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

German translation lessons…

So I’m getting Democracy 3 translated into German, if you didn’t already know :D. This has involved quite a lot of hassle, so i thought I’d jot down some thoughts and lessons learned. Firstly, I’d like to make the business case for it. The case is based on this:

  • Germans love strategy games
  • Germany is the top selling market for the game that does not have English as its first language.
  • The non-English speaking German population is non trivial. (src: at 36%.
  • If I assume that the game has only reached the 64% of potential Germans who speak English, and do the maths, if there is a corresponding bump in sales of the German version, then this will put the port into a decent profit.

Add to this the fact that a lot of people outside Germany also speak German, plus that percentage of people who speak English but would prefer the game in the first language, and I think it makes economic sense. I’m also figuring in some ‘goodwill’ value for translating a small indie game to German.

Ok, so it makes sense, but what are the costs?

Firstly there is the cost of the actual translation. The game has 34,000 words of text, so that is quite a big expense. I know many indie games ‘crowdsource’ this stuff, but I find that a bit risky. Don’t forget some people on the web are just maniacs, how do you *know* that half way through the description for income tax there isn’t a huge racist rant, or maybe a load of swear words? or in my case, more subtly, how do I know the descriptions of the voter types and policies have not been skewed to suit the persons political views offering the ‘free’ translation? I prefer to have a contract, and right-of-redress for any lawsuits/damages/grief…

Secondly, there is the fixing of the code. German is loooooooooooong. A simple word in English is often about 10,000 syllables in German. Don’t believe me? just listen to Henning:

But I digress…. What this means is that a lot of text blocks in the game no longer fit. Buttons are not big enough, titles need to word-wrap or be cropped, and so on. Plus of course there are exciting new characters to be added (only a few), and because Democracy 3 uses bitmapped fonts (pre-rendered) I needed to change code to support that (and re-render them all). The vast majority of this work is just scanning through the code and adding scrollbars to text and ‘…’  where it might be needed. The GOOD news (and another reason to do German first) is that once this is done, if I choose to do French, Italian or Spanish, the text should already fit fine.

And lastly, there is the admin cost. The steam promotional graphics need to be changed. My own webpage will need changing.  I’m planning on translating the trailer. New builds need to be made, and the translated content checked so it works ok. Plus I actually need to upload the stuff. Democracy 3 is about 200 MB on disk. It comes in mac,Linux & PC, so thats 600MB. It goes to my site, BMTMicro, Steam and GoG, and the mac game store. This is a huge number of builds. Now double it for German. I have rural broadband. This literally starts to take days to upload… (You can do a ‘shared content’ thing on steam, but thats only for steam, so I’m keeping it simple and just doing totally fresh builds for everyone).

Will it be worth it? Who knows! I hope so, and I’ll certainly blog about it’s success/failure.

BTW Redshirt is 25% off for a while. Go get it.


Strategy games, pricing, and the enjoyment curve.

A lot of the debates about game pricing online take no account of different game styles. Nor do they take account of signaling. All people do is compare games as commodities, and end up with the inevitable conclusion that there is a price crash looming and a race to the bottom. No game should be priced above $5, clearly.

I suspect this is not true, and have the Democracy 3 sales figures to back this up, but all blog articles are better with graphs, so I drew one to make my conclusions seem somehow more real :D.

What do we think happens when we price an indie game at $25 and do not discount it? Well several things. As *many* people point out, the number of ‘impulse’ purchases is pretty low. There are also a low number of purchases from people who are ‘on the fence’ or ‘mildly interested’. But what else happens? There are two rather interesting phenomena at play, which are price-signaling and sunk costs.

First price-signaling says ‘This is a game that will provide lots of value. it KNOWS it costs more than those other dozen indie games, and its not hiding the fact. Look, it doesn’t even have a launch discount. it must be good. The developer isn’t nuts, this isn’t his first game. it must be selling. Look! it *is* selling, so it *must be good*. No wonder it’s priced at $25. Etc…’. price signaling works. it works a LOT. Do you really think a Rolex or Ferrari isn’t taking advantage of this effect? (as well as arguably being Veblen goods). Price signaling is a way of stating the developers confidence in their product. I am a big fan of Bose headphones, despite the fact that the internet hive-mind hates them. I’ve owned 2 pairs. They are much, much more expensive than most headphones and they know it. Maybe I’m a mug, but when I was looking for the *best* headphones, obviously I checked out Bose, they must be good at that price etc… Turns out they are, but would I have even tried them if they cost $50? (Note I’m not saying it’s a con, I’m saying the actual price was part of their marketing, and it was for a legitimately superior product).


