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

Democracy and steam

Sooo… After being annoyed about reading a message from someone along the lines of ‘I’ll only buy games on steam’ I tweeted angrily earlier and pointed out that steam was not the whole PC market, and got dozens of tweets from people extolling the virtues of steam. I know the virtues of steam, I’m a gamer too. I have an account on there, and buy some games there. My beef isn’t with steam (I love steam), but with the mindset that you turn over your freedom of purchase choice to a third party. I would go berzerk if I was told I can only buy food from Sainsburys, or could only watch the BBC, yet people seem happily to confine their game purchasing to the stock of a single store.

Anyway…

I made a game called Democracy 2. (I did the original too). It’s a politics sim, a sort of ‘Sim Country’ game, and it’s quite complex and technical. It has, however, sold extremely well over the years, and continues to sell now. I’ve sold seven copies so far today, and it’s only 2PM. Not bad at all. It’s also won various awards and praise in reviews yada yada. It is *not* as polished or good-looking a game as GSB. But it has depth and lots of originality.

Screenie:

Anyway…

You can’t buy Democracy 2 on steam. You can get it from impulse, direct2drive and gamersgate, but not Steam. Obviously you can buy it direct. I offerred it to valve ages ago, and they rejected it. I then offered it again, after GSB had sold ten zillion copies, but they still rejected it again, which is a pity. They said

"This is just not a good fit for distribution on Steam."

Now obviously, steam can do what they like. They are a private company. They might think the game is too amateurish. they might think it won’t sell. They might think that their time is better spent getting bigger budget, or newer games listed. Democracy 2 is a few years old now. This is all up to them. However, I can’t help but think it would sell really well. It’s a game that looks a bit sucky in screenshots, but people get into it really quickly. I think there is a market there, especially amongst the ‘I only buy games on steam’ crowd. It’s very moddable too.

Sooo, if you are someone who quite likes the look of D2, but would only buy it if it was on steam, please let them know. It only takes 2 minutes, just fire off an email to valve, hopefully linking to this post, and saying you would like to buy Democracy 2 if valve sold it. I’d appreciate it, and you never know, it might get listed. Stranger things have happened!

http://www.valvesoftware.com/contact/

The perfect indie game company

2012

Here is my vision of positech industries in 2012.

There is one full time employee, and it’s still me. Most of the personal stuff relating to the core business is still done by me. It’s still me on twitter, writing this blog, and designing the games. It’s still me making the big business decisions, and I still own the company 100%

The Positech Engine is now much bigger than before, and takes up a larger chunk of each games source code. Some code is being written by contractors, such as all of the editors and mod tools.

The positech website is completely outsourced, with a web developer and designer paid to update and improve the site. The developer also doubles up as a server admin, and handles coding all of the php and database stuff required for positech’s games. Possibly the same person is a community manager, forum admin and moderator, and in charge of replying to tech support emails. Either the same, or another person runs showmethegames.com

Specially written client software handles all of the business data for everything, integrating sales data from all the different sales channels, and tying it in with multiple advertising agencies to produce simple, accurate charts showing how everything is going. Ad budgets and management is all handled automatically, occasionally emailing a contract artist to request some new variants of existing adverts to keep the campaigns fresh. Every single buyer of the game can be tied, as much as possible to the way they heard about my company or games.

A large portion (at least 25%) of the profit for the company still comes direct from sales to gamers, not through third parties.

Positech has multiple games selling on steam.

There is a contract assistant game designer who helps with level balancing and design, and some back story stuff. There is also an artist employed on a contract basis, but working probably six months a year. Pre-release testing is handled by a dedicated tester, employed on a contract basis. New games are tested out on actual gamers in meatspace, and they are filmed whilst playing the game so I can analyse facial expressions as they play.

Positech has diversified slightly, just in case, maybe by buying a part-share in a large wind turbine, or maybe buying some woodland, or investing in a non-games tech company.

Oh and I nearly forgot. I celebrate New Year 2012 by finally getting planning permission for solar panels.

HA!

like THAT is going to happen :D

Things adwords should change

Here is my wishlist for google adwords:

1) Hire some more people to approve image ads. They don’t need to be google engineers. Anyone who can click a mouse could do it.

2) Add the ability to copy image ads from one ad group and campaign to another without uploading them again. If I need a separate campaign for the UK, then I need to upload everything again. That’s madness, and makes 1) worse.

3) Allow the ability to have ads within a single campaign or ad group that are shown only to specific countries, ditto with kerywords. The word ‘obama’ isn’t as relevant in Birmingham as it is in new York. Creating a copycat campaign is overkill and pointless.

4) Allow us to edit the destination URL of an ad without re-uploading it.  That check is already automated so there is absolutely no excuse for not doing it.

5) Allow me to easily view which conversions were triggered by which ads or keywords. Right now I can just see ‘conversions’ as opposed to an easy break-down by type.

6) under networks, allow me to set up groups of target sites which I manage individually. I’m only allowed ‘managed’ and then ‘everyone else’. I’d much rather be able to set up groups of sites, especially ones I could then transfer to another campaign with just one mouse click.

and now the big one

7) Allow us to set a spending cap for a campaign and stop it when it runs out. Come on, this isn’t rocket science and everyone using adwords thinks your ‘adwords is designed for ongoing ads’ is bullshit. If we want a fixed budget for a certain ad, you, the ad provider should let us do that. It’s a cynical and cheap ploy to get us to accidentally overspend, and it’s infuriating and silly.

That’s about it for now :D

Website experiment #1

I thought I’d blog these in future. I’ve been trying out this page:

http://www.positech.co.uk/gratuitousspacebattles/index.html

Vs this page:

http://www.positech.co.uk/gratuitousspacebattles/index_var1.html

To compare what percentage of people click the demo button. The second one has some missing content, and I theorised that fi there were less distractions and fluff on that page, it might push more people to hit the demo button. In fact, I was wrong:

Still, it was worth a try :D

Considering combat mechanics

I’m thinking out loud here.

New game (codename: LB, previously G4). Involves military units shooting at each other. One of the mechanics I quite like is heat, where you would have heat based weapons, like flamethrowers, or incendiary bombs. I like the idea of units being vulnerable to, or impervious to, heat as a weapon.

I also still want the idea of armor, and of shields. I like the amount of variety that gives, all before you worry about actual hitpoints and structural damage. What I am unsure about, is exactly how to put all this stuff together.

GSB had a terribly complex system hardly any casual players got their heads around, so I’d like to avoid that. Things I did like was:

  • Shields had to be taken down by different weapons to those that did major internal damage.
  • Concept of different payloads for each weapon, especially missiles.
  • Shields could be taken down, then would not come back.
  • Shields could recharge over time, but armor was finite, without external repair modules.

I had some overcomplex stuff, like individual shield modules being down, rather than the whole thing, of shield-disruptors and the uber-complex shield-reflection and penetration mechanics.

With the new game, I like the idea of overheating a unit until it explodes. You can optionally add heat-sinks, of course, and I could even have environmental factors, so in some scenarios, losing heat is harder than others. However, there are a number of mechanics I’m unsure about.

  • Firstly, Do I have a three tier system like before, where you have to down shields, then armor, then do internal damage?
  • Can heat based weapons just go straight through shields?
  • Do heat based weapons have any effect on armor? and can they go direct through armor? They need to be as good as other weapons…
  • If heat dissipates over time, and shields recharge, aren’t they just 2 flavors of the same mechanic? and if so, does that really matter?
  • Is it worth having dual mechanics? For example, energy-based weapons obviously damage shields, and then armor, but do they also generate some heat?

I want a system that has some depth, but I want it to be understandable to someone who grabs the game for 10 minutes to see what it’s like. Obviously I can ‘drip-feed’ stuff in, so maybe the demo level only has shields,armor¬† and energy weapons, and I could introduce heat-sinks and flamethrowers later.