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

Weirdly I seem to do well on the stock market (or do I?)

Not games related… I was being interviewed at rezzed for some BBC business thing about games & money etc, and they asked what I did with the profits and I mentioned trading the markets, and they asked if my success at making games translated to beating the market, and I had to confess that the data suggests that it does. Which is kinda weird and unlikely I guess.

Background: I used to work for a big trading IT company (like Reuters) on the UK stock market. I wasn’t a trader, but I was IT support. I stared at market dealing software all day. This was YEARS ago. I also studied at the London School of Economics, so I’m vaguely business / markets focused since late teens I guess.

I read a great book by this guy:

Nassim Taleb

Who was a trader, and basically points out how many people who think they are beating the market are just delusional, and idiots who mistake luck for skill. He also has a very interesting methodology for evaluating success. His system is essentially to calculate the downside risk into the upside calculation. So if you make (for example) a game about ducks who go skiing, and it makes a return on investment of 500%, that does not really mean you have made a return of 500%. You need to calculate in the risk. if it was 95% likely to flop, then the decision was a stupid one, even though the upside is 5x, the downside is greater, so your decision was dumb, and you should be fired, despite making a fortune.

We never think that way. Mark zuckerberg is a genius because he turned down billions of dollars for his company and is now worth much more. How clever! But we hear about Zuck, not all those people who were offered billions, turned it down, and then ended up flipping burgers five years later. We automatically discount them. Nassim doesn’t.

Anyway… this is all background to me illustrating that somehow, weirdly, I am doing well on the stock market. Not amazingly dotcom-well, but better than keeping the money in the bank. Right now, depositing the money in a bank in the UK will get you *maybe* 2% if you lock it away. Inflation is around that anyway, so you gain nothing.

My shares, since 2013 have earned me an annualized profit of 9.16%. Pretty fucking good.

How am I doing that?

Leonardo Dicaprio in The Wolf Of Wall Street

Firstly, I try to minimize charges. Some people buy £1,000 of shares. Pointless. You probably pay £15 to deal, so £30 to buy and sell (plus stamp duty and spread). I never buy or sell less than £5k, preferably £10k, rendering the dealing charge pretty trivial. (I invest enough, and trade often enough to get a lower trading cost, which is pretty handy. This opens up smaller price-swings to being worthwhile to trade against.)

Secondly I only buy and sell companies making a profit. it’s not that I don’t think get big fast works, its that I’ll let you gamble on it, not me. Thirdly, I keep an eye on the spread between buy and sell, and factor it in. This means I buy more large companies than small (which have lower liquidity and higher spreads). Spreads can really kill your profits. Fourthly, I set stop losses (I never used to…and have finally learned my lesson). The minute I buy I set a stop loss order. No more watching shares slide down…and down…and down.

In terms of choosing shares I’m pretty experimental. I’ve bought and sold UK equities, foreign listed equities, Italian Government debt and Kazakhstan copper mining. I’ve bought commodity tracking ETFs, and also leveraged and short ones. I’ve bought corporate bonds, and done quite nicely from them. I’ve also invested in investment funds for a more conservative long term growth strategy. When it comes to equities, I look for profit, preferably consistently growing over several years, and a relatively low Price to Earnings ratio. I also like a decent dividend, especially if profits are growing and the dividend cover is high, making me think dividend growth is imminent and thus the price will rise soon.

This all sounds very sensible, but its actually pretty much nonsense because despite my return (annualized) being 9.16%, the FTSE100 (Uk market) has grown by 7.26% in that time anyway, meaning I am only just beating a simple market tracking fund!

Still… I love looking at numbers and spreadsheets and doing calculations and also taking risks and business decisions, so this is my World of Warcraft, the game I keep coming back to and trying to win at. At least my hobby doesn’t cost me money.


