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

GSB 2.0 Ship hull lighting

Finally got this stuff working today, I just plonked any old windows and hull lights on a test hull to see if it works, obviously it will get fine tuned to be better, and stuff positioned better, but you get the general idea. I now have a day or two of really complex and fiddly behind the scenes stuff, then off to the BAFTA’s, where Democracy 3 is nominated for a strategy/simulation game award, which is kinda cool. Then back to work! (click to enlarge image)



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Facebook advertising

I found it to be fairly effective. it’s another weapon in the armory of getting noticed. I know some people hate facebook and twitter ads, but those people forget that facebook and twitter are FREE. And nothing in life is free. Gmail isn’t free either, they both show you ads, and data-mine your email to build up a profile on you they can sell to people. This is why I like paying for stuff. ‘Free to play’ is anything BUT free. It means you are paying in time (artificial grind) or in personal data, or you are providing a service (cannon fodder to the whales). Absolutely nothing out there is free.

It does surprise me that you can’t buy a paid subscription to twitter or facebook to remove the ads. I’d pay $20 a year for each happily. Would you? Maybe the income from ads is way higher than that. I suspect so.

In an interesting development, I have found that facebook will let you target ads purely at desktop users, and ignore mobile but only *if* you edit this setting through the ‘power editor’ that seems to require you using google chrome to do so. This seems a bit strange, but at least they provide it as an option which is a relief, given that googles adwords service insists that limiting an ad to only being shown on desktop PC’s is somehow a technical impossibility, which is pure bullshit, and another reason that adwords ROI for me is lower than facebook. Do these hipster smartphone obsessed google-glass wearing kids not realize that there are still companies out there that make and sell (quite profitably) products that are aimed at the PC? like PC software maybe? Not everyone agrees that mobile apps are the way to make money…

Anyway, I’ve found facebook to be quite effective. Yes, you are helping to build up a presence on a service that you don’t control, and which is right now free (but how long until it costs you $100 a year to have a non-personal facebook account? a year? 5 years?), but I consider it a trade-off worth making. You have to draw a balance between contacting your customers in the place where they are (facebook, twitter etc) and ensuring you don’t hand over your entire community and social strategy to third parties. Also, you never know when you have it right. Commence much stroking of chin…

A bug that will become a feature (but a worthy one)

So I’m working on various stuff I’m not talking about yet for GSB 2, and I ended up with the image below. All looks fine, it’s a ship nicked temporarily from GSB 1, with some tweaks, and I found a bug. The bug is a bit of a pain, and it’s those 2 little axillary engines in the middle towards the bottom. Those engine glows are not supposed to be there, they are supposed to be under the ship.


But they aren’t.

And I could fix this really easily, but actually, it is kinda cool. I mean…why *shouldn’t* i have a few ships with engines that sit above other elements of a ship? the more creative freedom the artists have the better right? and that way the glow from the engines will illuminate the ship ‘fins’ in dark battles. It will look cool. It also means a shedload of irritating fiddling with code that already looks like a psychotic kitten has had a panic attack in a spaghetti factory.

but hey, I’ve trained myself never to think like that. If it makes the game better, I’m going to commit to supporting it, even if it makes life awkward for me. Expect this game to ship sometime this millennium…

Game sales & marketing analysis over 14 days

I’m dumping my brain here in case it’s interesting to review strategy, from a business POV. I’m looking at the last 14 days of positech, as if I’m playing a strategy game.

The income over those 14 days is roughly $60k, taking into account direct sales, Steam GoG and the apple app store. there are some other relatively trivial sources too. This is pretty high, because obviously Democracy 3 is relatively newly released, and was just coming out of a sale.

Spending on marketing & PR during this period is relatively tiny. about $2,600 in adwords, another $1,000 ish on another network, and some PR costs, put the whole promotional cost at about $4,600 or roughly 7% of revenue. I could clearly spend more if I saw a decent opportunity to grow the customer base for my games. With this in mind, I just plonked down another $2k today for a splurge on reddit ads coming up.

So how does this all translate into growing the direct-sales juggernaut? well… Direct traffic at over this period is 54,000 visits compared to 71,000 visits to steam (you get to track this data now). The average steam visitor duration is 31 seconds compared to 82 seconds on my site. This suggests steam is pretty leaky.

In terms of those users I get coming to my site, what are the best sources? The biggest chunk is ‘organic search’ which you don’t have much direct control over, other than trying to get more reviews and doing some SEO, which is a nebulous goal. The most analyzable category is ‘referral’ which is 24.6% of traffic, so quite small. They ‘convert’ in terms of hits on buy pages etc at 11.7% compared with 52% on organic search….interesting. If I narrow this down to people who show up on the Democracy 3 homepage, that figure goes up to 23% of referral visitors converting.

Luckily I can analyze further…

if I look at the Democracy 3 search campaign on adwords, that cost me £266 in that time, or roughly $441. For that, I got 618 clicks, at £0.43 a click ($0.77). This resulted in 72 confirmed buy page hits. I doubt all 72 bought the game. If we assume half of them do, and split the direct & steam takes to get roughly 80% of the money, then I got maybe 36*(0.8*24.95) which is  $718, or a profit of $19 a day. Pretty pathetic.

However, if I assume of the half who didn’t buy the game (but had visited the buy page), two thirds of them are prepared to buy the game next time it’s 50% off, then I can add on another $9.50 a day, which is still kinda crap, but better. Further to this, there is the viral effect, where word of mouth from those buyers might lead to additional sales. This involves even more guesswork….and there is more stuff I don’t know…

So the key variables I need to juggle here are:

  1. Percentage of people who bought the game directly attributable to this spending (some of this is known, but with considerable error margin)
  2. Percentage of people whose exposure to the game ‘stores up’ a purchase at a later date.
  3. Percentage of people whose exposure to the game ‘stores up’ a purchase at a lower price.
  4. Virality multiplier from new purchasers of the game.
  5. Potential upsell from new customers for future games.
  6. Cross-promotional effect of people visiting for Democracy 3 but buying GSB./Redshirt/GTB etc…
  7. Sales income through all channels from people who saw the ad, and had the brand re-in-forced, but did not click, or whose clicks were not tracked due to privacy settings/javascript disabled.

The trouble is there are just too many variables here, and this is where it becomes alchemy. My gut feeling is that I am underspending on promotion. Possibly massively so.

P.S.If you are an indie dev and read all this, and you are new to the industry, I wonder if you noticed the big amazing factoid buried in all that, that defies general assumptions by almost everyone in the industry? Let me type it again: Direct traffic at over this period is 54,000 visits compared to 71,000 visits to steam. Yup, this is doable. it takes a lot of time and effort and patience and risk.