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

Democracy 4 comes to consoles!

Hello party members!

It is with great pleasure that we announce that Democracy 4 will be coming to Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, and Xbox consoles on 5th June 2024. With the help of our partners at Auroch Digital, Democracy 4: Console Edition has been built the from the ground-up with controller play in-mind to bring that feeling of Democracy 4 that we all know and love to home consoles.

Democracy 4: Console Edition is available to pre-order and wishlist via the following links:

Nintendo Switch – Coming Soon

PlayStation –

Xbox –

In Democracy 4: Console Edition, you will:

Choose to lead one of the following countries: USA, UK, Japan, France, Canada, Australia, Spain, Germany, Italy, or South Korea

Select cabinet ministers that align with your vision for the future of the country

Introduce new laws or tweak existing ones to carry out your plans for change

Deal with random events that can either increase or decrease your favourability with the public

Lay out your manifesto as election time approaches and aim to deliver a campaign that will take you to victory!

Auroch Digital are no strangers to porting PC titles over to home consoles, as they have done with titles such as The Colonists, Megaquarium, and Ogre, as well as developing their own titles such as Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun, Mars Horizon, and Brewmaster: Beer Brewing Simulator.

Having the chance to bring Democracy 4 to home consoles was something which intrigued the series’ creator, Cliff Harris. Cliff says: “As the developer behind Democracy 4, I’m genuinely thrilled about its upcoming release on consoles through the work of Auroch Digital. It’s been a long journey focusing on the game’s development for PC, and seeing it expand to a wider audience on consoles feels incredibly rewarding. The prospect of reaching more players and allowing them to experience the intricacies of political simulation on different platforms is both exciting and gratifying.”

Porting Democracy 4 over to home consoles is something which excites Auroch Digital’s Studio Director, Tom Rawlings. Tom says: “Bringing the game Democracy 4 to console has been a personal mission of mine – not only it is a great strategy game that deserves to have more opportunity to be played, but it is on a topic of central importance to people too. So, I was really pleased when

Positech Games were open to working together to make this happen. The team have worked hard to make it possible, so do check the game out, run a country, and try not to get assassinated!”

Democracy 4: Console Edition is available to pre-order and wishlist on PlayStation and Xbox consoles now, with the Nintendo Switch version available to pre-order and wishlist in the near future. The game will be released on 5th June 2024.

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Is it harder to sell games on steam in 2023?

I had a chat today with a very knowledgeable fellow indie game dev. He asserts that it is way harder for a game dev to sell a game on steam in 2023 than it was in the past. My gut feeling was that he was wrong, but who needs guts when you have data and analysis? lets find out.

I dug around to find out what I could. There are various sites listing the number of games on steam, but the most interesting data I found was listing the games released on steam, but also breaking down the more recent years into games that have certain community features enabled, and games that did not. Steam requires a certain amount of sales and interest in a game before you can do things like have trading cards. I suspect this is a good proxy for what games are serious commercial releases as compared to student games, hobby games, and the sort of games that are made part-time on a low budget. The question I am interested in was whether or not there is more ‘genuine competition’ for full time indie game devs now. With this is mind, I think its far to ignore games that don’t meet the trading card threshold.

This required some stats mangling by me, because it took a while for steam to realize it needed to introduce this measure, so unless you fade-in the effect of the threshold sensibly, there would be a sudden peak and then dip. I did my best, and ended up with a chart that looks like this, for games released:

This goes from 2006 to 2023. I’m too useless on a laptop with office365 to get the horizontal axis right :D. This definitely shows a huge jump in the number of games, but this is clearly not the whole story. Steam launched just in English, with just valves own games. It took a while to add ANY new games, and in that time the number of users shot up. People might not remember but I recall how much everyone HATED steam initially. People really resented having to install it.

Over time, obviously steam has become huge, and more global. I dug out some stats that gave me the peak concurrent users for each year. Not perfect, but an interesting proxy for steam usage, and must be vaguely related to how many active users the platform had… Anyway, adding that to my chart allows me to then calculate the ratio of peak concurrent users to games released, which gave me a new chart:

I think this is more interesting. That peak is around 2012, and the low point to the right is 2017-2019. This data is far from perfect, because obviously people can continue to play games from previous years, and the accumulation of games is definitely a factor. However, I would argue that the tendency for people to buy games released a few years ago is also good news for developers, as it means your game will have a long tail and continue to generate revenue.