Things that I have done & learned lately

Soooo…I went to rezzed, which was cool for two days and then I just wanted it to ENDDDDDDDD. I get very burned out by shows. I could talk at length about how I was one of the chosen 0.00001% who got to try Valves new VR thing, and how it is just awesome and even better than the one I saw last year, but you know all that kind of thing anyway, and nobody will believe me until they try it…

I’ve been back working in GSB2 land since then, tweaking, adjusting, bug fixing and generally doing the 101 jobs you have to do before shipping. The current projected shipping date for GSB2 is April 16th. before then I need the trading cards set up, final bugs squashed, French,German and Spanish translations done and integrated, Linux & Mac ports done (hopefully), the final release trailer done, and some missing stuff like medium & hard difficulty enemies set up, plus default ship designs for every ship (only some are done so far). Plus those missions need some more interesting starting restrictions (something planned for today). With any luck, all that will be done by release day. Yay!

I’ve been advertising on twitter lately, with both GSB (a bit) and Democracy 3 (a lot). I got a few people complaining that they saw the ad too many time, which seems nuts because I have selected a very large group of people to target, and they shouldn’t really have seen it twice. I pestered twitter who said ‘you don’t need to limit frequency, our algorithm does that’ to which I had to refrain from replying ‘Sack your fucking programmer then’. The thing is, if you write an app that hooks into the twitter API they have a variable to set the frequency, so as usual, the front line customer service rep knows fuck all about their own product, and as usual (as with google, facebook…) I am more informed about their advertising delivery system than they are. Grrrr…


Apologies if you see an ad from me too many times. You can always just click ‘dismiss’.

And on that topic…why do people get so annoyed at seeing a promoted tweet. Twitter is a business. Businesses need to pay their staff and server costs. If you really object to twitter ads, ask for a refund…oh wait.


There is an argument that twitter should allow ad-free subscription service too, but they don’t, and frankly that isn’t my fault :D. Ho hum. I guess if people think they see too much promotion from me now they may have to go hide in a cave when I release GSB2 :D

Even More Gratuitous than before (1.19) + Rezzed

Sooo… because making decent mac & linux ports, and translating into French German and Spanish takes so long…I’ve put back my target release date for GSB2 to …

April 16th

Which is a pain, but on the plus side it does mean that I have more time to be careful about stuff like final mission and hull balancing, optimizing and polishing and general improvements. Plus it means I’ll have steam trading cards on launch day. I’m also hoping for a simultaneous Steam/Humble/GoG launch.

With that on the horizon, today is patch day to version 1.19. what has changed I hear you cry? Here are the highlights:

1) New more helpful text displays instead of ‘no effect’ in battle.
4) Improved tabbed interface with more data for the end-battle stats.
9) Simplified system for quickly and simply posting a ship design as a steam workshop submission added after saving a ship design.

(and obviously lots of minor tweaks & fixes).

I’m hoping the one-click posting of ship designs will work, and be cool. It *might* not work for anyone but me until the game is officially steam-launched, not sure TBH.

In other news, tomorrow I head off here:


That’s London. Hopefully there will be less cybermen and more gamers as I will be at REZZED showing off both Gratuitous Space Battles and Big Pharma, with the help of Tim from Twice Circled. COME TRY OUR GAMES. With any luck GSB2 will have dual monitors. Plus if you have a youtube channel and want some content, come interview us. We are photogenic and literally ooze charisma. We have boxes of leaflets (mine are printed wrongly because I’m a dork, so they seem to read backwards or in some funny order. I am too busy to care),


and boxes of badges. The GSB2 ones printed weirdly, again, I’m stupid, but the Big Pharma ones are cool. Tim *may* have jelly beans.

So please come along on Thursday Friday or Saturday and enjoy the show! Also I have a new phone. I may do some exciting live-tweeting from the show floor!!!!111oneoneone.



GDC thoughts from 2015

Ahhh…the indie life, so summed up by sitting here in the first class British Airways lounge at the airport eating unlimited free m&ms. (I don’t fly first class, but I looked very British, and there was no hot water for tea…so they bumped me up).

