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

Production Line Update 1.17. Not long till Early Access

Here is the latest dev blog video for Production Line:

I’m getting close to Early Access, with the only limitation being that we need a teaser trailer first, which is being done right now. I also have a new car model coming soon, and hope to have some improvements to the GUI (actual proper GUI< not rubbish cliffski coder art GUI :D). I might actually send out some press copies once we go into Early Access. its been pretty low-key PR wise so far, but I’ll have to start making a noise about it at some point :D

Here is a complete changelist:

1) [Feature] New manufacturing slots/research for sensors and servos, and new folder ‘advanced manufacturing’ on slot picker.
2) [GUI] Slot picker now supports folders.
3) [Feature] New upgrade for ‘manufacture lights’ – Directional lights, needs researching. Also Xenon & LED.
4) [Feature] 3x More music!
5) [GUI] Research screen now split into two tabs, horizontal scroll shows only when required.
6) [Feature] Individual slot upgrades can (except robots) be toggled on and off with a click.
7) [Bug] Loans no longer always zero!
8) [Feature] Support for mutually exclusive upgrades (LED/xenon lights are a new example, also sunroof types).
9) [Bug] Hourly interest for potential loans now shown correctly.
10) [Feature] The premium system and GUI for features has been changed completely to make more sense!
11) [Feature] Rarity of tech features is now shown by icons on the R&D screen.
12) [Feature] Alloy Wheels!
13) [Feature] AI now researches (sensibly) technology upgrades and makes them more common and less valuable.

You can grab the latest version by just reinstalling from the humble bundle link (order resender is here). The installer has got 50% bigger due to adding a bunch more proper final music to the game :D

When we go into Early Access I’m thinking $15.99 sounds like a reasonable price. Interested to hear your views on that. In the meantime its still $13:

Brands, reviews and the death of marketing

If like me, you have an interest in tech business and marketing in general, then the name of Scott Galloway is probably familiar to you. he is the guy who gave an excellent talk called the four horsemen and also another brilliant one about the death of the industrial advertising complex. The way he sees things (and he is pretty well informed), brands are essentially on the way out, taking advertising with them. the reason? user-reviews and review-aggregation by platforms such as amazon (and more relevantly to me: steam) means that the value of a brand is no longer what it was. Advertising to build a brand is essentially pointless in an age where you can bypass the PR spin and look at the real data about what customers think of your product.

I find thinking about this to be very interesting indeed.

Essentially you advertise for two reasons. 1) To inform the potential customer about your product and 2) To build up positive associations about your product. I would suggest that 2) is totally dead, but 1) remains viable. There are reasons why 2) can still work, if you are associated with external signalling, in other words your target market for the ad is actually not the customer.

That might sound weird, but its commonplace. Its a phenomena associated with luxury brands. You might occasionally see advertising for a luxury brand you cannot possibly afford, and wonder how the hell it can be targeted so badly. The first possibility is that they are building long term value by hoping that 1 in 20,000 viewers of that porsche ad will one day buy a porsche. that’s true, but they also get indirect value from the other 19,999 viewers of the ad, because they perpetuate the belief that a porsche is driven by winners. When someone buys a porsche, they get a relatively low performance expensive to run and unsafe, expensive to insure car (compared to a tesla :D), but what they are really buying is status, and a projection of jealousy/admiration onto others. This has real value.

Porsche aren’t really selling cars at all. neither are Rolls Royce or Rolex. they sell status and luxury. These things cannot easily be quantified in a user review, so the ‘brand’ still has value. What they are selling is the knowledge that everyone knows you can afford the expensive product. In a way, by buying a branded luxury product you are a time-share owner of a PR team that tells the world how successful you are. its outsourcing of bragging and status.

Thats perfectly reasonable in some ways, I sound snarky but I’m actually not. I have a stupidly flash car myself. Humans are humans, and success is something people like to have recognized. Most scientists *do* collect their nobel prize, most successful business people *do* buy a flash car, most athletes *do* put the medal on the mantelpiece.

When it comes to something like a video game, we can’t really sell luxury and status and bragging rights, although top-tier kick-starter rewards and ‘premium’ accounts do their best. I notice that buying ‘premium’ so I get the DLC for battlefield one puts a little ‘p’ next to my name. I don’t give a fuck, but that P is there because some people will. In this case, you are advertising WITHIN the game. The ‘premium’ feature is so you feel you have a higher status than the other players, but thats still within the ecosystem of already-paying customers. F2P does this really effectively only it includes non paying customers too.

For most game developers, making money from top tier kickstarter rewards and premium accounts isn’t really going to be your bread-and-butter, so is advertising still an option for us?

Absolutely, but you have to be aware of what you are doing. Essentially your advertising exists (and so do appearances at shows, youtubers etc) purely to announce to players that your game exists. You are essentially buying name-recognition, logo-recognition and shelf space. Logo recognition is a valuable thing. lets pause for a word from our sponsors…

…and were back.

Where Scott Galloway is absolutely right, is that for non luxury near-commodity goods, advertising that builds brands is now pointless. Do I buy a Sony TV next or a Samsung? or LG? I don’t give a fuck, and nor should you. I can look at the reviews on amazon/other stores and pick the top rated one. The products are similar enough that I really don’t care. As long as the TV is available, and listed on the store, and *has some decent reviews* it will get my money. In other words, its 100% about the quality of the product. he has interesting points about voice-ordering on alexa that relate to this topic too.

To some extent this is true on steam as well. if I search for indie strategy games, then as long as production line has top tier reviews, and is a quality product, I should do well. The only problem here is that there are a LOT of indie strategy games, and a LOT of them have high reviews. I am hoping to *not only* get some sales from people generally browsing steam, but also from people who actively search for my game by name. Not only that, but I want my name/logo to pop out to people as some game they have heard of, so my game gets clicked on, when other games do not.

