much more chilled for me, which suits me fine as its a day to recover, maybe even look around SF a little bit, who knows. Hopefully I’ll feel better later today.

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GDC 2018 Diary. Tuesday morning

March 20, 2018 | Filed under: business

GDC, after you have been a few years, certainly is a big change from normal indie day-do-day development. From being someone sat in a room mostly alone, mostly just typing, you end up in conversation pretty much all the time.  I chatted to developers on the plane, on the BART train from the airport to my hotel, and then all through the day and evening. Its more than a bit tiring.

My GDC adventure started with high stress. Having teased a fellow dev mercilessly about him ‘worrying about nothing’ that it *might* snow a bit the day he left, I woke up at 7AM to discover this:

at 7AM, where I live, the roads are unused, let alone not gritted. I basically half drove half slide and skidded the first 20 miles, getting out to help push stuck cars in heavy snow, and keeping one eye on the wrecked cars and vans that littered the roadside on the way to the airport. Its a small miracle I got to the airport both in time for my flight, and with no dents in my car.

I flew virgin, rather than British Airways. Their in-flight-entertainment and seats kinda sucked, but the layout was good. I think BA wins overall. I did not sleep at all, whereas I sometimes do with BA.

I’m staying right in the very heart of San Francisco, asked for a ‘quiet’ room rather than one that lets you hear the vintage trolleybus bells from the street. They are cool and touristy the first time, but no the eighth. The weather here is best described as ‘meh’, but at least I don’t need a scarf, hat and gloves like the UK:

Day 1 (Sunday) is basically just saying hello to fellow devs and putting off sleep. I order some ‘chips’ in a bar for $8 and get given crisps. Fuck that.

Monday is GDC proper, and likely the day where I am most likely to attend the actual show. I attended 2 talks, of the maybe 5% of the show that my cheapo indie-pass gives me access to. They were good, interesting talks, but if they were PWYW would I have paid $50 each for them? Nope. I need to stop wasting money on a pass…

If you do enough social media, even hiding your GDC pass makes you someone who will get recognized a lot, so there is a lot of admitting I am me, shaking hands and saying hello. I finally have got over the shock of realizing just *how many* game devs there are in the world. I long ago gave up on Tea in California, and am resigned to spending money in Starbucks on coffee all the time. Their monopoly position here makes steam look like amateurs.

The evening is nice, drinks with a bunch of devs, talking about identity politics, movies and TBH anything but games, then a quick hello at an indie meal, followed by a proper sit down meal and trading war stories and old-man stories with a bunch of industry veterans. Eventually, its time to uber to a party so loud I wonder what the point is. As always, everyone holds their events at the same place every year. Anything over polite restaurant volume makes an event pointless for me, and I need sleep anyway. I could uber back…but I know SF now, and I hit my 10k steps on the way back to my hotel.

US hotels provision of coffee machines is abysmal, so I have to physically leave my hotel and go to Starbucks to get a reasonably priced hot drink. Madness. I don’t need a TV in my room, I just need a fridge with milk in it and a coffee machine. Why is this so fucking hard? 10k steps means I can justify a donut, something I never eat back home. If I judge it just right, I wont actually put on any weight :D.

Jet lag is still my constant companion, waking at 6AM the next morning. Again…no hot beverage, I must leave the hotel room to fetch one like some sort of feral indie beast. Arggghh,