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

The success trap & the Newcomer bonus

Its a tough time out there in the world of indie gaming. I talk to a lot of devs ‘off the record’, whether we are just chatting, they are pitching a game to me, or they ask for advice… so I hear opinions from a lot of people and… its a tough time out there. 1,592 games have been added to steam this year apparently (and its only July). How on earth do you get any attention for your game? who on earth is going to buy it? how are you going to break even.

Now to be honest, I’m one of the doomsayers who will tell you that you won’t, and you will almost certainly lose money. Thats just the way things are. Only the top 20% or so will break even, only the top 5% are going to make a living. Maybe. There are a lot of poor games out there, and the globalization of attention means the distribution of attention/money to games gets more skewed all the time.

So you might think its fine for established devs, with money in the bank, and known IP. But actually those devs have a problem new developers do not have. lets arrogantly call it the success trap.


If you are working on your first game, or have a bunch of failed games behind you and little/no press attention / audience, in some ways you have a big advantage. In fact three advantages, a sort of ‘newcomer bonus’…

1) Nobody is bored of hearing about you. You are new, fresh and exciting. If you make an amazing game, you are an ‘overnight success’ and also ‘hot new talent’ and ‘the new face of…XXX’ and all these other media friendly things. We seem hard wired to get excited by ‘new’. If I make the same game, its less newsworthy. Seriously.

2) There is nothing to compare your game to. Its the ‘first’ (even if it isn’t) game from you. MY GOD YOU MUST BE TALENTED. Literally 100% of your games are hits! you are like Guns n Roses with their first album, or the first Highlander movie. Surely everything you make will always be this good how awesome. Also insert comment about minecraft here.

3) You can take risks and do new things and be adventurous with your game, because there is no opportunity cost.


This last one needs some explaining. Right now I am mulling over what to do when I finish tweaking Gratuitous Space Battles 2. I like working on it, I want to keep improving it, making it as good as possible. I may then do a completely new strategy/sim game (designed in my head, but not started yet). I also have 2 ominous looking camera tripods in the office now hinting at something even more ‘new’ I could work on instead.



I could make Democracy 4.

If Positech Games was actually a public, traded company, we would be making Democracy 4. We would *have* to, because shareholders would kill us otherwise. Its the *obvious* thing to do. It would sell, it would make money. We should do it. We should do it in *exactly* the same way that Valve should be making Half Life 3.

And yet…I’m trying to resist doing whats ‘easy’ and expected’ and thinking about doing radical things instead, but this takes effort, and is worrying, because there is an opportunity cost. In other words, if I do something weird and new, it has to do better than Democracy 4, or internally I’ll think I screwed up.

New devs don’t have that in the back of their mind. And thats a good thing. Be experimental while there is no downside.



Why owning and hosting your own blog is good (for everyone)

There was a time when blogging was new. I used to read this one guys blog practically every day. Sadly his blog and company is no more, but back then, when dinosaurs roamed, the done thing was to use blogger. Blogger got bought by google, and wordpress became popular, and over the years I ended up with this blog running on wordpress, hosted on my site. And here we all are.

And I’m glad we are here.

What I like about the fact that this blog is here, owned by me, and hosted on a server controlled by me, is freedom and independence. These are VERY important to me, and its surprising how little freedom of discussion we really have these days. I’m not talking about political censorship (of which, despite extremist rants to the contrary we have very little in the UK), but corporate censorship.

The background of this site, the font choice, the images, and the words I type are all MY choice. This is what I think, unedited, uncensored, not restricted by the opinions of facebook, twitter, blogspot/google, youtube or anyone else. This is more important than it sounds.

Recently my twitter page lost its custom background. Interesting, because this was a corporate decision by Twitter. I pay nothing to use twitter, so I have no say in this. If twitter decide to close my account, and cut me off from all my followers, there is *nothing* any of us can do about that. In a similar way, facebook could close my account (or yours), google could close my gmail account, youtube could close my youtube account, and so on.

When you look around at all the people you know, and the way you talk to them, communicate with them, and stay in touch with what you might call a ‘community’, its worth remembering that that list of ‘friends’ and ‘community’ exists almost entirely at the whim of a scarily small list of corporate entities. This is also true of relationships with customers as a business.

I have facebook owned facebook pages. Valve owned game community pages. Google owned Youtube channels. The only real direct connection I have with customers is my own forums (hosted by me) and this blog (hosted by me).

Direct sales as a software seller are your insurance policy. Direct relationships with customers are also an insurance policy. Yup, its slightly more hassle to run forums and host a blog than just use existing solutions. But its a good idea.