Secondly, we have sunk costs. If you buy a game or $1 and after 5 minutes you are stuck, bored or confused, who gives a fuck? Just uninstall it. But what if you paid $25 or even $50? At that price, you often ‘force yourself’ to keep playing to get your moneys-worth (partly) but also, more interestingly, you don’t want to be seen to yourself to be an idiot. If you paid $25 it must be a good game right? otherwise you judged poorly, and your subconscious self doesn’t like that. We humans are appallingly poor at objectively judging worth.

But hold on cliff, this all sounds horrid and manipulative, are you evil? is this how you justify your horrible corporate greed?


I have a problem with selling  my games because they are complex strategy ones. That means they take a while to learn. I bet the first fifteen minutes of Democracy 3 are not that much fun for a newcomer. I bet the ‘fun’ factor only kicks in at an hour. At that point, you understand how to play. At that point you are hooked, its great, you enjoy it, and its hopefully a rich, rewarding experience.


So how do I get people to play for that full hour? I charge $25 and use all of the methods described above to get people to play for that amount of time. Ideally NOBODY would then ‘bounce off’ the game. Ideally then, everyone has got at least an hours play from it (actually the median time played is extremely high), and everyone gets to the point where the game really pays-off in terms of fun.

Because simpler arcadey games can be picked up quickly, they don’t need to get people through that initial period of ‘negative value’, or that period is very,very short. So they can price low. Pricing low can be good, it means you can go mass market and get decent word of mouth. It means more virality. Pricing low isn’t bad per-se (although it brings with it problems of marketing costs per unit and payment provider issues etc). but you have to pick the right price for your game. In short, if you are making deep strategy games or games that are unusual, weird, different and have a learning curve, and you are pricing them at $5, I think you might be doing it wrong.

If you really want to think about this kind of stuff, especially the psychological effects, take a look at Prison Architect, and the brilliant way in which they priced their alpha artificially high in order to ‘only attract serious players‘. Brilliant. You get a game PLUS a feeling of superiority and validation. It’s like those ‘exclusive’ products that anyone can buy. I tip my hat to Marks brilliance :D.

Now go buy Democracy 3, it’s only for really intelligent successful and attractive people like YOU.

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Lessons from launching Democracy 3

So it’s been over a month now, what have I learned from the pre-release beta and final release of my political strategy game Democracy 3 I hear you all asking at the top of your voices? Here is what I have learned…

Launch Discounts do not matter.

As a gamer, you might insist they do, and point out how everyone else had them. I didn’t. Nobody even mentioned it. It’s a new game, people who want it, want it. I think the now standard ‘10% off for the first week’ thing is just a way of losing 10% of your revenue. I’m so glad I did not do this.

Having a decent trailer was worth it.

I don’t know why I’ve waited until this game to get a proper trailer with voiceover for my games. it has been so worth it. At least it convinced me to get another one done and also one for redshirt. here is the first democracy 3 one…

Have faith in your game with pre-release marketing.

I spent more than ever before on advertising to tie in with the launch of Democracy 3. I don’t regret a penny of it, and wish I’d actually had  even more faith in, and spent even more. The problem is, at the end of an indie game project you have spent a LOT of money on making a game that so far has not earned a single penny back. The ‘balance sheet’ for the game is always really upsetting. Taking another pile of cash and dumping it into the ‘marketing’ pit of eternal spending seems like the craziest thing to do when things are already covered in red ink, but it seems to be the right thing. Democracy 3 was my biggest marketing experiment yet, and it paid off.

Add steam workshop support earlier.

I underestimated how much work this would be, and how much trouble people would have installing non-workshop mods. This should have been in from day-one, in an ideal world. There are a decent number of workshop items for the game, but would have been more if I’d been more prepared on that front.


A $25 game will sell very well, if it is deep, and good quality and has a market.

