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

The impossible question: How many copies can you sell?

If you aren’t already aware, I’m the guy who made the Democracy series of games. They are my top selling games so far. Because they have done well, my natural timid brutishness makes me think I’ve ‘maxxed out’ their sales, but the occasional binge reading of Peter Thiel books or articles on silicon valley websites makes me wonder just what percentage of the market I have reached with that game.

A quick look at steamspy will tell you that there are currently this many owners of Democracy 3: ( I make no official comment as to their accuracy :D).

So lets assume  assume its vaguely right and 370,000 people have bought it. Lets also assume that given the various discounts over the years, on average people have paid 50% of the face price of $24.95, so that gives a total income (gross) of $4.6 million. Sweet. Assume roughly 70% of that for the developer is $3.2 million before taxes. Thats a big hit in indie game terms, but exactly HOW big is it? Lets look at a few other stats, with the same data.
Space engineers has the same price, but 1.2 million owners, theoretically thats around $10.4 million for the devs. Jesus. Even more crazy but how high can we go? And are the games in any way comparable?

Space Engineers supports 15 different languages, Democracy 3 supports a lot less, and not too well either. Is this something I should improve perhaps? On the other hand, it has no DLC, whereas there are 3 expansions for D3, so I’m not comparing apples with apples here. Plus, is the market for a deep political game like D3 the same as space engineers?
Well lets look at other politics games on steamspy:

The Political Machine 2012: 87,000 * $3.99. $347k max 170k gross, 0.03 x Democracy 3.

Tropico 4: 1,200,000 * 19.95.  24 million max, 12 million gross, 3x Democracy 3.

Tropico 5: 383,000 * 39.99. Thats $15 million max, 7.5 million gross.  2x Democracy 3.

CIV V. 7,000,000 * $30. Thats $210 million max, $105 million gross,  22x Democracy 3.372

The production cost of Democracy 3 vs all of those games is obviously way lower, but lets assume, for arguments sake, that the total potential market for Democracy 3 is one tenth that of Civ V, given that we can reach EVERYONE who might buy it. Thats $10 mill gross, or in other words roughly $4.2 million of developer revenue sat out there waiting. Hmmm…

Its VERY easy to live in a developer bubble where you assume that because you’ve written 100 blog posts about your game and read 20 reviews, seen 100 lets plays, that EVERYONE knows about the game. Get this for context… I was chatting to one of my closest buddies recently. He is my age, he plays games, but isn’t much of a geek. He didn’t know what twitter was or how it worked.


God knows how many bazillion dollars of free PR, and this guy had never heard of one of the largest more pervasive companies on the planet. Such people exist. More than you think. When you have conversations like that, it makes you realize just how trivial the number of people playing your game is. Lets assume steamspy is spot on (and ignore everyone who bought it off other sites), and say that 372,000 people own Democracy 3. Lets show them on the map:


There you go. That’s the entire population of Belize. Wohoo. There are a lot more people to sell my game to.
Right now, my facebook ad campaign for Democracy 3 tells me my target group contains 8,600,000 people, based on the countries, demographics and specific interests that I selected. That’s people who use facebook, which isn’t everyone. Assuming one tenth of those people *will* actually buy the game if I can get them to take a look at it, then thats an extra 488,000 copies to sell. In other words, I’m half way through selling Democracy 3.

Nuts isn’t it.


  • Some of these people may already have pirated the game.
  • Some of these people may have tried a demo or seen a video and not like the game
  • Some of them may only be prepared to, or able to pay a price below which it make no sense for me to sell (due to alienating higher price customers). The $0.99 buyers.

I’ve already hopefully screened out everyone else. They are all pc-owning strategy game loving English speaking desktop pc users in targeted countries, of the target age. Lets say that even given all of that, that in fact 10% is wildly optimistic and say just ONE per cent are actually interested… thats another 48,000 copies at an average of $12 a copy. That’s a Tesla model S with all the optional extras :D.


Gratuitous Space Battles Update 1.31

This is a good one…it introduces both custom ship battles / scenario designer, PLUS the option to turn off ship hull levels in the editor…which is cooler than you think… Here is the complete changelist:

Version Release 1.31 May
1) New custom battle feature, combined with scenario editor for custom challenges now added.
2) Game not longer checks for an achievement incorrectly if the player has not set up an online username.
3) Fixed lack of scrolling support on the mods browser.
4) Fixed crash bug when deleting installed mods.
5) Game no longer attempts to undo splitting a composite in the editor (which would crash…).
6) Fixed Graphical bug that drew large colored areas sometimes if limpets were launched but never drawn on screen.
7) Change to turret rendering to preserve detail colors.
8) Fixed crash bug in German Language version.
9) Removed that beeping sound nobody liked.
10) Added module data to design screen showing limpet weights and seek speeds.
11) Repair and refuel limpets now seek faster
12) Multi-point tractor beam now has less range and takes longer to recharge.
13) New option to disable Limpet GUI circles in battle.
14) Fixed bug when rotating a composite hull item then splitting or saving it.
15) You can now right-click a ship hull to hide it.

