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

The fallacy of features. New and not improved.

I put up a new article, in more detail on how GSB was made and what was involved. You can read it here.

Recently, in between working on patch 1.31 and the mysterious second add-on for Gratuitous Space Battles, I’ve been looking at some technical issues people are suddenly having with Kudos 2, Democracy 2 and Some of my other games. Suddenly, without me patching or changing anything, people started complaining about vertex buffer crashes. At first, it seemed to be Windows 7, or Windows 64 related, at which point one naturally assumed that the geniuses at Microsoft have ballsed up yet another operating system, but then the odd vista or even XP user had similar issues. Then it suddenly clicks that new nvidia drivers were released, and everyone having crash problems had an nvidia card.

I use vertex buffers differently in GSB than I do in my other games. I was using them in a slightly unusual way before. A way that is perfectly legit, that directx says is fine, where the video card returns no error message and says its all fine, and working great. Everything is good in the world.

And then suddenly, a few weeks ago, with their new drivers, some brainiac at nvidia has obviously thought ‘sod it, who cares. If they don’t use a VB in the way WE at nvidia like to use it, who cares it it breaks?’. And thus bug-ridden drivers are released. I have absolutely no doubt that the latest trilinear bump-depth-shadow-pixelling demos in directx11 look just superl33t at GDC with the amazing nvidia code. Just a pity that they couldn’t be assed to check if all the older applications still run isn’t it? Especially given that the entire modular COM design of directx is specifically designed to ensure 100% backwards compatibility.

Nvidia are still in a cold-war mentality arms race where they think all people want are features. It’s the same as Microsoft. “Give them new features!” “Shiny things!”. When Vista came out it was promoetd on the basis of the new flip-view. Have you ever used it? Me neither. Fuck features. I don’t want features. My mobile phone doesn’t even have a camera on it. My home phone doesn’t have an answering machine on it. Features do not get my money. Reliability and Performance gets my money.

If Windows 7 was advertised purely as “Vista, but more reliable, and quicker”, I’d buy it today. When I buy a video card I only care about how compatible it is. The performance difference these days between equal priced cards is so small they even need to blow up screenshots and use arrows pointing at pixels which show the difference. Who cares?

Worst of all, this obsession with tomorrows new feature rather than yesterdays compatibility is putting two pressures on pc game developers like me:

#1 take time away from making new PC games to actually go back and re-code old ones to work around nvidias latest ideas.

#2 Seriously think long term about doing browser games or console games, where this isn’t such a problem.

I’d hate to have to do either :(

Patch 1.31 done

I just released patch 1.31 for Gratuitous Space Battles, which has a number of minor tweaks as well as hopefully a fix for startup freezing on some machines.

I did the first 3 new ships for the next expansion today, in terms of getting them working in the game. They look pretty cool. I also have the backdrops done, and the two new weapons. Its stil a few weeks of getting all the new ships done, and the balancing of the new ship designs and weapons. Then I need two really good balanced new missions. I’m pretty sure one will be small, one big, and one has a nice nebula, the other is simpler but with asteroids.

I havent decided if one will be a survival mode yet.  Survival mode is fun, and has high scores, but skirmishes make for more challenge options. I might run some stats to see how popular each mode seems to be.

Lots of stuff on the way

I’ve been even busier than usual lately, and lost of stuff is in the preverbial inbox. There are two fairly imminent things.

One is patch 1.31. This fixes and improves lots of things, and there is a big annoying bug with the game freezing on startup for some people (very few, thankfully) which it should fix. I need to spend tomorrow on this, as a matter of urgency.

The next is the upcoming expansion pack, which adds a new race. Right now, the plan is for it to add a bunch of things. Graphical asteroid belts (which look l33t), some great new backdrops, likely to be two new missions, and a new race that has limpet mines and radiation guns. wahey!

The problem is that the expansion pack needs some code changes, and I would rather they *all* were in patch 1.31. I don’t ideally want to do 1.31, then in 2 weeks do 1.32 before the expansion, I dont want people to be constantly bugged by patches.

Sadly, I suspect that will be the case, because I want the expansion to be really awesome and it will likely be at least another two weeks of work away anyway, probably more. In any sense, I’m slightly worried that people have seen less frequent updates and wonder if the game is still moving forwards. It definitely is, and it will keep getting better. I just need to focus on one thing at a time. Today it was limpet mines (videos coming soon), tommorow is patch 1.31, and hopefully getting some decent testing done on it, for a mid-end week release.

If you lowered the price you would make more money

It’s very common for people online to state (on the subject of games pricing) that
“If you dropped the price, you would sell way more and make tons more money”
It is not that simple. I’ve done a lot of tests, and found that the twenty – twenty four dollars price is right for my games. Lowering the price makes me less money.
But why oh why do the steam holiday sales work then? here is my best guess:

The sales == attention == increased visitors.

Getting tons of eyeballs on your game will mean more sales. This is just basic business. There were whole websites dedicated to promoting the steam sale, no wonder games in the sale sell tons more

Also, this is not the whole story. When you hear people say “I dropped the price of game X, and made twice the money”. That is NOT the whole story. For the whole story you need to know what happened to the sales a month after the price reverted to normal. You really need an A/B test in different universes looking at the lifetime sales of the game in both scenarios.
You basically can’t tell whether the 100 extra sales are the 100 people who would pay $5 for the game but never pay $20, or whether they are the people who hadn’t heard of the game and would have paid $20, or the people who keep meaning to one day get your game, and will eventually buy it for $20, but bought it in the sale to save money.
It’s the last last group I find interesting. I suspect the vast vast majority of Democracy 2 buyers are in that group. I sold 4 copies of that game this morning (it’s an oldish game now, so that’s good!), and it’s $19.95. People who have been waiting since I released it in December 2007 for me to offer it below $19 are still waiting, and I see no urgent reason to cut the price now. If you really like the idea of a complex and serious government-sim, Democracy 2 is your best choice. It’s a love it or hate it game, and not something people buy for $2 on a whim. The price reflects that, and likely always will.

Theres some interesting analysis by a fellow indie of his ‘pay what you want’ sale here. Notice that if he basically just told everyone paying under £1 to get stuffed, he would only have lost out £2.40. If just two percent of those cheap-buyers had raised their price to £1, he would be in profit. In other words, you can ignore the cheapest-paying 85% of your potential market, and hardly lose a penny.

In more fun-related news I’ve been getting decent nebula renders arranged for the next expansion, and working on improvements to the graphics in GSB. Better engine glow effects (you will hardly notice, but subtly, subconsciously you might), and optimising for maybe some better particle effects. Come monday morning I’ll be doing real work on new ship stuff.

gratuitous spelling

gratious space battles 585 hits
gratuitious space battles 434 hits
gratuitus space battles 247 hits
gratitous space battles 222 hits
gratitious space battles 110 hits
gratituous space battles 98 hits
gratuituous space battles 62 hits
gratious space battle 57 hits
gratiutous space battles 55 hits
gratuitus space battle 54 hits
gratuitos space battles 36 hits
democrasy 3 hits