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

Interview with Tim Wicksteed (Developer of Big Pharma)

For those who didn’t know, Big Pharma is Developed by Twice Circled, and published by us at positech. About two weeks before the game was launched on steam, we recorded a short interview with Tim about the game, and his influences and being an indie dev. Here it is, in all its high-def GLORY. And don’t forget to go buy the game at

Big Pharma is selling really well, as I hoped it would. It definitely scratches that tycoon/management/strategy itch and makes me think of Rollercoaster Tycoon and similar games. I suspect its going to be pretty popular on youtube once a few big name lets-players notice it :D.

Big Pharma Released!

So its that day! The lab management/strategy game Big Pharma, developed by Twice Circled and published by Positech Games is officially released. woohoo! Its now playable in English, German and French on Windows/OSX and Linux. Plus you can now grab it from Steam as well as the Humble Store as well as GoG or direct from us. Hurrah!

Games take a long time to make, and a lot of work, blood, sweat, tears, and debugging. The first time the phrase ‘Big Pharma’ was used between us was on 21st February 2014, and we were going back on forth on ideas and names before then, so its at least eighteen months in development. That may not sound long by the standards of Duke Nukem et al, but it is a long time to stay focused on one game as an indie. Hopefully its going to pay off :D


I’ve released a lot of games, I’ve been doing this for ages, and am in a lucky position that if a game doesn’t do well, I can shake it off, at least theoretically. However, emotionally, you always get wrapped up in anything you work on. Although this is Tims design & code, I also feel like I’ve nailed my name to it quite brightly and obviously. Publishing a game is a bit like getting up on stage in front of 10,000 or 100,000 people and shouting ‘I think this is awesome! whose with me?’, and then waiting to see who cheers. Kinda scary.

Its even more scary these days because most games sales figures are ‘more-or-less’ public on steamspy, and you can see how well a game is doing. Other stores are available, and there is a margin for error…but even so…


One of the scariest things about shipping a game as a publisher is that you have basically placed a bet of somewhere north of a hundred thousand dollars on someone you met 18 months ago…and then on release day, with no guarantee that it was a good bet, you have to double-down on that bet and spend MORE money letting people know about the game, with ads etc. The REALLY scary thing about being an independently owned publisher is that this isn’t shareholders money, its MINE. If I fuck up, I could not only look stupid, but have just lost a bucketful of money as well. This is something that I think British people take to heart more than Americans. In the USA failure is ‘a step on the ladder to success’. in the UK its just failure.

Thankfully Big Pharma is a fucking excellent game that I am myself totally addicted to. I suspect it will do just fine :D.


Official: PC gamers are fairly Liberal and fairly Socialist :D

I have DATA to prove it! For people new to my blog, this is because I’m the developer of Democracy 3, a political strategy game where you play the role of president/prime minister and do what you can to change the country for the better and also stay in power. Its a deep complex strategy game, and also an interesting social experiment because it makes people question their own beliefs, make tough decisions, and often learn to compromise.

One of the interesting aspects of the game is that people almost always play with their own beliefs and morals and attitudes, and are determined to prove that they are ‘right’. The game can be ‘won’ (insomuch as another term in office is considered winning) with any strategy, you can get re-elected as a socialist, a capitalist, a conservative / liberal / religious extremist…it all depends how carefully you play. The game has a built-in ‘political compass’ that plots your election victories so you can see where you were on the capitalist/socialist spectrum and the liberal/conservative spectrum when you win an election. It also shows you the same position for your steam friends (if you opt in to that).

This means that there are two big global ‘leaderboards’ (in the loosest sense) showing every players average position on both those spectra. And harvesting that data and sticking it into a graph gives an interesting picture of how players of Democracy 3 fit into the political compass. First the raw data:


its probably not much of a surprise to see a concentration¬† in the bottom left. Game players are probably on average younger than the average voter, and younger people tend to be both more left wing, and more liberal. it is kind of amazing how many people have tested the limits and somehow burst out of the range entirely on the right and the conservative scale. I can’t imagine what their countries were like on election night :D.

Fading the data so we can see a bit more into the detail of that big blob gives us this next image. it looks like people are more rigidly liberal than they are socialist with plenty of people shifting towards the middle ground on the left/right spectrum.


Blurring yet again gives us this… funny to see a feint diagonal line emerging there. I honestly have no idea where that is coming from.