So a very rough hacky analysis suggests that peak-time to release a game on steam may have been 2012. It got a fair bit harder since then, but has been getting easier for the last few years. Obviously this is only a tiny bit of the picture though, as there is so much more to consider.

Steam sales changed a few years ago, due to laws regarding refunds. Because steam was forced to offer a refund in the event that a recently purchased game was suddenly cheaper, the whole concept of flash-sales and one-day spikes during steam sales became history. Gone are the days where you would have your game 90% off just for one day. That may have influenced how gamers value and buy games. I do wonder if the average price of ‘professional’ games has gone up since those days? Gamers like the refund policy, but it also made steam sales more muted, and more predictable, with less crazy discounting.

I do think its VASTLY easier to make games now. There is Unity and Unreal. There is also Twitch, Twitter and YouTube. Streaming is a huge promotional opportunity for game devs, Steam now has reviews, and video uploads, and trading cards and achievements. These have not been around for ever! Plus steam supports a ton of languages, payment providers and currencies. The available market for your PC indie game is now colossal. Big hits are now HUGE hits, because there are just so many more people available to see your game if it is good. I do not have concrete data for just how much money the first 100 indie games on steam made, but I’d wager its not much by modern standards.

I’m guessing Factorio made a LOT more than Rag Doll Kung Fu. Ditto Dyson Sphere Program, Prison Architect and RimWorld. It may seem insane that there was a time when just releasing a game on steam got you front page coverage for DAYS, but there actually were not that many people seeing that page! For one thing, not everyone had broadband, and certainly not uncapped broadband.

On balance, I think making a game in 2024 is hilariously easier than making a game in 2008, because of the tech, the price of tools, the ubiquity of tutorials and communities. When I started, I had to buy physical books about C++ and game engines. I followed the blogs of every indie game dev online, because there were really not that many of us.

The flip-side is that it is much harder to get noticed as a developer in 2024. I accept that. But this is just a change, not a deterioration. All that time you save not having to work out how to code a particle system in 2024 needs to be put into promoting your game to people. Its the same amount of hours for the same reward, you just have to work differently. Maybe. YMMV.

Some food for thought: 14.43% of Steam users are from the United States. There are more than 30 million Steam users in China. If you are making a puzzle-platform game or visual novel, and its only in English, then yes, you might struggle a bit. I find that ‘indie dev twitter’ (which I mostly ignore because its all identity politics), is overwhelmingly made up of US or UK game devs making a small unity game in English. They generalize massively from that experience, but I don’t think its the whole story.

Your corporate communication policy is bollocks

I’ve had the misfortune recently of having to deal with two gargantuan and completely terribly run clusterfucks of inefficiency recently here in moving my mothers TV network from one company to the other. I will not bore you with the details, but the process of quitting company A and enabling company B was, at a conservative estimation, 100x as difficult, and costly (to them) as it should be assuming a simple baseline of a competently run company.

At the same time, I am also running my little one man games business, AND overseeing the construction of a solar farm, which involves at least 5 different companies including mine. Having all this happen at once makes for an interesting comparison, and its even more interesting to do this while I’m also reading the Elon Musk biography, with lots of discussion of Twitter/SpaceX/Tesla etc.

Its no great revelation that big companies are often run badly. I think the situation has got worse, especially in the UK (or is that just the western world in general?) in recent years. We seem to have completely forgotten about free markets and competition, and the role of governments in ensuring that oligopolies and monopolies do not exploit their market position, and this has made things much much worse.

Having dealt directly with both google and facebook, I can tell you both companies are incredibly obtuse, bureaucratic disasters with absolutely no idea how to do anything any more. Its impossible to communicate with them, or get anything fixed. From the point of view of a customer (in this case for ads), both companies seem 100% computer-run, with no humans at all. At any level.

Running a company is about efficient communication. Companies that cannot communicate with their employees, or customers degenerate into inefficiency. The most obvious example is when something is fundamentally broken, but you, as the CEO of a company do not know about it. With my mothers TV, there was a simple mistake on their part. They had set a limit of phone call costs at which point the TV and phone would be disconnected. You could pay the costs to re-enable the account, but their website failed if you tried to pay in the first month, before the first bill. So there was an infinite loop on non payment, and non-connection.

In any sane organization, there would be actual humans who would respond, understand the problem, and fix it immediately. Instead it took 3 days and about 6 hours of my time, numerous furious phone calls, dozens of emails, a complaint to the government regulator, you name it. I was not a happy customer… But me being an extremely angry customer, and therefore the complete destruction of any potential goodwill is only 1% of the cost to the company. They now have to respond to, and deal with an official complaint with a government regulator. They have tried to call me to apologize 6 times, and left messages and sent emails. This has taken them time, effort, money. In theory the regulator could fine them, costing even more time, effort, money.

The fix is obvious, but unfashionable. You simply hire staff to deal with complaints. The obvious rebuttal is that this would cost money, but the cost of NOT dealing with a complaint will always be higher than the cost of dealing with one.

The compounding error for large organizations is that even when their staff do communicate with customers, they are not empowered to do anything. Nobody you ever speak to on a phone call to a large company has any discretion, authority or power to do anything. They have to fob you off with excuses or use tools like long wait times, annoying hold music and no ringback, and infuriating AI chatbots pretending to be typing… all to hide the fact that even if you get to talk to a human, they cant fix the problem.

My email address is cliff at positech dot co dot uk. I make no secret of it, and give it freely to people who ask. I don’t put ANY barriers between me and people who want to talk to me. Its my decision whether I reply, and some emails I do decide not to respond to, but the idea of making it hard for customers and potential customers to contact you, when you SELL things, is just insane. Amazingly, I am not overwhelmed by email, nor annoyed by it. Many, many times, I have got emails that have been VERY helpful, or profitable, that I may never have got if I tried to screen my contact with the general gaming public.

One of the best sizes for a company is one person. This doesn’t just mean ‘smaller than 2’, its an actual qualitative difference. There is something special about a company where every role is handled by the same person. My game designer and game programmer and engine programmer and QA lead are all me. That means we can have a 4 way meeting to evaluate the potential of a idea while I’m making coffee. We communicate between us at the speed of thought, and there are no egos. Sometimes the game designer gets their way, sometimes the QA dude. Its all me.

This is absolutely fundamental, and something very few people seem to really understand. Going from a one person team to a two-person team not only doesn’t make things much faster, it may actually make everything slower. Maybe much slower. Even if there are no egos and both people get along, and they never interrupt each other and never disagree, communication moved from the speed of thought to the speed of speech, or typing. Incredibly slow.

Communication between everyone working towards a common goal is absolutely vital. The idea that people in dept A cannot talk to people in dept B is lunacy. Strict unskippable hierarchies and org-charts are nuts. In so many companies, barriers to internal and external communication are put up by managers who want to be left alone. The impact on the company’s success is colossal, but individual managers in huge megacorps are not invested in the success of the business so rarely care.

It should, in theory be absolutely impossible for a single individual like me to commercially survive making and selling video games when huge companies like blizzard and epic exist. And yet here I am. I think a huge part of this is due to the huge huge gains in efficiency when a company is basically a single individual. It MIGHT be possible to replicate it with an extremely driven, loyal team of super-like-minded people led by someone who is super-inspiring, but thats amazingly rare. Maybe space/tesla are one example.

So whats the conclusion? Corporate communication is critical. Its almost impossible for it to work in large companies, unless you fight hard to ensure information flows freely. If you are thinking of growing your company think very hard if thats the right decision. And communication with customers is vital. You want to hear when there is a problem immediately, so its fixed immediately. Putting barriers between you and your customers is insane.

Kudos 2 is now on steam! omg.

So here is a bit of a random thing but… I just put a game on steam that I made a LONG time ago, and was never actually released on steam….drumroll… on steam.

Its called Kudos 2, so obviously its a sequel. Back in the early days of indie gaming, before steam was a thing, I was already making games. I’d already made a bunch before this one, namely Asteroid Miner (Star Miner), Starlines INC (Starship Tycoon), Rocky Racers, Kombat Kars and Kudos. Then eventually came Kudos 2. Kudos 2 was the first game that was a proper success for me. I remember when it was on all the casual game portals, like iwin and yahoo games etc, getting a check for $20,000 one month, which was insane for a ‘shareware’ game developer. These days thats 10minutes royalties for Rimworld :D.

Kudos 2 is a pretty interesting game. It was one of my actual good ideas. The sims was a great game, but it was mostly a game of urgent problem solving and time management. It was a life-simulation game, but it was only ONE way to do the idea of a life simulation game. Nothing is set in stone that lifesims have to have 3d worlds and an animated character. The way I saw it, a life sim was about decisions.

If you think about your life, its not really a time-management or arcade game that comes into mind, but a series of decisions made throughout your life that impact how things turn out. The decisions might be huge (who to marry) or minor (do I eat healthily tonight?). The point is, that life can be seen as merely a series of decisions.

