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

Democracy 3 extremism promotion tactics

So I recently released democracy 3 extremism, complete with it’s lovely trailer…

And how is it doing? Well it’s going ok. It isn’t selling as well as social engineering, but that is to be expected, as it’s the second DLC and these things always have declining sales as you do more. It’s also very early days, and so far it’s been 100% only for sale at full price, which is obviously to be expected as it’s only a few days into being on sale.

Anyway, my stats (which are partial, not complete) show me that my current profit from the DLC is $3,901. It’s probably higher than that, as I haven’t updated it today. The reason that profit is quite low is I’ve been channeling a big big chunk of the income from it back into promotion. My facebook ad which looks like this:


Is currently being shown at $600 a day, and has chalked up 1,291 clicks to the web page so far, at $0.49 a click. That doesn’t include the visits to the facebook page, the extra facebook likes and of course anyone with anti-tracking or noscript turned on. $0.49 is a lot, but I am targeting men of a certain age (sorry ladies, but you just do not buy this game, according to my stats), with an interest in certain games, in certain countries, so it should be very targeted. My target demographic on facebook is 2,600,000, which I reckon is quite small, having shown the ad to 171,000 of them so far (6%). I’m running the ad for a few more days, so should hit about 25% of that demographic, but I may supplement it with another reddit ad placement too. (I’ve already spent $2,450 on reddit ads).

The result of this has also pushed sales of the base game. Extremism released on 13th may. if I look at Democracy 3 steam sales from 13-17th and compare to the previous week in the same days, the difference is a boost of 134%. This is something I should definitely take into account when calculating if the expansion is a success or not. This also means I have greater freedom to re-invest in the game. I’ve already propelled Democracy 3 into the top 50 strategy games on steam again. Might another $2k on ads push me up a few more places? and might that be self-sustaining? It might be worth basically spending the whole DLC profit in PR in order to promote base game sales (which in turn may eventually lead to more DLC sales).

Of course it’s all guesswork, and tbh marketing and business is just a game I enjoy playing. I did start playing GalCiv III alpha, but its very very alpha (no space battles yet!) So I might just sit on that for a bit.


“Let’s talk about ipad pricing! dagga-dagga-dag-dag-dad-dad-da!”

That doesn’t make sense unless you read it to the tune of ‘kung fu fighting’. Anyway…

Enough of that.

I’m very close to releasing Democracy 3 on the ipad. I’ve pretty much decided it will be $9.95 on there. Let me waffle about the decision…

  • It can be argued that this is painfully high and nobody will buy it. I suspect this is an over-reaction and not true. It’s not angry birds, it’s a complex and deep strategy game, and I suspect players of those games are more prepared than the average ipad customer to pay $9.95
  • This is less than 50% of the PC price. Granted, it has no mod support, fixed resolution, and it’s on a tiny little ipad, not a nice kick-ass PC, but really there aren’t many compromises being made to play it on ipad. In other words, this is very competitively priced vs the PC version.
  • Theoretically a $9.95 game can set a decent benchmark price and maybe be discounted later, yet still be actually worth having on sale, unlike a 50% off on a $0.99 game.
  • It’s not the sort of game you buy on a impulse to play on the bus for 10 minutes once. It isn’t flappy birds. My impulse purchase market is probably zero.
  • Democracy 3 is in profit, even if I lose money on the ipad (I paid to have it ported), then it’s not a disaster, I could absorb the loss.
  • I think it’s in the greater interests of gaming (yes seriously) if we can establish a wider range of price points on IOS. There is no actual technical reason for that form-factor to be for cheap shovelware. There is no real logical argument for saying you shouldn’t be able to have a business selling $39.99 games on IOS, exclusively. maybe this will be a tiny nudge in that direction?
  • The sadist in me looks forward to the violent frothing at the mouth of the kids who complain about game prices. Deal with it! :D

So am I nuts? or is this GENIUS? or should it be priced at $24.95 like the PC version. Only time will tell, obviously. BTW if you work at apple, or know someone who does, and might be interested in promoting and featuring a non-casual game on IOS, please get in touch, I’m a PC gamer primarily so my knowledge of the ipad gaming market is very scarce.

I may have to buy that song on itunes now…

Democracy 3: Extremism Released

I don’t know what the US situation is right now, but Europe sure is going all extreme in it’s politics, from the National Front in France to the delights of UK politicians who blame flooding on gay marriage (oh yes…). We have a big test of extremist (kinda) politics in the UK coming up with the European elections. Should be an interesting spectacle. On that front, how about I release a NEW EXPANSION PACK!

I have to admit, I really like this trailer. Live action FTW. If you want to grab the expansion and get all extremist on yo voters asses, then you can grab it from my site here or from steam here or GoG here. Also Mac Game Store soon. Let me know what you think of it!

Now back to polishing Democracy 3 for the ipad…

Strategic risks and opportunities

I’m sat in an airport lounge sipping tea and typing business strategy on a laptop. I am a walking cliche. Having said that… it might be helpful to share my brain dump on the future risks and opportunities I see for my company. First the risks (I am, after all a pessimistic brit).

Risk 1. Price war and collapse for PC games.

This would change things dramatically, not only because I might just earn a lot less, but because many of my strategies are price-point-dependent. You cannot break even advertising a one-time $5 purchase. Probably not a $10 one either. I have to make games that command a $20+ full price tag. I actually am not too worried about this happening. Not for original, interesting, polished high quality games with marketing. For shovelware sure, but that’s not me. Risk: 5%

Risk 2. Royalty collapse / publishers go evil.

Steam could demand 80% royalties, and everyone could copy them. That would be pretty crushing. I find this incredibly unlikely. Steams market share is big, but there are enough other players ready to take over the minute something like this happened. Plus, the more people at steam I meet, the less likely this seems. Risk 5%

Risk 3. Everything shifts to Mac / Linux / Tablets / VR.

