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

Gratuitous Tank Battles website stats

I’ve been casting my geeky eye over the google analytics data for the gratuitous tank battles website. Here are some assorted stats…

Looking at data for the last 60 days, the site had:

Visits: 67,440

Pages per visit: 1.49

Bounce Rate: 74.78%

TBH, only one of those stats is worth caring about (the top one), and only then, marginally. Bounce rate and Pages per visit are horrendously skewed by the content of those pages. If you pack them with text and video, people will get their fill of data with just one page. These are not stats worth worrying about. The visits stats is marginally more helpful, but it massively depends where they come from, obviously. I’ve sponsored a few small flash games which brings in a TON of traffic, but most of it is pretty ‘low quality’, kids without credit cards looking for more free games. The sheer volume means it can be worth it though. I find it more helpful to concentrate just on highly engaged visitors, such as those spending more than 60 seconds on the site. That gives me:

Visits: 4,723

Which are the only site visitors I really care about. This means I need to know where they came from. In this case the two big easily identified source areas seem to be google adwords and google organic search, which are roughly equal. The problem is, this isn’t showing me my flash sponsorship traffic correctly, so I need to do some analytics cleverness to detect when the ?ref= parameter is passed which tells me which flash game sent me the click. when i look for those clicks I find they supplied…

Visits: 2,977

Which is clearly the lions share of those above. Of course, all this means is those visitors spent time on the site, unfortunately I don’t have any easy way to tell that they are the same people buying the game, especially if they drift off and buy it on steam, or next month. However, I am quite motivated by the long tail effect here. There are hits coming in from long forgotten sponsorship deals from ages ago. That doesn’t happen with banner adverts which are obviously immediate. This can be a pain in the neck, because banner ads can be scheduled and also ramped up and cut back to fit your budget, whereas free game sponsorship is a bit of an all-or-nothing, no-idea-when sort of deal.

Even so, I think I’ll keep experimenting with it. Unlike my foray into stumbleupon and facebook ads, I think this may actually have a reasonable (on a good day) Return-on-investment

Some Democracy 2 hints and tips…

Now that my politics sim Democracy 2 is on sale on steam and has a big chunk of new players, I thought it might be worth noting a few strategy tips for people who are finding the game hard to get their head around, so here are my top democracy 2 strategy tips.

1) Plan ahead and be patient.
Be aware that many of the effects of your actions in democracy 2 take time to filter through to actually changing the simulation. Boosting healthcare spending may deal with that contagious disease, but it won’t wipe it out tomorrow, and it might be a year or even more before you can truly see the effects of your policies. There is a tendency to ‘oversteer’ policy changes as a result. You can probably see policy changes taking effect on charts long before they impact situations.

2) It’s the economy stupid.
It really is. The best laid plans of Right and Left all fall apart when GDP in on the floor and everyone is unemployed. If GDP is low, that is your number one concern. It’s the problem that makes all the other problems worse.

3) Know Thine Enemy
Pick whom you choose to really upset. Upset commuters will not vote for you. Upset patriots may try and kill you. That’s a big difference.

4) Ministerial fun
The ministers aren’t just for decoration. Some are more competent at a specific job than others. Putting the right minister in the right job will keep government costs down and make policy implementation faster. Plus, minister are popular with different electoral groups, so it might be worth token appointments to minor departments to keep specific groups happy.

5) Rally the faithful.
You need a core of really supportive voters. people on the fence don’t join your party, and certainly don’t become activists. Activists are hidden from the player, but they help with turnout on election day. Party members ALWAYS vote. This can make all the difference in close elections.

6) Voters are complex.
No voter is just a farmer. They are probably 75% farmer, 44% socialist, 12% Elderly, 25% drinkers. (They don’t add up to 100%, they represent percentage loyalty to each group). You can see in more detail how the different influences affect random focus group voters on the voter details window. Keep this in mind when analyzing whats going wrong.

7) Voter group sizes change.
Boost business, and you will get more capitalists over time. Teach evolution and you will get less religious people. This takes ages, but you *can* almost eradicate groups you don’t like over the long run.

Any tips that people out there playing the game would like to add?

Gratuitous Tank Battles: The Western Front Released

OK, here it is at last, I’m happy to announce the release of an expansion pack for Gratuitous Tank Battles we call ‘The Western Front‘. This is a World War 2 themed expansion for the game that adds a whole bunch of classic WW2 tanks such as the Tiger and the Sherman. There are also eight new maps to battle over, in a completely new singleplayer campaign (there is a new screen which lets you select the ‘classic’ campaign or this one. The new maps also come with new textures and props for use in your own custom scenarios. Here is the trailer:

Something new and different about these maps is that the first four are locked to the 1914-1945 technology era, meaning no lasers, no shields, no mechs. You can play them as completely straight WW2 style battles. As before, obviously you get to take the role of attacker or defender, and we have included both American and German AI attacking armies for you to play against, if you prefer the predictability of scripted attackers.

Enjoy! and for those who are gripped by a sudden urge to buy it immediately, you can grab it direct from positech here. You can see some groovy screenshots and other promotional happenings here.

Or wait a little while and it will be up on steam, and no doubt some other portals soon. Let me know what you think in the comments. Also, if you think it looks good, then please tweet about it, or link to it on facebook, or whatever cool and hip web forums you hipsters visit. Maybe even reddit?

Press types may want to grab the presskit, with screenshots from here.


Tower defense game design

I recently spent some time looking at a bunch of tower defense games, and it saddened me to see how little innovation most people attempt in that genre, although I guess that is something pretty generally applicable to all genres, and most peoples first game. I might be lucky, in that I always have an urge to put some sort of ‘spin’ on any game I make, i am never happy to just do ‘a game in this genre’ and leave it at that. It’s worth remembering, as a game designers, that the player will always be asking themselves ‘why do I need to play this, when I can just go play the classic tower defense game X’.  You really need to have an answer to that question.

With regards to Gratuitous Tank Battles, which is my first ever tower defense game, I probably overdid it a bit in terms of trying to innovate. They say you should only innovate in one direction at a time, but I think life is too short for that. What I tried to do was question all of the ‘design assumptions’ of the genre.

The first assumption is that the player is the defender. Obviously the clue is in the title, but why wouldn’t a ‘tower attack game’ work? I think GTB shows that it can work. There was already a game released that did this, although it was essentially just escort missions, thankfully, because it was released just as I was half way through making GTB.

The second assumption is that the towers are invulnerable. I think this is arbitrary and crazy. It adds an extra level of excitement and gameplay to Gratuitous Tank Battles to know that you can’t just place a big gun somewhere and know you have that site covered. This seemed like a major change, and a change for the better to me.

The third assumption was that the towers are of fixed designer-decreed configuration, and can receive a linear upgrade path mid-battle. People really expect that in a TD game, and not including it does un-nerve people, but it adds a whole new layer to the game in terms of unit customization. Also, that ties in nicely with the design of Gratuitous Space Battles, where it was the major focus.

Another assumption was that the attackers come in a pre-set path, linked to a radar which gives you advance warning, also that they come in waves. All of this is totally arbitrary. There are not stone tablets decreeing the rules of tower defense design, you can do whatever you like. I broke all three of those assumptions about attacking waves, and personally I think that adaptive AI for the attackers (and defenders) totally changes the nature o the game and vastly expands the play-time available. This is one of the assumptions I was most proud to break.

There are other changes to GTB that make it a non conventional TD, such as the setting, the level editor and map/unit sharing online, but I think the key to making the game work and be interesting was that I looked at the ‘set-in-stone’ assumptions and basically kicked them all out. I find that this works amazingly well in game design. Some assumptions are there for a reason, but many are not, and when they are broken, once we get used it, we love it. The Sims can be turn based (see Kudos) A game can have no ‘game world’ at all (see Democracy) A space battle RTS can have no player control (see GSB) and there are much bigger examples too:

The object of an FPS can be not to kill (See Thief), health packs can be made redundant, with auto-regenerating health (wasn’t that Call of Duty 4?). Base building doesn’t have to be in every RTS game (again, not sure who started that).

The ‘classic’ design of a genre is a mere starting point. When you design a game, you need to question every aspect of it, and make sure you have a rock-solid defense of why it ‘has to be that way’.