Another year, another GDC. Let me muse on what I have learned. Because of the way my mind works, lets put the lessons in list form…

1) GDC is big. Bigger than ever I suspect. There are a lot of developers out there. If ever you start to worry about all those releases of new games on steam, wait until you physically see all those developers in one city. There is a LOT of competition out there. A crazy amount. My personal theory is that at least 20% of the indie devs at the show are burning through savings and losing money. For ones doing mobile games, I’d guess 50%. There are too many games, not enough *paying* players, especially on mobile.

2) GDC and its ilk are still a bit of a stressful nightmare if you are shy and introverted or don’t know many other developers yet. By any objective standard I failed at networking. I met 2 journalists for interviews, that’s it. I didn’t hustle, I didn’t introduce myself to loads of people, I totally forgot peoples names, I didn’t tell anyone about my game. I did drink lots of wine and ate sushi, so that was good.

3) Giving talks is great, but you feel like jumping under a bus just before you speak. The good thing is people then know who you are and have something to say to you, which fixes 2) slightly.

4) Big companies have more money than they can count and are throwing it at attempts to hire new developers. This is strange, as to me it is the flipside of the struggling smaller devs. There seem to be huge companies earning crazy money, and lots of indies eating noodles, and maybe just a handful in-between the two. The phrase ‘get big or go home’ comes to mind, alongside ‘arggghhhhh’.

5) I am so behind on graphics tech. I went to some directx12 talks and Vulkan (GL) talks and didn’t understand half the terminology, let lone what was being revealed. I should probably jump from dx9 to 12, or to vulkan eventually. Still, I prefer being l33t at DX9 than a n00b at dx12. The talks really made me want to jump into optimizing and expanding on the GSB2 tech once it’s had its initial release.

6) There is a limit to how many m&ms a man can eat before feeling sick, and it really does sneak up on you.

GDC 2015: Day three. tiredness and happiness

So…I’ve given my two mini-talks, at the indie soapbox and the AAA to indie thing, plus a podcast thing. I only have one official meeting to go, and thats me done for GDC 2015. So here are some early thoughts and memories.

I was SO nervous before the soapbox. I was dreading it. I really wished I hadn’t agreed to it. It felt mega stressful, but it looks like it went really well. I did worry about it being badly misinterpreted and taken the wrong way, but it seems not to be the case, which is a relief. The fact that the talks ‘went well‘ means I feel justified in coming to GDC. I guess it is good for PR, and I can make a ‘business case’ to myself for being here.

One of the best things about GDC is meeting up with people you know online but hardly ever see. I won’t namecheck people, but there are a bunch of cool, nice, talented developers who I only ever see at GDC or similar events and its great to shake hands again, have a coffee or a meal or a drink and chat to people who do what I do.

My hearing in large groups of people is *so bad* combined with what I suspect is a very mild case of face-blindness, that I worry that I spend a lot of time apologizing to people I don’t recognize combined with a lot of intense tom-cruise style staring at people as they talk (mostly as I’m lip-reading). I suspect some people think I am much stranger/arrogant/forgetful/grumpy than I actually am, because they only know me from loud parties at industry events…

GDC is HUGE. There are literally *whole buildings* full of talks, events, people and booths that I didn’t even know existed until today, and they are packed to the rafters with *other game developers*, which just freaks me out. We are not a bunch of nerds typing and being ignored any more, there is clearly a LOT of money in games, And some companies are obviously growing like mad, had a big booth which more or less screamed “PLEASE WORK FOR US” in an attempt to match headcount to ambition and revenue. Crazy times.

On the flipside, no way can the industry support so many indie devs with prices so low and sales so all-consuming. I’m curious to know what percentage of attendees are burning through savings with no break-even point on the horizon. Terrifying.

And holy crap I’m tired. If you are the worlds biggest ‘glitch mob’ fan (whoever that is), hate me now, because I have tickets to the glitch mob thing, but I’m on a hotel bed typing instead. Sorry!