Gratuitous Space Battles 2 Updated to 1.38

A long list of fixes, tweaks and improvements this time for Gratuitous Space Battles 2. Here is the full list:

Version Release 1.38 July
1) Fixed bug when toggling between fleets in a custom map, where the player fleets icons would not re-load.
2) Fixed bug where ship components that spun are were not composites ignored applied custom textures.
3) Fixed bug where textures may display wrongly in some cases on the ship design screen.
4) Fixed bug where green ship running light did not appear.
5) F2HullMod 8 can now be colored correctly.
6) Zyrtari ship components now ordered correctly.
7) Fixed bug where the game could crash if you beat the first campaign mission when trying to autoload the next one.
8) Point defense beams now oscillate wildly around missiles traveling too fast for them to intercept.
9) Weapons that deliberately do zero damage (like decoys) no longer qualify as least damage done in the post-battle stats.
10) Contrails now correctly drawn even on complex multi-layer fighter & gun ship designs.
11) Ship module comparison window now shows extra data for shield penetration vs resistance.
12) Point Defense weapons now display tracking speed.
13) Missile modules now display missile speed.
14) Balance Change: Frigate/Destroyer Anti-fighter missile Range boosted from 800 to 900.
15) Balance Change: Frigate/Destroyer Anti-fighter missile Damage effectiveness changed to 100% vs Hull, 25% vs Shield.
16) Balance Change: Frigate/Destroyer Anti-fighter missile Firing interval reduced from 2900 to 1500.
17) Fixed text spillover on the messages screen.
18) Added new feature: messages in your inbox now contain a button to jump to the challenge if appropriate.
19) Added new window that shows effectiveness of point defense weapons vs missiles when you select the tracking attribute for one.

The ones in bold are the ones I think really matter. These are things that make the user experience of the game so much smoother. Making comparisons between modules and selecting the right tool for the job just got a lot easier. Since this patch uploaded I’ve been working on a fairly ambitious change to the way shields are drawn, and it looks like it just cannot be done, but its helped me find and fix some other minor graphical glitches as I do it, so hopefully its not time wasted. I may do a long technical blog post about what I was attempting and why it didn’t work at some point.

In the meantime you can grab the game from the link below:


In other news Tim is still beavering away on the code for Big Pharma, you can read about the upcoming patch for the game which includes patents and custom games over at his blog here.


Where are the food fantasy games?

Most games are about fulfilling fantasies. You want to kill people and destroy stuff? Of course you do, its called testosterone. Here! have a gun and a flamethrower and grenades, or even a space-cruiser with big scary laser guns. RAWWWRRRR! Want to be rich and powerful? Here, have a kingdom to rule and a vast business to run. Want to have sex with attractive people? Errr…well we cant quite manage that, but here! Look at this Elf maiden in suspiciously scanty armor/lingerie.

Want to eat an enormous amount of incredibly unhealthy food? Err….. Diner Dash? maybe? Err… I dunno, there is a game about fishing I think?

It seems unusual to me that EAT as a verb is not really catered to in the subconscious mind of the gamer. In a time where game designers use MRI scanners to identify what makes gamers come back for more, it seems a big part of our conscious/subconscious desires are being ignored. Sure, people want to kill/hunt and people want to be be the best/biggest/fastest, but where is the FEED ME urge being satisfied in games. I don’t mean desire in general. Desire for conquest, whether it be military, personal or sexual, is being addressed in multiple ways, in multiple games. Why are there not games that prey on our most immediate need, the need for food?


An advert with a busty elf in it will get more clicks than an advert without one, but surely an advert with a picture of donuts in also triggers the same sort of effect. Doubtless some game designers think a game where you stare at Lara Crofts buttocks all the time is a great way to appeal to people, but where is the game that has me staring at bacon sandwiches all the time? or listening to food sizzling.

I’ve been playing some ‘diner’ game on steam, and its ok, but it just scratches my time management/casual simulation game urge. The pop-ups that let me select a donut machine are just a simulation draw, they don’t really revel in the LOOK DONUTS side of things.  think its a missed opportunity.

Gratuitous Donut Battles. You know it makes sense.

Gratuitous Space Battles gets Custom Textures

*note, only the windows patch is live at the moment, linux & mac updates are in progress.

I just released version .136 of Gratuitous Space Battles 2. The changelog is this…

Version Release 1.36 July
1) Fixed potential random crash when first starting a battle.
2) Balance Change: An across-the-board 30% boost in the hit-points of all frigate modules.
3) Balance Change: Double the damage of frigate anti-fighter missiles from 9 to 18.
4) Balance Change: 50% boost for the damage from a frigate flak cannon from 5 to 7.5.
5) Balance Change: 50% Boost for the beam power (time it can stay on) for both frigate tractor beam variants.
6) Balance Change: Increased the tractor beam recharge rates for frigates by 25%.
7) Balance Change: Increased the thrust of all frigate engines by 25%.
8) Balance Change: Increased the shield pen of Heavy beam laser for frigates to 15 so it can now do damage to all frigate shields but plasmatic, and also damage light cruiser shields.
9) Balance Change: Increased heavy frigate plasma shield penetration from 19 to 23 so it is also a viable option to damage cruisers with heavy shields.
10) Fixed campaign bug where you could re-deploy already deployed ships.
11) New Feature: You can assign custom textures to any part of a ship, even modded textures, and include them within challenges, using new right-click option.
12) Holding down shift now allows for pixel perfect ship design movement using the arrow keys.

But the most exciting bit is the new ‘custom textures’ feature. Its so exciting I made a video about it. I might one day write a play about it, or compose an opera. For now, here is the video: