Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Democracy 4 Translations. The Economics

I’m trying to decide what other translations make economic sense for Democracy 4. Its never a clear issue. There are some countries where sales are potentially high, but then most gamers speak English anyway, so the boost effect of a translation is small. Then there are countries that sales are entirely dependent on translations being available. Also some countries have higher piracy rates, meaning you are basically just making pirated copies better! Time to look at some stats. Obviously I cannot make any decision without stats. Yes, I may well be on the spectrum…

Here I am going to consider the arguments for translating into Korean, Chinese and Japanese. Which, if any, of these countries make sense as a potential translation target? One useful stat would be to look at Democracy 3s steam sales figures in each country, as a percentage of revenue, as this game is older so it has lifetime (not just early access) stats.

  • China: 1% of revenue (Chinese translation available but added post-release. 5% revenue in prev year)
  • South Korea: 1% of revenue. Not translated 2% in prev year
  • Japan 0% of revenue. Actually to be precise: 0.478% of revenue. Not translated Yikes…

There are a bunch of countries where we do not have a translation with higher revenues such as these:

  • Sweden. 2% revenue
  • Norway 2% revenue
  • Netherlands 2% revenue
  • Denmark 1% revenue

But I think its fair to say that English is commonly spoken in those countries by gamers, and if not, they also have French or German to choose from, so not bad. The big question is picking between Russia, China and S Korea. Its worth noting that S Korea is a playable country in the game… so maybe this needs adding? So is Japan!

So to get really stupid, lets look at the population under 30 to get the total addressable market for each of our now 4 countries:

  • Japan: 27 million
  • China: 237 million
  • South Korea: 13 million

Hmmm… not helpful. Maybe a better source would be to look at steam traffic in general, which I found on this page.

  • Japan: 1.5% of traffic
  • China: 22.7% of traffic
  • South Korea 3% of traffic.

So frankly Japanese is looking like a bad idea. Untranslated sales were close to zero, and as a percentage of steam traffic, its really low for EVERYONE. South Korea is better, but still low. China might be a better bet. We DO have a swanky Unicode engine which will effortlessly render everything in Chinese and Korean… so it seems like that could be a good idea. I need to get a translation quote, and then look at the numbers a bit more, and then pace up and down and lose sleep some more. I’ve scheduled the stress and pacing for tomorrow…

Democracy 4: Resizable GUI

For the last week or two I have been working on what seemed like it might not be too bad…but actually turns into a lot of work. This is a resizable GUI for Democracy 4. The current version of the game has fixed size UI elements everywhere which works fine for the old school screen res from maybe 1280×768 up to 1920×1080, but starts to get a bit annoyingly small text at 2560 plus, and frankly the UI can be a bit too big and blocky at the lower res too. I finally got around to fixing this.

The first day or so was wasted trying to find an automated solution. Democracy 4 uses SDL2 and OpenGL, and I was hoping some of SDLs scaling functions would handle this simply. I could easily implement a scaling slider in the game, and then SDL could just handle a final stretching up or down at blit/flip time of a fixed resolution image.

This failed to work. partly because of some messy implementation at my end perhaps, but also because screen aspect ratios can change. Even if it DID work, it would basically mean throwing away the core UI upgrade of Democracy 4 over 3, which is super-smooth fonts and pixel-perfect vector-based icon and UI element rendering. If the player set the render scalar to anything but 100%, any sort of stretching would give a slightly blocky look. I couldn’t live with that.

In the end, I did implement all this as a simple percentage slider on the games options screen. Changing this requires a reboot to see the effect:

In order to get all this to work I just had to make a LOT of small code changes. Probably every UI file in the project got changed in the last week. What I needed to do is get rid of what coders called ‘magic numbers’ and replace them with values that could be scaled up or down based on this slider. For example code that said this:

int iconleft = Area.left + 120;

Would be changed to something like this

int iconleft = Area.left + WIDE_SIDE_PADDING;

The all-caps value could then be coded as defaulting to 120, but be scaled up or down by a global value for RenderScaling, which is decided when the game starts. This way I could reuse that value anywhere in the game and know it would always be the right value. Because I’m not entirely useless, luckily I HAD actually defined and used a lot of named values already like this:

int iconleft = Area.left + STYLEGUIDE_BLOCKPAD;

So in that case no code change was needed, and that value (10 as a default) could be easily scaled at app startup. The problem was… I had not stuck to this, and actually used a LOT of magic numbers (ie: actual numeric values) many, many places in the code. I ended up just having most of the common ones defined as pixel constants:

int iconleft = Area.left + STYLEGUIDE_PAD50;

For example. A bit kludgy, but some values really are used in random places and giving them stupid names like STYLEGUIDE_MINISTER_)SCREEN_TOP_WINDOW_HEIGHT would be overkill if you ask me. In any case, after a LOT of typing and also a LOT of testing, I am very close to declaring this done, and letting users play with it. Its not perfect, because a lot of combos don’t work. If you are playing at a small res like 1280×768 and set the slider >100%, things will overlap and look rubbish. But I’m hoping people are sensible. This is a FIX for people who dislike the default layout for high or low resolutions. Its assumed 95% of players will not touch the slider.

Anyway here is the game in the current (unscaled) view in 2560 resolution and default 100% scaling:

(Its reduced by 50% for here). Check out how small the text is for the finances, and how much space I waste on the timeline at the top. Now here is the exact same screen resolution, but with a 133% slider:

To me this looks WAY better, but you are only REALLY going to appreciate the change if you have a high DPI but smallish monitor, or an insanely high res monitor and poor eyesight. At first glance, you might not be able to tell the difference, but then check out that timeline at the top to see just how things are re-arranged. or check on the far left near the top, the ‘POPULARITY’ text.

Anyway this is coming to the next update for the game. it took a while, but it really needed doing!

Upgrading my home solar to solar edge

Yesterday I got my ground mount solar panels upgraded to solar edge. This is something people very rarely do, for very sensible reasons, so I thought I’d blog about it, as its something you wont ever find explained.

As some background, I have a 10-panel ground mount solar array in my driveway. We live in an very old ‘listed’ building in the UK so we cannot have roof mounted solar, but I’m a huge fan of green energy and wanted them anyway. 10 panels is all we could fit in the vaguely sunny part of the driveway so thats what we got, and the peak output is 2.1kw. Thats pretty low, and by Californian standards hilariously low, but this is the UK, and we don’t even have air-con (but I DO have an electric car to charge).

Because there is no other sunny part of the garden, and the neighbors are not likely to sell me extra space to put solar,m I have ended up starting a company to build a solar farm, but it still frustrates me that we are not energy independent at home. This is REALLY hard to do for an old house in the UK without a huge flat un-shaded garden. Thus I took it upon myself to try and squeeze as much efficiency out of our existing solar panels as possible. Enter solar edge!

Solar edge is a system that is almost ALWAYS fitted when you get new solar panels (if you opt for it, most don’t), and rarely done as a an upgrade. As an upgrade, it makes very sketchy financial sense, unless you are in my position, have variable shading, and are desperate for higher efficiency.

Solar edge fixes a problem in the way solar panels are wired, that almost no homeowners realize. They are wired so that power flows from one panel to the next, and the next, until eventually they reach the inverter, and get converted from DC to AC. What this means is, in practice, if you have 10 solar panels and solar panel number 1 is shaded, then the output of ALL TEN panels is reduced.

Yes really.

In almost all ground mount, and many rooftop installations, this does not matter. But if you have partial shading at some point during the day, or if you have constant shading of just one panel, you lose a massive amount of potential output. It also means that solar panels have to ideally all be facing the exact same way (not both sides of a roof, unless you literally live at the equator), and be the same type/output. Otherwise you are losing energy.

Solar edge is essentially a bunch of widgets (optimisers) that get wired onto the back of each panel. here is one on one of my panels:

All most all of that extra cabling and cable ties is due to the solar edge system, so its actually a lot of annoying, slow, fiddly work to do it. You need one of these for every single panel:

They are also not cheap, but frankly these days even if they cost $10, the main cost is getting an electrical engineer to come wire everything up. As ever, humans are the point at which renewable energy gets most of its costs these days… Anyway, you also get a new inverter, which is a lot smaller and simpler than many others. Like most inverters these days, it can talk to your wireless network and give you internet-based tracking of everything:

The beauty of this system for people with complex roofs is that a single inverter can now manage multiple groups of panels, even when one might be slightly shaded in the afternoon when the other is in full sunlight. The thing is, it also helps for stuff like partial shading due to clouds, or maybe in my case treetops which will affect coverage for one panel but not others. Check out this screenshot from the solar edge site:

Thats taken at a specific time this morning, around 10am, where either clouds or treetops have shaded a lot of the panels, except panels 4 and 8. In this case they get to produce 65w and 68w, instead of being limited to the 40w of that first panel. (its a cloudy day today, normally output would be way higher!)