Basically, you are either hoping for traffic ‘within the store’ by having a decent product, or you are hoping for additional traffic *to* the store because you have established yourself as a name. I’m trying to drive traffic *to* my game, and am prepared to spend some marketing $ to get people there. Five years ago, steam was sparse enough to make a living from ‘just being there’ but now…not so much. Now you have to drive some traffic that way.

Conclusion? Advertising is changing, a lot. but it might not be changing for you. as a game developer.


Production Line 1.16 is here at last!

Wow, this one took a while, and involved a lot of work, but 1.16 is now live. I screwed it up, so if you grabbed it in the first 12 hours or so, re-grab it, as I had a bug that made cars process about 1/10th the speed of normal… ooops. Naturally I did a video talking about the new stuff…so here it is:

I’m really pleased to have finally got a second body type in there (SUV). Actually *doing* this, rather than just talking about it and planning for it had unearthed a huge amount of under-the-hood nonsense that I needed to change, tweak and make more flexible, but the good news is that now the game has multiple body types, adding future ones (we plan on a compact car next) should be a lot quicker and less hassle.

As its a new version, we now have a new ‘priorities poll’, and you can see the priorities of players on my priorities database table on this page. Here is a summary so far:

Which is interesting, and probably depressing for artists and sound effects people, because it shows that for games in this genre, gamers just don’t care about the shiny stuff. What they want are cool systems, lots of options, lots of stuff to play with. And that suits me fine because I am a coder first and foremost, and one who loves complexity, so this is the ideal; answer for me. Because I am aware that this is only a poll of the pre-order hardcore, I *have* arranged for better music (some went in to 1.16) and upcoming GUI graphics revamp, so it wont get completely ignored :D

There will be likely NO VIDEO next weekend as its just before I go on holiday (yes I know…amazing right), but I hope to be back the weekend after to talk about what goes in this week. In other news, if you are a modern tech worker who isn’t getting stuff done you could do worse than read this book. I also found this film pretty funny. BTW Big Pharma is 75% off for a few hours more, and Political Animals is on sale this week on steam.

Medieval internet infrastructure woes

I’ve been stuck with the same web host for a billion years, and a home internet connection thats probably older than my parents (that last bit is probably true). Its time to upgrade the shit out of this.

Back in the dark days, I registered my awful company name ( and then went on a silly spree where I would register domain names for my games, like kudos, democracy, gratuitous blah blah… Those days are gone. I didn’t bother getting a new domain name for Production Line. Nobody cares these days, and why should they. Plus when you move server hosts, domain names are a PAIN. Even now, after my switch-over, I’m only 95% sure everything will work at the end of the month when the old server gets switched off…

The new server (again, a dedicated one, not a VPS), is very slightly more expensive than the old ones, but it hosts multiple sites, this blog, forums, and some backend stuff for the minor web integration of some of my games (high scores, upgrade checks, challenge-sharing etc). Under $250/month for all that seems a good deal to me. The best bit is that with a dedicated server you aren’t at the whim of anybody else, you can reboot it whenever you like, install whatever you like. its freedom. The host change means better tech support, and less worry, and for under $3k a year. For an established indie selling lots of games, its not a major expense by any stretch.

I wish things were so simple for my own home internet.

Thats on a GOOD day, and thats when its connected. The 7.54 down is not bad actually. I can stream TV (but not in HD I assume, my eyesights crap enough not to be 100% sure), the 0.57Mbps up is depressing. This means that uploading a 300MB game installer (like big pharma) can take ages. Assume 3 builds (3 platforms) and 3 destinations (humble, BMT, GoG), thats 9 x 300MB. It takes me about 2 days (I don’t leave it overnight). What a drag. There are games I don’t download during free weekends because it would actually take the whole free weekend to grab them. And this is with my new, spangly business ISP that has truly unlimited bandwidth. When I was paying £45/month I had a 110GB/Month cap.

I know right… its literally medieval.

Why is my internet so bad? We have FTTC (fiber to the cabinet) but the nearest cabinet is further than the exchange, so ADSL is actually faster (madness). Because I live in a field, BT (the monopoly on internet here) refuses to lay fiber to the village unless we pay (at least) £40,000. That is not going to happen.

Can you see the nearest fiber cabinet?…. me neither.

The only solution is what they call a ‘leased line’. This is effectively a dedicated piece of fiber from my office to wherever the best exchange to connect it to will be. This is expensive. This is very expensive. This is almost ‘send your kids to private school’ expensive. And the net result would be 20Mbps down, 20Mbps up.

If, when they do a survey, they can do it in under 3 months and with no additional install fee above the £600 already quoted, I’ll probably do it (BTW I’d be locked in for 3 years). On the one hand its insanely pricey. On the other, I’ve lived here 7 years and there has been NO change in internet speeds here. Also totally reliable, uncontended and symmetrical upload/download does sound appealing. 24/7/365 support also sounds good. As a business cost, its slightly more affordable due to being an expense against tax, and frankly, being able to stream on twitch, to upload HD 60FPS videos easily, and generally live in the modern age is something thats kind of non-optional for an indie game dev in 2017.

Of course the real story is the ripoff prices of BT openreach, effectively a private monopoly that charges a fortune to rent a piece of plastic cabling after its installed. I’m all for hefty install fees, but surely once the cable is in the ground, its in the fucking ground. What am I paying for here? defense against mole attacks? c’mon. We get water through pipes in the ground too, but I don’t need to sell a vital organ each month to rent the pipe.

Oh well…you have to speculate to accumulate. Now I need to save up for botox and moisteurizer as HD streams of me pimping my games will show off just how old and uncool I really am.