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


A long time ago, wee released a game on the ipad. Its hilarious that I cannot even remember whether in this case it was democracy 3 or gratuitous space battles (edit: it was D3). At least one of those is no longer available, because its 32bit, and some genius at apple thinks that the millions of apple customers should no longer be allowed to play 32 bit games, because somehow, thats suddenly a bad thing (it isn’t). Isn’t it great when platforms restrict consumer choice? Its bad enough on PC, but on apple… you have no other store choice. This is why all my computers are windows…


We had this theory back then, that if you can propel your game into the charts, its position in the charts would become self sustaining. It was a ‘fake it til you make it’ approach to marketing. It turns out, that back then, you absolutely could get any game you wanted into the charts (not #500, but #5, #10 etc) if you just spent enough money on adverts. So thats what we did. At one point I was spending $700 a day on ads, and earning $1,300 a day in sales. awesome. So we raised it. We hit $1,400 a day on ads and $1,638 in sales… Not so awesome, but maybe a road-bump. We had a hilarious day where we spent $2,300 on ads and earned $2,394 in income… hmmm. Then we had a few days where we lost money whilst spending $2,300 in ads.

And I panicked, and I stopped, and very rapidly the game dropped like a stone from the charts and all was forgotten. However…in the long run things did ok. Democracy 3 has made $80k profit(ish) on itunes (That includes all the DLC), which is pretty good. Thats after the porting cost (I didn’t do it myself) and all the ad deductions.

To be honest with you, its not a good port. The ipad has sod-all RAM, and Democracy 3 kinda needs a fair bit, and also its not mega optimized for rendering on super-low spec PCs. We could have totally re-engineered it, but that was outside the scope. if we do Democracy 4 on ipad, that would definitely be done better. (On newer ipads its probably fine, but the ipad 1 and 2…. not so smooth)

But anyway.. my point is that I think the inertia strategy *can* work, but its REALLY hard to get it right, because you have to fight INCREDIBLE human pressure to go ‘holy crap. HOW MUCH on ads?’ especially after release when you were really hoping to finally be earning money, not spending it. Most indies dont spend anything on actual paid promotion at launch, relying on the odd tweet or maybe a cool video (which nobody watches), so persuading them to try a crazy strategy like maybe actually LOSING money in the first month of release due to a massive ad spend is probably an incredibly hard sell, even to me (I’ve never gone that crazy).

But still at the back of my mind, I think its a winning strategy. Success *does* become self sustaining. I’ve heard a lot about PUBG, Fortnite and Getting Over it, because everyone is talking about them. Everyone is playing them because… everyone is playing them. Obviously they have to be good games too, thats a given but I am talking about the effects of a certain level of success becoming self-sustaining. Think about new movie releases, especially the big budget ones. Some of these will lose money, but none of the studios act like they will lose money during launch week. Its all billboards, billboards, TV ads* and Web banner ads pimping the latest smash hit! You only find out that the movie lost $10 million years later if its mentioned in some studio financial report. Fake it till you make it.

A lot of people thought steamspy was a great way to tell if a game made loads of money or not, but there is no insight into the development and marketing cost of those titles. Some games that made $1million in sales probably made $900k profit. Some probably lost $1million overall. FWIW, with my biggest selling game (Democracy 3), Marketing represented 6.7% of total profit, and 5.47% of total revenue. With Production Line, that percentage will be way higher (roughly 30% of profit), partly due to changes in the marketplace, partly due to PL still being in Early Access, so still having untapped ‘stored value’ and it not having a long tail yet.

My goal is to teach myself (and really believe it), that the percentage of your total revenue that goes on promotion and development is not the issue, this is just ‘cost of sales’. The goal, from a business POV is as high a profit as possible. if you have to spend $900k to bring in $1,100k, thats still way better than spending $0 and bringing in $100k. Its just much, MUCH scarier.

*ads on Tv are called Tv ads. Calling them ‘spots’ is an attempt by the ad industry to reduce the association with them selling you stuff. People are so easily played…

2 thoughts on Inertia. PUSH PUSH PUSH

  1. They pushed 32-Bit-Apps out of the App Store with iOS 11 last year because they released the first devices with chips which don’t contain 32-Bit-compatibility in the same month to save resources and battery. They didn’t do this to make your work harder but to make the platform better.

  2. Keep showing ads will force gamers to purchase game, i started play first online game after i start seeing repeated ads of travian on my site. I wanted to see what it is and created an account, then got addicted to it.

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