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

Getting the development / PR balance right

…is a difficult thing for an indie game. I know of some companies where HALF the staff work full time on promoting the game. Doing nothing but making youtube videos, tweeting, replying to people on forums and facebook, emailing the press, looking for new indie game review sites, and generally building up a chatty online presence with lots of online friends so that they have an easier job of getting ‘viral’ PR for their game when it launches.

I totally understand why some indies work that way. it makes a lot of economic sense. I’ve also read about indies who spend six months making a game, then just promote, publicize and do SEO for the enxt two years to milk that game, and claim that it is a far better use of their time than merely making another game. This kinda saddens me.

there are of course, other indies who sit in a dark room churning out the most cool, original and fun games that nobody ever hears about because they hate / suck at doing PR and thus remain effectively ‘undiscovered’. This is a real shame.

So where is cliffski and positech games in all this. I know quite a few cynical whiny online ‘haters’ who think I’m in the 95% PR group. They tend to be the people who say GSB looks like it was done in flash in a weekend because it’s 2D. (*yawn*). Actually, I’m closer to the dark cavern guy than the ‘always promoting’ guy. I tweet a few times a day, but only half of that is about games. I rarely post to facebook, I post on the odd forum, but not enough to have a real ‘presence’ anywhere. I’ve only been to GDC once, never to PAX or Comicon, or any other non-UK trade event. I’ve given two public talks, and appeared on 2 panels. That’s it.

My biggest ‘PR’ is probably this blog, which isn’t a big time commitment at all. I also write for Custom PC magazine in a similar style.

Getting the balance right is extremely hard. I am probably not doing enough PR for Redshirt and Democracy 3 yet, although that will change in the next month or two. The problem I face is I never know how close a game of mine is to being done until it’s more or less done, so I always think I’ll be doing PR too early. An example of someone who has done well both on making a great game AND doing great PR for it is Andy Schatz’s Monaco. The problem is, that game took six hundred years to make, and that would drive me mad. I like to aim for a game a year / eighteen months at most.

This year, I am aiming to be a bit more committed to PR. I’ll be at rezzed, with a booth this time! A proper one with 4 screens and 2 games, which is a staggeringly expensive thing to do, if I’m honest. I even bought a video camera to take to stuff like this (only a cheap one) so I can have some ‘our game at rezzed’ footage to spice up some promotional videos, and to hopefully film people playing the games to see how they play them. I might put in an appearance at other shows too,  who knows.

Hardly anyone gets the balance right, and I think it’s an essential component of an indie games success. Even more so if you have to go through ‘greenlight’ to get on steam. That’s an extra, very targeted peice of PR you now need to do on top of everything else. Arrrgghhhh…

Cynical Blog Post (Democracy 3)

Ahahaha. See what I did there? I’m blogging about cynicism in Democracy 3. It’s much better than cynicism in democracy 2, or at least the developer claims it is, it probably won’t be…amirite?

Enough sad puns. Anyway, cynicism in democracy 2 worked like this: If the player raised taxes just after being re-elected (or at the game start, which is the same thing) or dropped them just before an election, the level of global cynicism went up, and this was a factor in deciding who to vote for at the next election. Simple.

The trouble is, it was too cynical. if you cut inheritance taxes just before an election, the middle classes and wealthy may well find it cynical, but will people unaffected by the change (the poor etc) really even notice? And there are other policies than tax. If you introduce armed police just before an election shouldn’t patriots and conservatives be a bit cynical about that?

So Democracy 3 introduces 2 radical changes to the way cynicism is calculated. Firstly, it is per-voter group. So you are only made cynical by changes which actually have some effect on your beliefs and situation. As a non parent, you won’t care if child benefit goes up or down or when it happens, you ignore it. Secondly, cynicism now acts on all decisions, not just tax. So laws, government spending…anything that has a noticeable effect on the opinions of a voter group will trigger a rise in cynicism for that group.