(Obviously disclaimers apply. Some people may claim its easier to ‘win’ in the game with certain policies, people playing the GoG version have the compass disabled, its only working for people with steam who have not disabled the compass, and only for people who play through to an election victory.) So there you have it, 2015 PC gamer politics in a nutshell :D



School sign is here!

Oh crumbs, a picture of me smiling. Thats ruined my carefully constructed angry online persona. Pretend I just kicked someone and am laughing at their pain.


Thats the cheeky sign we will have stuck in the office of the school we are building in Cameroon. More details go here. basically Positech games is building a school in Africa because we are such wonderful people. Not a fan of weird pictures of cliff smiling? Hmm. heres a picture of me by my house instead.


Ha ha! Not really. My house has a different shaped roof. Plus thats where they film downton abbey, which weirdly is not filmed in my house.

Don’t worry, I’ll blog about games soon. Big Pharma is coming out soon. OH YES.


Indie game development risk management

I saw the merchant of Venice yesterday. Weirdly I sided hugely with Shylock. Granted his terms were onerous, but I had no sympathy for Antonio, who frankly sucked as a businessman, and should have read risk management for dummies. I suspect the play wasn’t intended as a treatise on maritime risk management strategy, but thats how my mind works. YMMV. Anyway… There is a proper point here about indie games.


People complain there are far too many indie games being released for the actual number of games bought, and I guess there kinda are. I think the bigger problem is that the results of shipping those games are less of a bell curve (in terms of return on investment, which is what people seem to expect…


…and more of a hit driven model like this:


Which means that the number of indie games that are ‘failing’ in terms of not returning a proper ROI (normal profit) and thus building self-sustaining businesses is really big. People assume that a lot of games will break even, but in actual fact, I suspect the vast majority lose money, a few ‘break even’ and a few are mega mega hits. There is some great writing on this topic here.

This is a problem because what it means is, we miss out on great games. Why? Because we should start with the assumption that peoples first few games suck. On average. Some people get lucky and their first game is awesome, but lets say your chances of having a smash-success game are roughly one in ten. Lets also assume that you can basically have only a few flops before you have to give up and get a job in a bank.

Now in a more even distribution of success, a lot of people will have a track record that goes something like this:

Flop, Almost-break even, Mild success!, Flop, break-even, Mild-success, Flop.

And you can just about eek out a living doing that. Eventually you might have a hit. With my own history it looked like this:

Star Miner (flop) Starlies Inc (Mild success) Rocky Racers (flop) Kombat Kars (flop) Kudos (Mild success) Democracy (hit!).

The trouble is, with the current hit-driven system its basically this:

Flop, Flop,Flop,Flop,Flop, *Get a proper job here*.

Because so many games are not hits, and production values are now driven so high, the risk associated with ‘hanging in there’ until you get your hit is very high. Lets say each indie game costs you a minimum of $150,000 to make, including your food & housing as you code away on it. To get that hit at game number 10 is going to cost you $1,500,000. Granted, the hit may then earn you $2,000,000, and you *win*, but who has $1,500,000 ready to gamble?

This is a classic economic problem. Its solved for farmers (with unpredictable harvests) by the futures market in commodities./ Some years the commodity traders lose, some they win, but they hedge their bets over multiple commodities over multiple farmers. The security for the farmer is higher. In Silicon valley, you have ‘accelerators’ where a VC will throw small amounts of money at ten developers with ten apps, hoping one hits it big. Peter Thiel; says never to invest in anything that can not potentially pay for the losses on every other investment you make. In the example above, they invest $1,500,000 and get $2,000,000, a very good ROI.


Basically this is indie fund. And the unofficial equivalents that have spawned elsewhere. I do it a bit myself. I fund Big Pharma, and spread my risk between BP and GSB2. I also am funding 2 unannounced games, so my risk is currently spread over 4 titles. The thing is, with just one investor (me) and four titles, there is still considerable risk. What is really needed is a lot of investors and a lot of titles. Basically kickstarter, but with actual proper investments. In some ways, I’m talking about a hedge fund. Is there a market for this? And is the ideal system one with wealthy individuals investing $100k each, or thousands of gamers/savers investing $100 each, acting as a sort of ‘greenlight-but-with-investment’ model? Is it regulatory hassle that has prevented people crowdsourcing investment? It already kinda happens in the UK with sites like funding circle. (Although thats business loans, not actual shareholder investment) Why not a game-specific version?