The idea that the game should be cheaper to ‘compete’ with other indie games or with discounted AAA games is just wrong. Trust me on this, I have the sales figures. Democracy 3 is my fastest selling game ever. It is not suffering one bit for being a $25 game, in fact I wonder if it would have made more sales at $29.99. This isn’t a game for people looking for a cheap disposable timewaster, but for people interested in the idea and subject matter and prepared to invest some time. I got the price right. I’d even suggest, what with Prison Architect and others, that $25+ is the new standard price for ‘triple A indie’ or ‘premium indie’ games.
So far it’s gone well. More stuff coming soonish…


Redshirt beams down to Steam, Gog and MacGameStore

And lo it has happened! it is redshirt release day. woohoo!


The game is finished and available RIGHT NOW from all good earth-bound web-stores, including Direct from the developer (we like this) as well as Steam, GoG and MacGameStore.

You might want to check out the video and screenshots and other fun and games over at the official redshirt website, or you may be so inclined to discuss it on Reddit, tweet about it, or maybe even be really ‘meta’ and go ‘like’ the games facebook page. (oh yes!).

This is all kind of exciting because it’s the first time positech has ever ‘published’ a game by another developer, so it is all a bit experimental. Plus it was done in something called ‘unity’ which is all gibberish to me, and in something called C#. which I don’t understand either. Anyway, it’s been kinda fun :D

So far it is selling well. The same 3 people who spend their life moaning that all games suck and are too expensive are having a busy day, but we focus more on the people who like and buy our stuff rather than professional whiners. Oh yes. Right now the game is out for mac and PC, we expect a linux port ‘at some point’ and an ipad port ‘in due course’. Enjoy!

The indie illuminati

There are very few overnight successes. Sometimes people mistake grizzled and battle-hardened veterans for an overnight success because they didn’t see them coming.

I think there must be some tipping point where people go from ‘very well known amongst the local creative community’ to ‘household name’. At that point, everyone wonders where the hell they came from, and people who hadn’t heard of them tag them with ‘overnight success’. Very soon, then get grumbled about, and considered to be ‘above the rest of us’ and so on. Eventually, they get packaged up as ;’the illuminati’ or ‘the bilderberg group’ or whatever. Sometimes this is justified. Sometimes it isn’t. I think mostly it isn’t.

I was chatting to a world-famous indie superstar recently, and he pointed out how he used to think that ‘cool indies’ were cliquey, until he got to know them, and then just realised they were just a group of friends chatting. This seems to often be the case. I bet this happens a lot at indie meetups and games conferences. The thing is, if you know people, you have one experience, and if you don’t, you have another, and we are such basic, chimpanzee like animals that we vastly exaggerate our perceptions of events.

if you attend some indie conference and you don’t know anyone, your perception is often this:

“Everyone is so cliquey, they all know each other. Nobody wants to talk to me. I have no idea who to talk to. Will anybody want to talk to me? Look! it’s that dev who made X and here is chatting to that dev who made Y! neither of them will have heard of me, I’m such an outsider. bastards etc…”

whereas dev X is probably seeing the exact same situation like this:

“Hey cool, it’s that dev who made Y, how are you doing? fancy a beer, have you seen that dev who made Z? she said she was coming. Its so cool to meet up again, I’m glad I know someone here. I’ll stick with them.”


The thing is, there was always an event where X met Y and Z met X. There are no secret handshakes. nobody insists on seeing your steam royalties report or metacritic score before they will share a beer with you. Indies tend to be very nice. They also tend to be a bit shy and insular. We sit alone all day, what do you expect? It’s easy to mistake this behavior for cliquishness but it isn’t.

A game developer that came to an indie pizza meetup once said to me ‘you aren’t as scary in real life as I’d assumed’. This was kinda weird, I’d never considered myself scary. Even when I’m carrying a chainsaw I’m more scared of it than anyone should be of me…

Anyway… what am I saying? basically I’m saying that the ‘cool’ indies probably don’t think they are cool. They probably stick together in their clique because they are as terrified of meeting new people as the people who are terrified of introducing themselves. I’m rubbish at it myself. I still remember the first time I met Paul from mode7, Jake from greyalien games, Cas from puppygames, Mike Bithel, Mark & Chris from Introversion. I think in every case, either they said hello to me or someone else introduced us.  And yet now, I’m aware of the fact that I might be one of these indie Illuminati that seems cliquey to outsiders. I’m not. I’m just shy. It’s easy to get that confused.

if you want to worry about real cliques, worry about politicians. Thats the real clique. In the UK they all went to the exact same school and did the exact same course. THAT is a real clique.