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

Steam Dev Days afterthoughts

(I’ve never done this before, but I’m typing this on the plane, so I have time for some detailed thoughts. Long post ahead!)
I’m returning from the first steam dev days conference (they will surely become regular). By now you will have heard all about attendees getting steam boxes & controllers, and the major announcements. I bet journalists have that stuff covered. I’m going to write up more strategic thoughts, combined with some thoughts on business in general that have weighed on my mind.

This is the big takeaway for me. I’m not a big Linux fan. Nothing ‘political’, I’m just so used to windows. I’ve used windows constantly since windows 3.11. I don’t know anything about Linux, and I now have to learn. Valve have made this clear. Not ‘Linux is growing’ more ‘learn Linux now… today…’. Personally, I’m not too bothered by this, especially now I have a steam box. What this really means for me is OpenGL. My hand-coded directx engine is now looking like a bit of a dead end. This is unfortunate…

Steam Boxes.
Actually not a big deal for me, this shores up the PC gaming market share against console erosion, which is great. Will PC’s migrate into the living room? maybe… but not for text-heavy strategy games that I make. I think the impact for me may me minor. Ditto the steam controller, although this might be worth using for GSB 2.

Virtual Reality.
I didn’t attend a demo. I should have, stupidly assuming that being stereo-blind would rule me out, but fellow stereo-blind devs assure me its still amazing. I don’t make first person games, I make totally abstract ones, so again, maybe not a big impact for me.

Micro-transactions/economies/user-generated content.
Fascinating stuff, brilliantly presented, and a bit of an eye opener for me in how to do this stuff in a *nice* way. I am hugely motivated about doing work in this area in future. These were the most interesting talks for me, although I hear that the marketing panel was also amazing :D

Deeper Thoughts.
This is kinda separate. I need to add a disclaimer here so I can put these thoughts into context… Positech Games in recent years has become very very successful. I used to publish sales figures back in the day, but I don’t do that now. Things have ramped up big time. I am still basically a one man company, but with an increasing army of contractors and also automated systems and methods to boost my efficiency. As a result, things have gone kind of huge. Not notch level, but damn good.
This isn’t meant to be bragging, this is to put this next section into context.

A lot of things are happening in games. A lot of people are getting into the industry. The industry is growing, but also changing. There is a lot at stake. A well-placed solo indie developer can make or lose a million dollars or more based on a good or bad call. This is high stakes poker, or in some cases roulette. We are playing with live ammunition now. I love metaphors.
I have decisions to make about company growth, platforms, investment, languages, genres. These decisions will make or lose those millions of dollars. The stress and pressure related to those decisions is massive.

Intuitively, I know that I’m fine. Positech has a great financial base. I’m not about to bet my house on a game release, or lose everything if I get things wrong. I have no employees I might have to fire. In many ways I’m lucky, and can relax… but frankly, I like to win. That doesn’t mean at the expense of anyone, I don’t need others to lose, if that makes sense? The most adrenaline-packed and rewarding strategy game I play is called ‘running positech games’. I want to make the right calls and win, it’s burned into me at some primeval level. As a result, I take these decisions incredibly seriously. This leads to intense pressure and stress, that is outwardly completely invisible. I take from this two things:

1) Company executives earn their money. It’s very easy to look at people who run a bank or huge company, in their chauffeured car and executive hotel suite and million+ dollar salary and think that life’s easy for them and anyone can do it. No. There is more to an easy life than having great food and a nice car. Those big salaries come with epic responsibilities and incredible pressure and stress. I cannot imagine how much worse it is at the billion-dollar 10,000 employee level. Get it wrong there and you can kill of thousands of jobs. Intense Pressure. I don’t begrudge anyone in that situation their big salary and aston-martin. I’m surprised there are not more CEO suicides, to be blunt.

2) This can’t be healthy. I’ve taken the opportunity in the last year to have my heart and blood pressure checked. Both were absolutely fine. I could maybe lose a little bit of weight, but generally I’m healthy. This is great, and also very surprising to me. It’s something I try to keep an eye on. I am acutely aware of the fact that high stress and pressure is bad, and I don’t want to be the guy with the highest sales figures in the morgue. So far I seem to be balancing it well, but it isn’t easy. I slept for just 3 hours last night, purely due to stress and pressure. Rare, but still bad. I guess I’m trying to max out all my Kudos 2 stats at once, I want to be healthy, happy and successful. Not easy :D

So there you go, my first post-steam conference thoughts. Maybe a bit scattergun, but I thought I’d jot them down while they are fresh. I have a lot more to say about Linux, but I’ll save that for the next post…

TL ;DR: Linux is coming, Positech is selling lots, This is stressful and creates pressure, but I’m somehow still healthy!

8 thoughts on Steam Dev Days afterthoughts

  1. I hope I am not misinterpreting some of the things you say in your post, but it seems like they want indies to be more like AAA game studios. Multi-format and big spring to mind. Surely it is the choice of the developers if they want to produce Windows only games or what would be considered smaller games. Could it be the final nail in the coffin for some indie developers if they can’t adapt?

    On a lighter note, it is good to know that both you and Positech are very healthy!

  2. I would like to believe that in the future Linux will have a strong gaming install base but if anyone could do it Valve could. If you look on the current Steam Stats page (, at most 1.78% of Steam users are using Steam on Linux in December 2013.
    To me (I’m not a games programmer) I would not go all in on Linux but would investigate 3rd party engines like Unity, ShiVa, or others to see if those engines can do what you require and those tools can be used to build your game on multiple platforms.

  3. I think Linux will become in the upcoming years more of a threat to the windows grip than mac has ever been, specially now with steam / desura available and Valve backing / developing parts of the platform.

    But this really doesn’t have to do with “Linux”, this is just part of the bigger open ecosystem, developing for the web or every other platform is now based on open standards.

    Flash is much less relevant today thanks to html5 and DX is not supported on the other important platforms in mobile/desktop.

    And multiplatform doesn’t need to be very hard transition for those that haven’t embraced it already. The real platform now is the open standards that work everywhere even on the closed ecosystems. Is why many can start looking into unity and to help with those needs or till they get more skillful.

  4. oh and aerobic exercise is not only good for losing weight, but also improves stress resistance and executive and brain functions, etc. :)

  5. Maybe it’s different in England but in the USA CEOs are paid millions of dollars when they fail. They can make all the wrong decisions and cost the company millions and they’ll walk away rich. A year or two later and they’re either running for political office or they’re making even more money as talking heads or consultants. I don’t see how life can be that stressful when no matter what happens you’re rich beyond the dreams of avarice.

Comments are currently closed.