Weirdly the concept for this game came from the movie Donnie Darko. A great movie, that I can never rewatch because it really freaked me out. This is before the term ‘triggered’ became a thing. For me, Donnie Darko is a film about the struggles of mental health. I wanted to make a game that took the struggles inside a person’s mind, and made them a strategy game.

Many years after releasing Kudos 1, a teacher emailed me to tell me she used the game in a school for students with autism to teach them how to maintain friendships and relationships. I thought this was amazing. It still didn’t occur to me that I may be autistic, and wouldn’t do for another 15+ years. Madness. I literally made a game where friendships are represented by progress bars and stats, and didn’t realize what that said about me :D

Anyway… I think its a cool game. Its very different, and its obviously something you can just play on a laptop. I have NOT updated the game at all, but it runs on my windows 10 and 11 PCs ok. The screen resolution might be a tad annoying, but its playable. I don’t expect the game to rush to the top of the bestseller lists, but some people who like life sims are going to really enjoy it.

Also, I’m really not going to go through all the process of getting steam keys for old customers etc. Its just a huge admin nightmare, because the game was sold through so many different services and sites, and I’d just be spending all day doing that. Its only $5.99 on steam, so I guess anyone who actually genuinely wants to play it again will happily pay that.

So there you go, another new game release from positech games haha. Maybe I’ll release my space shooty game this year as well. Anything to keep busy when I’m grinding my teeth about solar farm delays :D

A longer perspective on the unity pricing fiasco

So everyone in the games industry by now is aware that unity, the company that makes a very popular game engine, announced a new pricing scheme, whereby as well as charging you monthly for everyone who you wanted to employ to use their software, they also felt that you should pay them every time anyone, anywhere installed any software that had been made using their engine.


There is a lot of online outrage, and justifiably so, and to be honest, there is not nearly enough outrage enough. My perspective on this is different, because I’ve never used unity (I tried once and despised it), and have nothing at stake here. Every game I have made has had its engine coded by me, and I pay nobody anything for the privilege. I thought it might be worth blogging my view, because I think its a different one to everybody else. I’ve been thinking it over, and reckon the best way to articulate my thoughts is a series of separate points

Point #1: You probably don’t even need a commercial engine

A lot of people who read this will be indie game developers like me. A lot of you probably make 2D games. 2D games are great, they sell well, they can be very commercially successful, and there is little to no stigma making a 2D game. Some of the most popular games you can buy are 2D. 3D games are harder to make, from an engine POV, but if you don’t want to pay for a commercial engine, then there is a lot of mileage in 2D gaming. I’ve had a 25 year indie gaming career doing entirely 2D games, sold millions of copies, made millions of dollars. Production Line was isometric, but still just a bunch of sprites. None of the games I have shipped needed a commercial engine. Prison architect was a smash hit without needing a commercial engine. If you are wondering how successful you can be before needing to license an engine, the answer is: Hugely fucking rich and successful.

Point #2: If you need an engine, lots of free ones exist

Unity costs money, but many other engines do not. A good friend of mine paid $80 for a simple 2D game making program and has shipped 10 games with it, and made a living doing so. He is not the only one. There are more game engines than would possibly fit in a normal blog post, and no shortage of reviews from developers to guide you in making a choice. Free engines also have the bonus of coming with source code, so if you don’t like something, you can just change it.

Point #3: Lock-in is always a nightmare for consumers. Why are you surprised?

Every time a company talks about walled gardens, what they mean is they want to screw their customers. Starbucks will blatantly open a dozen unprofitable coffee shops in one town to force every competitor out of business, then shut the excess ones down and milk that profitable local coffee monopoly. Its a known business strategy, and its evil as fuck. Apple HATE the idea of shipping a USB connector with their phone (a supra-national government had to force them to do it), because they want to keep their customers locked into their ‘ecosystem’. The same was true of itunes, which they deliberately made crash, and buggy and slow on anything that wasn’t apple hardware. Its all about the ‘ecosystem’. Let me help you recontextualize this. When someone in a suit (or a black turtleneck) talks about their ‘ecosystem’, they actually mean a different word: Prison.

