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

Building up to release day for Political Animals

Releasing a game is always fraught. If you are not a game developer, or are one yet to release your first game, your only experience of it is probably watching Tommy Refenes looking sad in indie game: the movie.


In reality, there is a combination of terror, worry, anxiety, excitement, fear, depression, euphoria and disbelief. As a publisher, its different, your two concerns are likely to be ‘will this lose me a fuckton of money?’ and ‘how does this affect my reputation?’. I have mitigated this a bit by firstly not spending a massive chunk of my companies money on any one game (more of it is invested in wind farms and solar parks than games), and also by constantly refreshing the page with Democracy 3’s sales figrues every day to try and trick my brain into disregarding any concerns about having a game that flops.

Obviously neither tactic actually works. I still hate to lose money, and I still hate releasing a game that does not do well. The good news is that I have some data that suggests that I am making ‘good’ bets. The biggest flop I have ever released has still made me a ROI of 6% and has made a profit. Not a Great big ‘buy a ferrari’ profit, more like a ‘buy a nice laptop’ profit, but nonetheless, if even on your worse days you still make money, that’s pretty cool.

The game I’m talking about, which releases in 48 hours, is Political Animals. It’s developed by these guys in the Philippines, and published by me. because I made Democracy 3, its a good fit for ‘my audience’. It’s also a political strategy game being released a week before the most high profile US election in decades. Good timing huh?


Political Animals is also the latest in a long line. I learned a bit about press with Democracy 3 and Gratuitous Space Battles, learned a bit about user testing with Gratuitous Tank Battles, learned a bit about youtube, streamers and blogging with Big Pharma, learned a bit more about PR with Democracy 3:Africa, and learned a LOT, a real LOT about advertising with further promotion of Democracy 3. In short, I have gathered a lot of experience about what should work, and what might work, and what does not work.

Of course, there are no guarantees, which is where the risk and anxiety comes in. Maybe people are sick of politics now? Maybe the game has bugs we are yet to find? Maybe we are releasing at the wrong time in the year? Perhaps it just does not resonate with the audience? Perhaps we spent too much money on localization and testing, and spent too much on shows? nobody will know until about midnight on Wednesday.

Yup, scary though it sounds, your first few hours on sale ARE a very good predictor of how the long 3+ year sales period of your indie game will do. There will literally be a point, roughly midnight on Wednesday, where I will sit back and either go ‘yay! it worked’ or ‘fuck it’. This is big time stress (more for the developers than me), but if you want to win the game, you have to play, and we play with live ammunition in the real world. Not that the falloff is a simple curve. here is the first week of sales of one of the games I released (note these are UNITS not revenue…very different):


and here is the much longer 18 month chart:


I have to admit, I love it. I love the idea of ‘calculated risk’. I am VERY happy to take an enormous risk if the calculations in my head say that it is worth it. I’ve invested in Ukranian Iron Mines (fail!), Companies that print dates on eggs (not bad!), Israeli share trading platforms (fail!), Short-selling bitcoin(fail!), robotics(Woohoo!) and even some leveraged stuff that accelerates the factor by which you win and lose. I like calculated risk, its exciting. it’s an adrenaline rush.

Its much more fun, and less terrifying when you don’t have a mortgage though.

Spare a thought for Ryan & his chums at squeaky wheel on Wednesday. Its a big day for them. And check out the game, it really is rather good indeed. If you are press and need a steam key email me, and there is a rather awesome press kit with details, descriptions, screenshots, logos and character art here.