What is especially cool about the site is it has a sort of ‘scrubber’ where you can slide through time on any day and see the output of each panel at each point in time. It will also show you total power for the day/week/month for each panel, so you can work out if one of the panels is maybe covered in bird crap or some fine dust, or if it has a technical problem and is failing. Its also apparently safer in case of electrical fires and faults.

This is all total nerdgasm silliness that only someone like me would ever actually do, because the extra output is likely about 10% and the costs are in the thousands, so although yup, I did get a spanking new inverter out of it, the actual economics of it make little sense in the UK, unless your inverter is failing anyway.

However, if you ARE thinking of getting solar, have a complex roof and some shading at parts of the day from a neighbors tree or a power-line or phone line, it may well be worth considering a solar edge setup.

Japan’s economy in Democracy 4: making sense of irrational economics

So… I am currently working on adding Japan as a playable country to Democracy 4, which is still in Early Access. Although I think Japan is super interesting in many ways, especially cultural (very conservative on prisons, super-generous on maternity leave, amazingly high percentage of retired people, very high tech, super-low immigration…), its economics are absolutely batshit crazy. Lets look at some numbers.

Tokyo: the latest stock market darling | Business| Economy and finance news  from a German perspective | DW | 16.01.2018

The current GDP of Japan is 559 trillion yen and its debt is currently 1.328 quadrillion yen, which gives us a debt to GDP ratio of 237%. The country in 2019 (pre-covid) had a deficit of 17 trillion yen. Compare this to the USA in 2019 which had a GDP of $21 trillion, debt of $22trillion, which is a ratio of 104% and a deficit of under $1trillion.

The USA has the dollar, which is the reserve country of the whole world, and I think its fair to say both countries have fairly similar stability in political terms. They are both monetizing this debt by using some form of quantitative easing. The US flirts with helicopter money, but the amounts are relatively small. I think its fair to say the biggest difference between the two is that the US debt to GDP ratio is dramatically lower than that of Japan. In other words, its riskier to lend money to Japans government than the US< by quite a margin, as the economy of Japan looks way less likely to repay that debt than the US. This *should* be reflected in the interest people demand to lend to Japan. lets look at 10 year government bonds:

United States 10 year bond yield: 1.59%

Japan 10 year bond yield: 0.09%

HELP. At this point I feel that someone like me with a decent (but hardly expert) understanding of economics is basically in this position:

Pied Piper

This makes no sense. Would you lend any money to the US government for just 1.59% return? me neither, especially when just splatting the money onto the S&P500 would get you 13.6% a year over the last 10 years, but OMG why on earth would anybody lend money to the Japanese government for 0.09%. It makes no sense, and much more fundamnetally than breaks the simulation for my game Democracy 4!

Basically the game has hard coded into it the attitude of the international bond market when it comes to government debt. The general principles of the code are that every six months the bond market evaluates your country and looks at the debt/gdp ratio, the deficit/gdp ratio, the level of ‘stability’ and inflation in the country, and then decides on what the credit rating should be. The interest rate on the debt is then applied, based on that credit rating. The game assumes that the maximum conceivable debt/GDP ratio is 250% (Japan has broken this!). As the game stands right now, a few turns into a new game on Japan instantly triggers a really bad debt crisis:

The game also assumes that this upsets everybody, really badly, but in fact, this may be outdated because it seems that people generally seem very unconcerned by the size of japans debt. This is possibly because right now the world has other concerns with covid, and also because we have had a post-2008 general global credit crunch which has meant global use of QE to the extent that global interest rates have collapsed. Every country has bad debt and low interest rates, which maybe makes japan look not so crazy…

But it still should be WAY worse than the USA. Japan *is* in a debt crisis, and the way in which it seems to be given a free pass on staggering levels of debt is baffling…and yet this needs to be somehow handled in democracy 4… Hence we reading a lot, and looking for some justifiable ‘fudge factor’ I can code into the game that justifies all this. By any standard Japans credit rating should be something like D right now. In fact… its A.

