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

An update on balancing Democracy 4 for longer games

I’ve blogged about this a few times in the past, but basically I use a lot of staring at data and charts to evaluate how well balanced my game Democracy 4 is. Its a ludicrously complex game, and balancing it perfectly, so it plays like chess, is actually pretty much impossible (maybe something for deep mind to tackle next), but its always worthwhile chasing that goal as a more balanced game will mean more replayability, and more player satisfaction, so here we go again :D

The last time I collected stats on the games late game balance was in January and some of the headline numbers are here:

Its pretty clear that there is a problem in that everything gets solved as things go on, and things are too easy in the late game (3 terms on…) so lets look at the data for the current shipped version:

A pretty trivial improvement to be honest. Sure, popularity in term 3 is a BIT harder, but health and education are still pretty much solved problems, and crime is still relatively under control. Unemployment is *not* solved, but this doesn’t seem to be holding people back in either economic or popularity terms :(. Stronger, or more creative measures are called for… But first lets compare the other stats. Old:

and new:

Again, not much change to talk about here. In fact equality has got better! Lets look at the voting stats. Old:


‘Winning’ is an internal hidden measure I use that scales some difficulty-related measures, so the increase there is a *good sign* and shows that some internal hidden difficulty-adjusting systems are working more strongly now./ This seems to have resulted in a bit of a drop in votes in later terms, which is a good thing. Winning with 72% of the votes is still not ‘fun’ but its more fun than winning with 75%. Still… I am being too meek about this.

One statistic of interest is complacency. Its modeled in game based on the happiness of each voter group. If they are massively happy, then complacency creeps in. They take the policy decisions you made for them for granted, and start to expect more. The trouble is, a canny player can keep all the voter groups happy… but not too happy, resulting in an electorate that keep voting for you, because they prefer you to the opposition, without any complacency having an impact…

In the real world, there is definitely a phenomena where people get just ‘sick of’ politicians and political parties. Eventually, the long list of dumb things a specific politician has said, or crisis that happened on their watch, becomes so long that the electorate becomes tired of them, and starts to want change. Here is some data from UK elections:

What I find interesting is that we don’t have many cases where a party wins one term, then gets kicked out. Its almost like once you win an election, the next win is pretty guaranteed, and then it gets a bit harder from then on. The 92 conservative win was pretty narrow, for example.

Obviously there are ‘events’ which influence each election outcome, but it does look like British politics is basically a sine wave, oscillating between center left and center right governments fairly regularly. The US picture is fairly similar:

Basically a regular swing from red to blue and back again, with actually pretty small swings. It really does feel that there is this big block of ‘swing voters’ who are very susceptible to a ‘I am tired of this team, lets back the other team’ mentality.

I guess this could be coded into the game by a steady increase in complacency of the ‘everyone’ group, but that feels a bit hacky. I also think that doing so would really just be papering over the problem, which is more simulation-model based, rather than political. In other words: The player keeps winning, not because the voters are not sufficiently cynical, but because things are actually going really well for them.

In the real world, this is not the case. The US/Germany/UK/Italy have not all collectively solved healthcare, or solved education, or eliminated crime. What has happened is that either the goalposts have moved, or the causes of the problems have mutated, but they are definitely still there.

For example: Mental Health. This is a much bigger deal in 2020 than in 1940, but are we pretending that there were not mental health issues in 1940? of course! but other problems were so bad, we didn’t pay much attention. Gender dysmorphia is not a new phenomena, nor is anorexia, nor is depression, or related conditions, but there is a much stronger focus on these issues now, probably *because* so many other health issues have been improved upon.

The game frankly does not model this. We model education just as badly. Its a 0->1 scale, that never changes, and if you improve education to 1.0, you are done! but the real world is different. The world has become more complex. The understanding of modern economics, modern electronics, modern physics involves a lot more stuff now than in 1950. Go back to when I was at university, and economics was simply macro/micro. Then along comes behavioral economics and we all have to go back to school.

Medicine is another area where the goalposts are in constant motion. As our lifespan increases, and technology advances, the demands on healthcare race upwards too. People who in 1950 would already have died, are now living relatively healthy independent lives….but at a great cost in terms of pharmaceuticals and technology.

I really need to improve my modeling here. Right now, the game *does* have some of this, because for example, technology does boost healthcare demand (by up to 22%), but maybe this needs to be on a curve, and more pronounced. Lifespan also boosts demand, but again, not by much. Maybe this needs looking at, and a review of other similar effects. The only design dilemma is how to represent this. Currently the entire game is coded around a system where voters look at the current state of affairs, and judge it against an arbitrary value like this:

“Healthcare is at 60% so I am 60% happy. When it was 62%, I was 62% happy”

Whereas in reality people probably think:

“Healthcare has fallen 2%. Things are getting worse. I’m voting for the opposition, they might be better?”

I REALLY do not want to change any core mechanics of the game, especially now we are no longer in early access, but I am continuing to think of ways in which to accommodate this phenomena into the way the game already works…

side note: I use WordPress (An absolute trainwreck piece of software btw), and as of the last update, the font it shows in post editing mode is totally different to the one the actual blog uses, with seemingly no way to change or fix this. presumably this is just some stupid new bug introduced by a pointless update I never asked for. Is it too much to ask for software developers at big megacorps to give a damn about quality? The almost weekly complete redesigns of their UI apparently do not trash their users productivity enough, so introducing dumb-ass bugs like this has apparently now become a priority. Absolutely useless…

3 thoughts on An update on balancing Democracy 4 for longer games

  1. I’d like to say that in some countries, parties do keep winning. The Liberal Democrats in Japan have never lost an election. And the Congress In India were in power for 54 years (out of 71, 10.5/17= ~62%). Similarly, in south korea, the national conservative/fascist/right-wing big tent “National Association” Party and its successors won elections almost entirely from 1948 till 1987, when they were defeated by the precursor of today’s “Democratic Party”, which was also called the “Democratic Party” (and now they have come to dominate SK’s politics).


    In the US as well, the Republican Party has won the majority of elections (18/30) in the past 162 years.

    The Conservative Party in the UK has also won a plurality of elections since its founding.

    9/18 in the Parliament of Great Britain as the Tories.
    23/47 in the Parliament of United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland/Northern Ireland.
    (Total wins: 32/65 = 49.23%) in the past 315 years.



    I don’t want to be exhaustive, but merely point out with sufficient examples that the incumbency effect is real and very powerful and hard to dislodge. This, as I mentioned earlier, does not mean that you should abandon balancing the game (I would never suggest this), merely, I would find it humourous as with what Apple had to do, to make their itunes App seem more realistic, they had to make it pseudorandom instead of purely random.

    Similarly, you would have to make your game pseudorealistic to make it seem realistic (outside of any current such measures taken, of course).


  2. It sounds like Democracy 5 could use a meta world model that tracks technology, climate change and other aspects of the world that are becoming more complex.
    Checked out how they did the world modelling in Limits to growth back in the 70s.
    For instance the UK’s resources/corporations/knowledge that powered our industrial revolution and took us through the petroleum age are waning and cannot take us into a renewable age.
    And our early progress in computing and information technology has been overtaken by other countries.
    Then if these factors/systems underpin your models so teaching would be relevant to how competitive UK students are trained in new fields.
    It’s kind of like you would be meta modelling growing changing complexity and entropy and how they impact our day to day politics/democracy.

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