The ideal for these predatory businesses is to make it impossible for you to leave. Governments always have to intervene to prevent big business acting this way. Unity was VERY keen to force you to be reliant on them for everything. You buy your art assets in the UNITY store. You use the UNITY engine and the UNITY editor, and sell ad space using the UNITY ad system. Steam is similar. Steamworks is not a charitable gift. They want you to lock your achievements, your stats, your community, your interactions with your players all within steam. This way you will never leave. You can’t, they have you. Unity owns all your tech, steam owns your community, youtube owns your video channel. What do you own? Your office chair maybe? Expect to see Herman Miller asking for a share of your game revenue soon.

The actual walled garden apple execs enjoy thanks to us.

Point #4: Engine coding isn’t that hard

I knew we were heading for an apocalypse the minute we started seeing job adverts for ‘Unity programmer’. Thats not a language, it a proprietary product by a single, private company. If you really want to be 100% dependent on the whims of a private company for your future employability, go work there! Do not pretend that you can ‘exist independently within the ecosystem’. Unity LOVED the idea that people would stop being AI programmers or C++ programmers. Unity programmers have no place else to go..

..but actually, when you look at game engines, especially 2D ones for indie games, they are really *not that hard*. Its not 1990 any more. We are not having to worry about makes of mouse or video card. Directx makes things very simple for you. Its just a few hundred lines of code, at most, to have access to the graphics card, to be able to load in textures, play sounds, and respond to user input. This stuff is super-well-documented and TONS of sample code exists. Reading user input is really, really easy. Creating a sprite, loading a texture from a folder, and drawing it onscreen is actually pretty simple stuff. Particle systems and multithreading are NOT simple, but also not rocket science. Do not underestimate how much FREE stuff there is out there explaining how it all works…

Point #5: Software subscriptions were the line we shouldn’t have crossed

I remember back when adobe started trying to get people to subscribe to photoshop, thinking that this must be an April fools joke, or the rambling of a delusional coke-fueled imbecile who staggered into the board room. The idea that SOFTWARE was something that had to be rented instead of purchased was a joke to me.

Heres the thing: Microsoft are actually pretty fucking good at their job. Windows 11 will still play a game I made in 1998, without errors, or compatibility screwups or grumbling. If there ARE any issues, there are tons of compatibility options to make it work. Why mention this? Because its evidence that its pretty clear that you can write software that just keeps working, and working and working.

Software subscriptions are a joke. This is a way to force you to continually pay, without limit, for a package of software that should have been an affordable on-time purchase. Photoshop is an image editor, its not doing protein folding. Microsoft word is a word processor, thats it. This is stuff that we, as a technological society, kinda worked out how to do 20 years ago. The overwhelming majority of ‘new features’ added to Microsoft office in the last TWENTY years are useless, and go completely ignored by everyone. Photoshop was done, finished. So was Excel, and Word. But they wanted to find a way to make you keep paying…

I have no problem with unity, or any game-development engine/IDE saying ‘Hey guys! We just finished a BRAND NEW version of our popular and much loved engine. If you want to upgrade from your current version to this one, its $500!’. Thats a perfectly viable, perfectly understandable business. But I guess if you are TERRIBLE at running your business, stupidly think you need 8,000 staff at unity, blow a bunch of money on an ad-monetization company, buy a movie SFX company, then suddenly realize you are losing money like crazy, then you have no choice but to try and squeeze more money from existing customers on a regular basis. Don’t expect Unity’s CEO to understand game dev BTW. He is a pure-management type with a background at pepsi and Hagen Daz ice-cream, A golf company and sara-lee, the donuts people. He neither gives a fuck about, or understands the games industry.

Final point #6: Unity’s dysfunctional management and terrible business is their problem not yours.

Its pretty clear that the top management at unity do not code, do not make games, never have, never will, don’t care, and here is the very worst bit: are absolutely fucking clueless at running a business. Its laughable. My company is way, way more profitable than unity, and I manage that with just me. The important point is: THIS IS THEIR FAULT. Its not yours. People saying ‘to be fair, unity do lose money’ are implying that somehow game devs made them lose money. Nope. Game devs have been paying these people through-the-nose for years for an engine that is so bad that even unity could not make a game with it.

I really, really hope that this is a turning point and people tell unity to get stuffed. This is a company that cannot be trusted, should not be relied on, that you should not deal with. Now I know that they have ‘tech we wont explain’ to ‘track installs’ which no doubt phones home to unity, I am not even going to have any unity games installed on any hardware I own. This is a casino and F2P ad-tech company LARPing as a game dev tech firm. I do not trust them one bit. Asking for a subscription fee should have had them laughed out of the industry. This latest madness is just proof they will never change, only get way, way worse.