And here is a video with me explaining the best changes…

Beta release date announcement (Big Pharma)

Guest post by Tim Wicksteed (Twice Circled):

Yep, that’s right. Here it is:

4th June 2015

Just to be super clear: That is the date that anybody who has access to a PC and an internet connection will be able to go to the official Big Pharma website and buy a copy of the game.

We’re calling this a “preorder beta”. What that means is you are essentially preordering the full version of the game (since that’s what you’ll be getting eventually) but you’ll get instant access to the beta.

Big Pharma game beta release date announcement.

To mark the announcement, we’ve switched to a fancy new website which I hope you’ll agree makes the old one look a bit shabby in comparison (can you believe I have actually been paid to do web design in the past?). It’s also where you can find all the key facts, minimum hardware requirements and a little information about what to expect from the beta and beyond!

So head over there now! –

Extra little sub announcement. I’m planning to do my first ever Twitch stream on the day of beta release. Assuming I’m not inundated with bugs/complaints, I’ll try to keep the stream going all day. That way anybody who is on the fence can see the game in action and decide whether it’s right for them.

I’ll finish by saying thank you to everybody for being so patient (well some of you weren’t that patient but I like your enthusiasm – I’m look at you “I’m throwing my money at the screen” guy). I know I’ve pushed back the dates a couple of times but now you have one you can put in your calendar and wistfully count away the days to.

Soon pharmageddon will be upon us…


(Originally posted on the Twice Circled Blog – Positech Games is the publisher of Big Pharma)

Working on a battle-simulator / custom scenario thing

A fair number of people ask if its possible to have a mode where you set up both sides of a battle in Gratuitous Space Battles 2. Now, veteran players will know that such a mode already exists to an extent, because you can simply post a challenge fleet to yourself, but I agree that is not immediately obvious. It also means that you are stuck with the missions already in the game. (I’m steadily adding more…but even so…). Anyway…

I’ve agreed that both custom scenarios & a ‘deploy both sides’ mode is a good idea, so for the past two days I’ve been working on that. I hope to have a working, but unpolished version by tonight. The current model looks like this:


So this is launched from a new main-menu button, and you get to build a scenario from scratch, or load in a previously saved out one. You can customize everything that makes up a scenario, move planets around, add nebula clouds, change map sizes…it’s all there. Then, the two deploy buttons will let you deploy the player fleet, and then the AI fleet, and from there you can issue a challenge with this custom map, or just enjoy the fireworks.

This should make it into the next patch.

Adding stuff like this is great fun, because once a game is finished, shipped and stable, adding in another mode, or option, or feature is pretty negligible in terms of time compared with the insane effort of actually making the game engine from scratch. As a result I’m quite enjoying adding little features and options as people request them. Obviously it makes for a much better game, and a game people are happier to buy full price, and that all helps.  I’m also pretty keen to get my moneys-worth from the investment of time into the graphics engine, so adding extra features is one way to do that. There are plenty of things I could add, but the one thing everyone wants is a campaign mode.

Thats a BIG undertaking, given how complex I made the galactic conquest mode for GSB1. People would like that to go in again, and I think that might take me forever. Whats more likely is a new sort of campaign, with a series of (possibly branching) missions, with a chance to repair and refuel a fleet in-between. That would be a lot of work too, but not the miniature 4X that the first game’s campaign turned into.

I’m still considering options.


BTW if you are a youtuber who wants to do a lets-play of the game, please get in touch. And don’t bother trying to scam me, we all know how to check who people are :D

Gratuitous Space Battles 2 version 1.30 is GO!

Sooo…yet again we have an update to Gratuitous Space Battles 2. I wanted to get this one out the minute I realized I had found (and fixed!) a ‘disappearing designs’ bug at long last. This also does some balancing and adds in a new mission and two new modules. here are the highlights…
1) Two new modules added: Repair Limpets and Refuel Limpets to support fighters mid-battle.
2) Fighters and gunships now correctly distributed amongst carrier modules when more than one is present, so launch faster.
3) Added another new mission: The Gamorlian Expanse.
4) Shield Disruption effects and radiation damage now have mid-battle text-feedback.
5) Fix for ship-design deletion bug when flipping back and forth into the editor and back.

Soooo… as already demonstrated in this video, we have 2 new weapons now…the refuel & repair limpet launchers…



And another new mission, so we have now added four since release…


And there is a whole bunch of minor fixes, and balance tweaks. In earlier builds the ‘heavy shields’ were basically a no-brainer, and hard to beat, but now high shield-penetration weapons have their downsides, and shield disruptors have been beefed up as a more viable strategy. Plus some better in-battle feedback makes it clearer how effective radiation and shield disruption damage is…

Hope you like it! In the meantime, Tim has continued to blog about the awesomeness that is big pharma which you can see in the latest chunk of his whole-game playthrough…