The clearest explanation i have found so far is “A large portion of wealth is held by seniors who lack financial literacy and prioritize stability rather than return” (source). This also states that most Japanese govt debt is owned by Japanese citizens. This kind of implies I need to hard-code in something that says ‘Japanese tendency to not realize they are making shit investments’, as a modifier to boost the credit rating of Japan. That can’t be right!

There is an argument for saying that the country is more stable, and less vulnerable to external pressure on its debt because its mostly owned by its own citizens. The current economics of the game are actually giving Japans super-high debt about the right impact on the finances, so the problem is mostly that the debt crisis is triggering when it probably should be put off a bit by these factors.

So I suspect my actual solution here is to add a special modifier (domestic debt ownership) for the debt crisis situation , but leave the credit rating and interest rate stuff alone. I suspect this works because although the current bond yield on japans debt is super low, some of it will be much older and potentially paying out higher amounts.

Anyway….fun fun fun. I guess its different to balancing games with laser guns and magic spells.

Where do the wishlists for my game ACTUALLY come from?

I was this many days old when I discovered this stuff… Anyway, I have been trying to boost sales of Democracy 4, as you do, and thus have been experimenting a lot with the UTM tracking cookie stuff that steam now supports. The results have been mixed, and complex, and not the direct topic of this quick blog post, but one thing did come out of my analysis…

I’ve been tracking a bunch of different ad campaigns I have been running since the 6th april. Lots of spreadsheet crap later, I concluded that I can trace the relative effectiveness of multiple ad campaigns that have led to to be able to vouch for 167 wishlists adds for Democracy 4 during this period. Unfortunately there is a problem with this number:

In that period, Democracy 4 had over 8,000 new wishlists. That means I’m fussing and huffing over a stupid <2% of the total. Why do I give a damn about these -ad-generated wishlists when clearly I am getting so many more from other sources. But where?

The first place to look at is the graph, to see if we had any actual notable spikes in wishlist adds during that period:

Clearly the answer is YES. Around 30th april to the first few days in may there was a big spike in D4 wishlists. Its not earth shattering, but its pretty good. Sadly steam has no way of telling me directly where they came form, unless they came from people using UTM tracked links, which clearly they were not, or I would have spotted them earlier. So I had a hunch this might be youtube related, as I have done some promotion to youtubers lately. I narrowed down a google search for “youtube democracy 4” with a super tight date range, and the top hit was a bunch of lets play videos from a Turkish youtuber. How can I tell if this is the spike?

Well… this is what I learned today. You will not find this information ANYWHERE in the wishlist stats pages for steam. You might imagine if it was anywhere, it would be there…but no. To be fair, its explained in the steam docs, but its hardly intuitive. If you go to the regional sales reports for each app, and look at each country and then expand the little + icon you find it…

So as I understand it, I got a 2,600% increase in the usual number of wishlists per-day from Turkey over that period. Its actually *not a lot* in revenue or wishlist terms, but the percentage difference is pretty eye popping. This is handy because its not just saying I made $x extra revenue thanks to this youtube coverage, but also potentially more due to the wishlisters who would hopefully then buy the game on sale later.

Of course thats interesting…but it begs the question as to how effective is it compared to ads, and if its effective enough, how to encourage it in future. I got about 8,000 wishlists over my examined date range, and 513 seemed to come from this youtube vid. Total Turkish wishlists were 965, so over half of them came because of one youtube vid. That means its DEFINITELY worth trying to repeat that in other countries.

And of course there lies the issue. How to get youtubers to play my game? And not just the wannabes with 5 followers and 2 views per video (1 to check it uploaded, and 1 from your mother). This is the real problem. You can get your game in front of a lot of youtubers with ads on keymailer, but still, thats just a capsule. How to really get across to them that this is a GOOD video for lets plays?

FWIW I think the game is unusually good for youtub,e but especially twitch. You can literally poll your viewers on what laws to pass or spending to cut/increase. What could be better for hilarious results and interaction with your viewers? The trouble is, finding a way to tell that direct to youtubers without just shoveling money at PR companies to pester them for me. I’m still not 100% sure on the ROI there. (its so fuzzy).

Food for thought anyway. BTW if you *do* want a key and have thousands of followers/views, you can see our keymailer link here: