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

Democracy 4 Leaves Early Access tomorrow! (a look back…)

So… on 13th January 2021 at 10am GMT, barring critical illness on my part or a meteor hitting the earth, my political strategy game ‘Democracy 4’ will be released from Early Access into the arms of the wider gaming world! Its as good a time as any to reflect on the games history and development.

Firstly…obviously this is not the first in the series of Democracy games. Imaginatively, I named the first one simply ‘Democracy’, and according to wikipedia it came out in 2005. It was GameTunnel’s 2005 sim game of year! go me! The game was the same basic structure as it is now, but with a horrendously worse UI and much, much lower budget, with me basically doing everything. Feast your eyes on this screenshot:

Democracy 1. Yikes

Like Democracy 2 and 3, it had the voter groups as a big chunk in the middle, but I had not realised all those sim values at the top could be placed in with the policies. Also… the bottom of the screen is kind of a disaster of poor UI decisions and incredibly rubbish stock icons. Still… the basic gameplay mechanics were pretty much all there, and I definitely sold quite a few copies. There were even retail versions in some countries as I recall.

Fast forward to the futuristic sci-fi future of 2007 and we released the much more polished Democracy 2, which we still have a website for, complete with amazingly improved screenshots and UI! This time there was an actual proper paid artist with a proper budget, and it starts to look a bit more professional. This version of the game, unsurprisingly sold much better. Feast on this improved UI!

Democracy 2. meh

We still have all the voter groups in the middle, but I worked out I could interleave the sim value icons with situations and policies, and stick all the menu-stuff in one consistent place at the top (although weirdly I still have your popularity under the voter groups). This game was definitely a relative success, although thats only in 2007 terms. Steam greenlight didn’t happen until 2013, it was 2005 that steam started very very very slowly adding 3rd party games. Online games sales were trivially small by modern terms.

I took a break from indie games at some point around here because I worked at Elixir and then Lionhead, but eventually, after having surprising success with Gratuitous Space Battles, I eventually decided to return to making political strategy games with Democracy 3 in 2013. And that when the game really took off and went bananas, especially on steam, where so far its now sold 780,000 units. There was also humble bundles, and retail sales, and ports to IOS, and a total of 4 expansion packs (social engineering, extremism, clones & drones and electioneering). This game had a proper marketing and development budget and looks like this:

Democracy 3: woo!

Hurrah! We now have a UI thats pretty close to the latest version, although voter groups are still in the middle, political capital is top left, and all of the icons and the icon group zones are the same size. This proved to be quite a limitation for modders, and also made it harder to find stuff (there was no text based search capability either).

Democracy 3 did REALLY WELL, and is my top selling game ever, combining with its DLC it beats even Gratuitous Space Battles and Production Line. Its the game that most people know me for, and got me invites to give talks at places like GDC. It also paid for me to develop a love of fast electric cars, which was nice.

There was then a LONG GAP, where I made other games, most noticeably Production Line, and I also became a games publisher, publishing redshirt, political animals, big pharma and shadowhand. Eventually I turned my attention back to the Democracy series to make a better, ultimate amazeballs version of the game, which is Democracy 4, and is being released tomorrow. Yay! Here is a relevant screenshot:

Democracy 4. Woohoo!

This is WAY better. The important icons are larger (configurable), everything is vector based, so looks crisp regardless of screen res. The voter groups are on the side, which makes them a sortable list, and the icons can all resize smoothly in different game modes. We also now have dark mode and palette support, unicode text support built in, and a ton of other design changes.

Some people are very cynical about game sequels, suggesting its all a cash grab etc, but I defy you to look at these 4 screenshots and think 4 is not an improvement on 1. It took 3 sequels to get there, but any coder or designer will tell you that they can make a MUCH improved version of the game they just finished if they get the chance to do it again.

Democracy 4 is released tomorrow, but its not the end of it. I am determined to improve the game balance, and have some more ideas of stuff to add. I am also obsessed with making mod support easier, and steam workshop support in this version is dramatically better than before. Sales in Early Access have been very good, but its hard to know how to compare it because Democracy 3 never had an early access release, and the entire concept did not exist for earlier versions of the game.

I suspect Democracy 4 will stay relevant for quite a long time. Politics is an evergreen topic, and I’m pleased with the fact that its UI is very adaptable to bigger monitors, and also supports unicode so we have decent language support in Japanese, Russian South Korean etc. This should ensure the game finds a decent sized audience over time.

Personally… I have found that this game leaves Early Access at a time where I really need to force myself to take some time off. For me that just means not working (at all!) on weekends, and maybe building up to being able to step away from work one day during the week too. Because I am a workaholic, I already have another company I run alongside this, which builds solar farms, so I am unlikely to not be busy. And I should play the guitar more too…

A big thanks to everyone who has supported the Democracy games over the years, I really do appreciate it.


6 thoughts on Democracy 4 Leaves Early Access tomorrow! (a look back…)

  1. Congrats on the release!

    Regarding Spanish National Obsessions in the trailer: two of them are about food, which is very accurate.

    (Your game deserves a better trailer though)

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