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

Designing Pressure Groups in Democracy 3

Sooo… the system for pressure groups in Democracy 2 was fairly simplistic in comparison to this. See how this sounds.

There are a host of different pressure groups in Democracy 3. Some are relatively harmless and are mostly a way of registering dissatisfaction by voters. Some of them are more aggressive, some are extremist groups that are actively dangerous to your government. The extremist groups contain the rioters, the assassins, the corporate mega tycoons, fascists and crazies who will try to blow up your presidential car and so on…

Every voter in the game has a predisposition towards militancy. Each group has a required militancy level for people to join it. if you are mild mannered, no matter how upset you are, you will not join the peoples revolutionary army, although you might join the peoples socialist party (for example).

Here is the fun part…

The extremist groups (revolutionary army) have parent groups that are used as a ‘funnel’ into their membership (and that is the only way they get members). So if you are a member of the relatively harmless peoples socialist party, you will, providing you stay angry at the government, get ‘radicalized’ over time. If this radicalization meets a certain threshold, and your innate militancy is high enough, then you become a recruit of the more extreme group. There is also a point at which your radicalization will fall enough for you to quit the extreme group. Only the extremist groups are really worrying.


I think this is much more realistic, and should give rise to some interesting phenomena, especially ‘lag’. By this, I mean that carrying out an action that really upsets a group of voters (say… a war for oil) will have long term effects because it will push people into radical groups where previously they were happy to just shout slogans. The key is that the ‘leave’ threshold is way below the join one (giving groups some internal momentum) which means that once someone joins the revolutionary army, you need to really cheer them up if you are going to reduce the long term threat and have them leave.

It also means that a large and growing ‘harmless’ pressure group, is a warning sign that you could be looking at an extremist faction developing if you do not take steps to keep that group happy. If the peoples socialist party is huge, you need to be careful what you do to upset socialists further. if it’s tiny, you can probably risk it.

Obviously it will be fun to code stuff like the effects of intelligence services on radicalization, and dilemmas etc. If we arrest a radical without trial, that should accelerate radicalization, as should war. The trouble with this game is it could balloon to be the most complex software in the universe :D

Website revamp(s) incoming

It never rains but it pours. Tons of stuff that I’ve been lining up for aggggeeesss is all about to happen at once. In the not too distant future, there will be a new look not only for Positech’s home page, but also this blog. I know both sites look a bit rubbish. They are one step away from someone’s geocities homepage. It’s a bit sad really…

For a self-confessed business and stats-junkie like me, this brings painful confessions, because there is no easy way for me to be able to say in six months that ‘getting my websites redesigned gave me a ROI of 14.23% due to the increased sales thanks to the pro-look of the site’. Nobody ever emails you to say they had considered buying Democracy 2, but only decided to do it once the background graphics of my blog looked more professional. There is no way to quantify this stuff except by gut feeling.

The best way I can look at it is to say ‘I make $X. I should spend $Y of that on making sure my company store front looks good, and is well promoted’. It seems to be working so far.

In actual gamedev-related news, work continues on Democracy 3. I have been working on a much better financial model for government debt. In the old game, it was rubbish because you just accrued more and more debt at a fixed interest rate, and it it went beyond a fixed debt-ceiling, you got thrown out of office immediately and the game ended. That was partly because back when Democracy 2 was made, the idea that any western government could even get close to defaulting on their debt, even enough to seriously affect the interest rate for their debt…was laughable.


Democracy 3 will be much cooler. There is an equation that relates the level of debt to GDP of a country to the ‘riskiness’ of it’s debt as perceived by the bond market. This gets assessed behind the scenes and the countries credit rating is calculated. If it drops, there is a short term ‘shock’ effect on the market, as well as a rise in interest rates. It’s all rather cool :D That means that the finance page for the game can now show you the global economy in a graph, along with the current debt interest rate and credit rating, and debt/GDP ratio. GDP in this case is kinda fudged (it’s a fixed range, which is multiplied by the GDP value from the game), but it all works pretty well, and is a huge improvement.


Democracy 3: Capital Gains Tax

I’m mulling the possibility of a capital-gains tax policy for Democracy 3. The key thing is to get the effects of such a policy right.

I’m thinking it makes broad sense to link the money raised by the tax to GDP. The better the economy, the more the tax will raise. I also wonder if it’s worth making this a relationship that skews upwards, so when the economy is really poor, CGT brings in nothing, but when it’s really booming, it should bring in a bunch, as clearly the equity market and asset values should be going up.

Regarding it’s effects, I reckon CGT would represent a drag on the economy to some extent. Why invest all my money in a country with a high CGT if it takes a chunk of my profits, rather than a country with no CGT? For the same reason, I assume it should also upset capitalists a bit, and the wealthy especially, who are the only actual voters who will lose out financially from it.

Socialists should love it, as it is a brake on inequality, and effectively a tax on the rich. I think the self-employed 9think small business owners) should dislike it because it potentially cripples the income they take from their business through dividend payments and eventual exit strategy stuff.

In gameplay terms, does this differ that much from corporation tax? possibly not by much, although CGT should possibly be more unpopular with the wealthy and more popular with the socialists, as it is a far more direct attack on what some people would call ‘unearned income’.

Anything I’ve missed? Apart from the existential hell of coming up with an icon that automatically makes people think ‘Capital gains tax’

On a related note, this makes interesting viewing (UK data):

CGT Doesn’t bring in much cash, in the grand scheme of things. Also makes you realize just how trivial the climate change levy is right now.

The psychological value of ownership, and how free to play games use it.

Hi all, I’m back! I’ve also been reading. Despite the lure of watching Aaron Sorkins ‘newsroom’ on the plane, I also found time to read most of this book:

You can read about it on amazon here:

It’s pretty cool, but the bit that really stuck in my head was the bit about an experiment I’d read about before, but not fully grasped the implications of. It’s to do with ownership. In a nutshell, the tests ask a bunch of people to value something they do not possess, but are shown, such as a mug or a bar of chocolate. Different people are then given the item in question, and possess it for a while, during which they can see it, but are distracted by other tasks. Those people are then asked what their selling price is for the item. Overwhelmingly, people value the item they own much higher than the value people gave to it when asked to buy it.

In short, owning something makes it seem more valuable. Which is understandable, we want to appear rational. I know my car must be a bargain, and worth > X (where X was what I paid), otherwise I’d be a gullible idiot, and I don’t want to feel that…

So…relating that back to 2 topics I obsess over… the popularity of Free To Play Games and the price wars and low prices of non-free games…

Free to play works because it doesn’t ask you to value the game until you already feel you own it. How much would you pay for farmville to buy it outright? maybe $5? But play the game for free for a month, build up your farm, invest it, and then hit a plateau in the game where you really need to buy coins to continue…. and suddenly YOUR game is worth a lot more than $5. You value the game you already own very highly, and so buying add-ons for it is just common sense. I suspect this is why DLC works so well, and sells so well. You have already made a commitment to valuing the game, by investing your time. Only a fool could try to rationalize NOT spending money on it now…

Food for though.