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

Politicos > Gamers (for sales).

According to a recent perusal of my ad stats, it seems that I get a better return on investment advertising Democracy 2 on politics commentary sites than I do on news sites. I get as many site visits from both, but the people coming from the news sites are more likely to buy.

I can’t pretend to be massively shocked. Hardcore gamers tend to be a bit more demanding of games visuals, many of them refusing to even consider playing a non 3D game. A lot of gamers also have a ‘shopping list’ of features that MUST be in every game if they are to buy it. They demand multiplayer, co-op, extensive mods, variable resolutions, a persistent world, HDR lighting, several hours of music, etc etc.

People who don’t generally play games tend to be more impressed just by how easy it is to play, and how much fun it is. They don’t automatically compare a game to it’s rivals, as they haven’t played them. Very few people who bought the wii as their only console ever bitch about its low-poly models. They have no means of comparison, and don’t care.

Perhaps this explains the whole casual-games boom? These gamers don’t know any different. They don’t demand multiplayer or 3D, because they don’t know what they are. They just want fun. Happily, they also don’t know about pirate websites (or are too sensible to risk using them). Anyway you look at it, these people are a desirable group to sell my games to. Thats’ something I decided today :D

The portal option

There is a big difference of opinion in the indie game developer community regarding whether or not to sell direct or work with portals. For new developers with no web presence doing casual games, its an easy choice (use portals). For devs doing hardcore games that are not portal friendly (big RPGs, FPS games, hardcore shooters) the choice is easy too (sell direct). For the people like me who have both options available, and do games that are part hardcor, part casual, it’s more of a dilemma.

On the one hand, it’s mad not to use them. Some portals (like bigfishgames) have a HUGE audience, and can put your game in front of tons of eyeballs. They can generate serious income for you, and they do marketing, promotion and some limited customer support. Probably more people bought Kudos from a portal than from me.

On the other hand, the portals customers remain theirs. I don’t get their email address, or any custom from them. A portal sale boosts the profile of the portal, more than me, and that’s effectively helping my competitors to grow. Also they take a BIG chunk of the money. It *might* still be a good deal though. There are two further things that need to be calculated though:

1) Are people buying the game from the portal rather than me, who would have bought direct from me otherwise? If so, I stupidly gave up a chunk of my sales to someone for no good reason.

2) Will the portal undercut me? If a portal has no cap on the sale price of the game, then they can churn it out for $5.99, making my prices seem artificially high. I’m effectively forced to play ‘match the lowest price’ with all the portals I do deals with. I can’t make a living selling games for $5.99. These aren’t throwawy bejewelled re-skins, my games take massive effort to make.

So what will I do with Kudos 2? No idea. I am genuinely in a dilemma. It all comes down to hard negotiation over contract terms and minimum prices. I can see portals refusing to agree to anything that prevents them bundling my games for a pittance alongside some diner dash clones. If they really stick with that, then I’ll just sell the game direct. I guess I’m lucky, I don’t *need* the portals anywhere near as much as most indie devs, all thanks to people like you, who found my website, and buy my games from me.

Thanks guys and girls!

Yes, That was me on ‘the today program’

If you aren’t from the UK, or are not over 30 you might not know what the today program is. It’s the early morning weekday news program on BBC radio 4. It has a lot of listeners, but it’s impact is way bigger than that, because it’s the #1 place that politicians get grilled by journalists, and news stories are often broken by it.

Famously, it’s also used by the captains of british nuclear submarines to detect nuclear war. A sub under radio silence listens for the today program each morning. If it doesn’t hear the program for several days running it assumes the UK has been destroyed.

No I’m not kidding.

Anyway… this morning they were discussing music piracy, but seemed incapable of calling a spade a spade, and kept calling it ‘file-sharing’ instead, which anti-copyright kids think makes it sound cuddly and harmless. So I emailed them, and they read out my email on the air. bwahahahahah. here it is:

I see you have swallowed the anti-copyright crap wholesale. It’s not
‘file-sharing’ its theft, or piracy. Are you now going to call shoplifting
‘food-sharing’? is car theft ‘car-sharing’?
Stop dancing around the issue. File-sharing is theft and the people doing it
should be prosecuted.

Made me feel better :D

Snow and websites

I tweaked the code for the snow effect in Kuos 2 today.  I always was unhappy with it, and wanted it to be better in the new game. The snow used to ‘settle’ a bit in K1, but that effect was always a bit poor. In the new game it looks better, plus I also coded a system that lets me adjust the colors of all sorts of interface bits depending on stuff like whether its snowing which makes the game look much more interesting.

As part of doing all this, I reinstalled Deep Space Nine: The Fallen, a game which I remember had awesome snow effects. It’s an old game, but it’s still quite funny to replay it and see just how poor those effects were. Despite using the unreal engine, their snow looks way worse than mine :D.

I also started thinking about the kudos 2 website today. I want a much better website than my earlier games, but I’m not sure I can justify paying a proper pro web designer to do it, and no pre-made templates seem to fit it at all. I knocked up a test page today, but it took me ages, and looks crap as I have zero web design skills. If anyone can recommend a talented and not uber-expensive web designer, just let me know.

Website fiddling

I’ve been doing some housekeeping on my website this morning. Nothing too thrilling, just redoing the page for StarshipTycoon so it matched the same style as the other pages I recently tidied up. over the years, the site has come to look a bit of a mess. I’m only really happy with the Democracy 1 & 2 and KRL websites tbh.

I found a lot of now dead links to older phpbb forum installs, so they are tidied up now, and thus my server error log is less spammy. In other news, the Mac version of D2 should be ready VERY soon, and Democracy 2 is also now on sales through the new Stardock Impulse system.

I have vague plans to a do a bit of fiddling to Starship Tycoon 2 to improve some of the shoddier bits today and tommorow. It’s something I can do thats relaxing and not too like real work. It’s a really old game, and part of me is seriously considering dropping it to just $5.