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

Democracy 3 and Nationalised / privatised industries.

Democracy 3 has *some* support for different stances on what should be a nationalized/privatized industry, but I’d say not enough. Right now you can have State Schools, State Prisons, State Health Care and State pensions, or you can provide none of those and the private sector provides them instead (except to the very poor, who generally cannot afford them).

This is probably just a reaction to the situation where I live, in the UK. We have a national health system but optional private health care, and the same with all those other options, although AFAIK the prisons are all state run, at least in terms of overall management.

During my lifetime, a lot of old state enterprises in the UK got privatized. British Rail, British Gas, British telecom. They are now talking about the Royal Mail going the same way. I’m not going to argue the merits of the case here, that’s too partisan :D, although I will say that the ‘older’ you are, the less likely you are to have a rosy view of the old nationalized rail and telecoms businesses. BT used to take MONTHS to set up a new phone line for you, and you had no other option. they even owned your physical phone, which was rented, and you had no options there either. It sucked.

Not that I can make much of a case for rail privatization being a resounding success, but YMMV. ANYWAY….

How can I incorporate more of this stuff into Democracy 3? Lets take an example of the banking industry. Assume you are playing the UK. Should ‘nationalize the banks‘ be an option?  If so, what should the implications be? We could argue all day. Off the top of my head:

Protesters at Bank of America shareholders meeting in Charlotte

Reduction in poverty. As an instrument of the state, the bank can cut out punishing overdraft rates and fees for the poorest, whilst also ensuring everyone is approved for a basic bank account, whilst also out-competing loan-sharks and providing banking to the poor at a loss.

Reduction in GDP? (ooh -controversial). Traditionally, state-owned banks have a bad track-record of ‘picking winners’ when it comes to financing business loans. There would be a tendency to support failing businesses because they employ lots of voters in marginal voting areas, or are politically sensitive. The lack of a profit motive will skew the bank to make worse decisions and thus reduce the effective access to finance for private enterprise, reducing overall competitiveness?

Fury by capitalists. Suddenly the government controls access to finance. that must scare the hell out of hardcore capitalists, who might fear the next step is *their* business being taken over by the government?

Joy by Socialists. The reverse of above, Happiness that the financial sector now has a social element.

Unhappiness (maybe) of self-employed. Government departments are well known for their bureaucracy. they like dealing with big multinationals, not someone who works as a plumber. The sheer incompetence of the UK tax office is already evidence of this. the idea of them being the sole provider of banking should upset small business surely?

Huge Cost. Presumably existing bank shareholders will be the subject of compensation (I’m thinking consensus politics here, not a revolution with guns), which means the government pays out a good few hundred billion pounds (or trillion dollars) to buy up the banks. I’m thinking the net GDP impact here is negligible, as money people previously held in banking shares suddenly becomes cash, which presumably gets invested elsewhere on the stock market, meaning so sudden retail windfall?

The problem with Democracy 3 is you need to come up with policies and systems that are balanced, fun, understandable and also areas where there is at least some broad agreement as to the effects (if not the desirability). So I throw this out there. Does that sound like a reasonable reaction to nationalizing the banking system?

If I was to add this to the game, it would involve some coding, as it effectively means having a policy with a one-off implementation cost, and one-off cancellation income (privatize!), which the system doesn’t currently support, but is certainly do-able…

Adding better curves to the Democracy 3 equations

Happily there seem to be very few actual bugs or crashes in the Democracy 3 beta. I  have already fixed the only 2 actual crashes I know about, pending the first patch, which I am aiming to release for PC tomorrow or Monday, with Linux/Mac to follow. Sales seem really good, and people seem happy, which is all excellent news.