That’s the theory. Right now it’s buggy as anything, but I will fix it today. No seriously…I’m sure it will get fixed today.

It’s all coming together…I think.

Sooo…there is a lot going on in positech land these days, partly because Redshirt and Democracy 3 are both coming together at the same time. At the weekend I also had a sudden revival of adding indie games to, which is my much neglected side project.

A bit of stats crunching in google analytics persuaded me that my homepage was slightly slow loading, but thankfully there are tons of sites that will test and analyze this sort of thing, and free utilities to minify your javascript and losslessly compress png’s and jpgs, so hopefully that’s all much faster now.

In the land of actual game development, I’ve been working on both gameplay stuff for Democracy 3 (adding in new policies such as Fossil fuel subsidies, Privately run prisons, Mansion taxes, Foreign Investor Tax breaks,  Fuel efficiency standards…) and also some graphical stuff, which included importing all the art assets for the achievements, which are new to the game. That also meant I needed to actually code the achievements system (which is separate and independent from steam, but which I’ll link to steam if they accept the game).

I’ve also been doing a bunch of playtesting, which has shown that I’ve now made ministers actually *too* cynical and bitter and destructive, with most current test games descending into a wave of resignations and widespread public indignation at my incompetence :D

In other news… I have started up a very bare-bones for now, but nevertheless to-be-promoted facebook page for Democracy 3. Please go and ‘like’ it if you are interested in the game. (There will also obviously be a proper non facebook page in due course…) I’ll try and post more stuff there over the next few months. I’ve bought a video camera, which I’ll be carrying about to gaming events like Rezzed to film people trying my games, and also capture the magical ‘boothness’ for the first time. Plus I’ve grabbed a ticket to the ‘Bit Of Alright’ event in London next month, just as a visitor.

In between all this, I’m madly trying to open a high street business bank account, despite them all being idiots, and clueless, and annoying, because only a big name high street bank will give me a US dollar account that everyone in the US (publishers,portals) are happy to make payments into. The way I do things currently means I lose a chunk of cash on poor exchange rates, and I’m fed up with that. However, the bureaucracy so far is testing my will to continue with this process. bah!

Gratuitous Solar Charts

Sooo..after roughly a year, here is a chart showing the solar output from my 2.1kwp ground mounted solar array outside my office window: (The left axis is kilowatt hours, so 1,000w for an hour, or one ‘unit’ of power in the UK).


No surprises really, the usual solar chart, but without all the randomness removed, and showing just how variable things are. I think the reporting screwed up for a few days in February where it suspiciously reports exactly 0 data. If I take a rough approximation from my energy bill, it looks like we use 5.7 units of power per day on average. That’s pretty low. It means we use 2,107kwh of power a year, which compares amazingly well with the data on this map:

But it’s not all good news… if you adjust that graph to show 5.7 units as the base line you can see where we are exporting, and where we are importing power…



Yikes, that’s kinda scary, there are times even in summer where we couldn’t cover our power usage, and winter is just a disaster. Of course, this assumes a constant power consumption per day, because  we don’t have a ‘smart’ meter, and have no real idea, but it’s an interesting stat. Our power generation over those 365 days is 1,276 units, so it’s 60% of our power usage. The cost was about £9,000, which means buying enough home-grown capacity to make you zero-bill would cost about £14,800. That isn’t *that* bad when you consider it’s about 10 years electricity bills, and the panels last 25. but….. The cost of these panels has dropped like a brick, to about a third of what we paid. So in fact, the cost should be about £5k now, to be zero-bill over the year if you have low energy use like me. Also be aware we have an electric cooker. oh yes.

And actually…that’s WITHOUT the feed-in-tariff or any export payments. That’s purely looking at energy prices and installation costs. That’s also with an inefficient ground mounted array in a very shady garden in cloudy south UK.

Have I done my sums all wrong, or is this excellent value for money?