This seems much more likely. It’s mitigated by Microsoft getting a new boss, so maybe they will stop fucking up. On the other hand the rise of the tablet/phone seems unstoppable. I now know that VR is awesome and not far off. The upside here is that I can cope if this happened. Learning OpenGL wouldn’t kill me. I reckon I could make games that are designed for tablet first if I needed to. Risk 20%

Risk 4. I am out-competed.

There are a lot of smart young developers in India / Russia / Brazil / China who are going to kick our asses. I live in one of the priciest countries in the world. I am 45 years old and need sleep now and then. The only thing I have that lets me compete with a 17 year old kid in Vietnam is my experience, but as they age, and senility kicks in for me, plus I’m stuck in a C++ era, that will be less effective. I can compensate by actually hiring people from these countries, but that still leaves a big risk of competition. Risk 25%

Risk 5. Critical employee.

If I get hit by a bus Positech is dead. I pretty much *am* the company at a strategic sense. My eyesight could fail, I could have health problems etc. This is obviously a different kind of risk. I can at least mitigate this with a healthy diet and exercise. Theoretically. Risk 1%

So there is the doom and gloom. How about exciting future stuff?

Opportunity 1.  New countries.

For the first time I have a game where I actually own 100% of the translated versions (Democracy 3 in German and French). I think they have made money, and also more importantly acted as a first step to understanding how to do this right, as I did EVERYTHING wrong. In an ideal world, every future game of mine has built in language support and unicode. This is unlikely but I’m heading there. Is piracy rife in some of the biggest markets out there? Yup, but the numbers are huge. Opportunity: 35%

Opportunity 2. Expansion.

I find this so difficult, but my current system is to expand by publishing games. I tried this with redshirt, and for a first attempt at this idea, if worked pretty well. Enough that I’m doing another one (details to come…). This is a very simple way for me to expand. I may eventually get an actual employee, and if I didn’t have such a nice home working environment I’d likely already have done this and had an office. Opportunity: 30%

Opportunity 3. Investment/ Diversification.

I don’t have to expand in games. I thought long and hard about starting a solar farm business. Positech even SOUNDS like an energy company. I lack expertise here, so at the moment I’m just content to have invested in existing solar farms. Maybe eventually I’ll make the leap to setting one up. Opportunity: 20%

Opportunity 4. Education / Biz software.

I think the education market is under-served. Democracy 3 is a great teaching tool, and there is vast potential here. I sometimes toy with the idea of hiring someone full time to push Democracy 3 into schools and to further develop it as a proper teaching tool, or also as a business tool. I can make a very convincing argument here. The problem is I’m not massively into spending my time talking to school district managers and big business committees. Plus there is the problem of getting people to take a games company seriously. Opportunity: 20%


If I was 25 years old, I’d probably be hiring a bunch of people to expand on all those fronts right now. I’d have some trendy office in some trendy part of a big city and be high-fiving fellow entrepreneurs over lunch in whatever sushi bar has the best wifi. I’d actually know how to use uber. I’d have google glass.

As it happens, I find myself to be a relatively quiet tea-sipping forty-something, keen to get back home to his cats and the English countryside, and to shave. (One thing I learned this trip is that security people confiscate shaving foam.) I balance this out knowing I’m happy, have a good life and really love what I’m working on. Ultimately that surely is the goal.



The future of steam, VR and other seattle stuff

So here I am, sleepless in seattle. Actually its more like sleeping well, but with a nosebleed in seattle, but that isn’t as catchy.

I’m here for a meeting with valve and some other indies, so I have lots to talk about. I am no expert at knowing exactly what I am and am not allowed to say, so here are vague impressions rather than a news-dump on steams plans. For a while, a lot of indies have been panicking about steam. There are more and more indie games being released though greenlight and people are worrying that the ‘average’ indie game on steam is making less money. The phrases you hear are ‘floodgates are opening’ and ‘race to the bottom’.

I’ve seen what valve have planned and I really do not think anyone has to worry. Actually I do. If your plan is to dump your first unity hobby game on steam and then retire rich, and that game is a clone or unpolished, or incredibly unoriginal, then yeah, you are so fucked, but frankly I don’t care.

Valve are approaching the ‘floodgates’ problem in exactly the right way. The steam experience for everyone is going to get so much better. I can’t fault their plans in any way. I’d love to attract loads of web traffic with a clickbait ‘valve are about to wreck steam’ blog post, but that would be complete bullshit.

My advice to indies uncertain about steam’s future is just to make a really cool game and don’t worry. That sounds like PR bullshit but it’s actually true for once.

While I was at valve I got their VR demo. I fail AGAIN here in any attempt to be contrary or scandalous, because I’m just going to echo what other have said. Fuck yeah. This is so cool. I never thought it would even work on a stereoblind person, but it is amazing. It isn’t perfect, it isn’t suitable for everything, but it *is* amazing. A whole new experience. I never thought we would be this close to a proper star trek holodeck so quickly.

I met some really nice people here. It’s always awkward mentioning anyone specific because then you feel like you might not mention everyone and my Englishness thinks I am probably offending someone, but hey, I’m not intending to. Anna & Augusta from valve were very cool to meet, I suspect Alden now sleeps safer knowing that I’ll safeguard his job when I own valve, and it was amazing how much in common I seem to have with the amazingly cool Tommy refenes, including a love of l33t electric cars. Also always good to bump into chet again. Whenever a bunch of games geeks get together, we always end up talking about cats. I also got to meet Jamie Cheng, another real friendly and cool guy.

I should also pay respects to the legendary Ichiro lambe, who has proven that Americans can actually be just as deadpan and sarcastic as English people.