What surprised me is how many people say it’s too easy. Nooo!!!! I didn’t think so, but you can’t argue with peoples savegames. Plus, there are a number of anomalies. parents making up 100% of the population, and 100% being retired too. Ooops, clearly that isn’t part of the plan D. I have a big long list of tweaks and adjustments already implemented for me to test today/tomorrow, but I also have some subtler changes to make…

Democracy 3 is essentially a huge web of interconnected things (‘neurons’ in code…) and each of those connections i governed by an equation, and an input/output throttle. The equation is where most of the magic happens. For example, with State Schools, the effect on education is “0.07+(0.3*x). Which essentially means a linear effect from +7% to +37% on education, in line with education spending. Obviously this is a bit simplistic, as well as making for less interesting decisions. Gamers have mentioned (and I agree) that too many policies are Min/Maxed, in that the actual slider is rarely set sensibly somewhere in the middle. It’s the linear nature of that equation that causes this. Ideally, the first few dollars spent on education should have the most effect, trailing off until you are eventually just throwing money needlessly at an already over-funded program.

The chart below shows my proposed solution:


The red line represents the original equation, the green line is the new one, which is 0.03*(x^0.6)+0.07.  This is not possible in Democracy 2 because it couldn’t process that many variables in an equation, but luckily I added this capability as part of the re-write of the code for D3, so this sort of thing is now possible. I think this is a step forwards, and something I need to look at replacing a lot of the linear equations with. Does this make sense?

Democracy 3 available NOW for pre-order+beta access

Yeah, I know it took a while, but it’s here at last. Democracy 3 can be in your hands RIGHT THIS MINUTE!


You can pre-order from my site now, and you get access to the beta immediately. This is, I hope, A pretty polished beta. It’s feature complete, it’s nice and shiny. It’s optimised. there may be bugs or balance issues, but I’m aware of none for the PC version, and only 2 or 3 minor visual anomalies in the mac & linux builds. For the first time ever I have a multi-platform simultaneous game release. Oh yeah.
Buying the game now gets you download links (DRM-free of course) for all 3 platforms, plus a steam key, which right now is useless, but will let you activate the game on steam when it’s released finally.
let me know what you think here, or in the forums at or I will be answering questions about the game on reddit at

Obviously anything you can do to help me get the word out about this game is much appreciated. I look forward to being accused of an evil capitalist or a naive communist in equal measure. It was an artist decision to make the capitalist guy the largest one in that image, and ditto about there being more women than men :D

Some marketing thoughts

I’ve been reading this book:


Which is a bit old, but kinda interesting. I’ve always been impressed by the guy’s marmite theory of middle east peace. Anyway, part of the reason for this was for me to challenge my own thinking, and led to be scrawling all kinds of stuff over that big blackboard in my office. I was trying to re-evaluate all kinds of stuff. In some ways, F2P is the absolute perfect example of lateral thinking. It’s a totally different way of running a games business, as is pay what you want and kickstarter. All massively successful. Sadly, I did not reach a similar epiphany. However, it does open my mind.

I recently, out of curiosity, found myself adding up the total development cost (excluding my time) of Democracy 3. I then compared it to my proposed marketing budget for the game, and got a figure of 33.96%. In other words, for every dollar I spent on artwork/music/other stuff for the game, I was planning on spending $0.33 promoting it. This is lower than games like Call of Duty, where historically the marketing budget has dwarfed the mere development cost, but I can’t bring myself to do that :D.

However, with my lateral thinking-expanded mind, it occurred to me that this wasn’t a sensible way to analyze the optimum marketing spend anyway. In the back of my mind, if I’m thinking about what would be a suitable ROI, and looking at my costs, that’s probably the wrong metric. If I assume (conservatively) that D3 sells as well as D2, shouldn’t I really be looking at the marketing budget as a percentage of the projected revenue? not the costs? If so, then that 33% figure shrinks dramatically. As a result, what in my mind I can consider a reasonable marketing budget rises dramatically, because if I’m being rational, and I was happy to spend 33% I still should be, but of the larger (revenue) figure.

Now I know what you are thinking. In a perfect world the marketing budget expands infinitely as long as the ROI on each marketing dollar spent is positive, but that’s in a theoretical world with perfect information. If I spend $100 today, I might not see the ROI for six months, so do I halt my spending entirely tomorrow? Obviously you have to guess what’s going to happen and budget accordingly.

I find analyzing and managing this stuff fascinating, but am not aware of any games built around it. Gratuitous Marketing Battles here we come!