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

The sad (but fixable) state of gamer discourse…

To be honest, using a polite term like discourse to describe this is probably unfair, as the general level of communication online by pc gamers should more accurately be described as ‘sarcastic, aggressive, abusive unjustified screeching and yelling’. That feels more accurate.

I guess in-between major game launches I forget just how bad things are, but perhaps this is not the case and things are actually getting worse. I do know though, that now I am 52 years old, and having made over a dozen games, I am absolutely ready to give up on communicating online about games.

I have friends who are writers, and the difference between the discussion of novels and the discussion of games is like night and day. The discussion around writing seems to be more constructive, more reasonable, and approaches the tone of conversation you might have in a pub, or a restaurant, or when hanging out with friends. Some books are considered badly written, and described as ‘disappointing’ or even ‘boring’, but it rarely, if ever approaches the level of rabid antagonism that is associated with PC gaming.

To be clear, I am not just talking about my own interactions as a game developer. Reviews of my games are generally pretty good, and my sales are pretty good, and things are going fine. What I find depressing is how commonly you encounter people who are just professionally abusive, angry and aggressive. Believe it or not, you can actually click on steam reviewers and see other posts they have made about other games, and all too often you encounter these people who are frankly just professional assholes, about every game, and to everyone.

If 95% of your comments in a community (ha! the word community is so abused, when in gaming terms, its more often a rabble or a scrum) are negative, sarcastic or abusive, then really why the hell does that community need you as a member? I cannot imagine any business case for keeping the 1% of the most abusive, offensive members. It seems like a no-brainer to just take that 1% of steam ‘community’ members who have been warned or banned in the most forums and just close their accounts permanently. The only reason not to do so is probably that they spend some money.

This is the problem, sales income is associated with their accounts, but the destructive impact they have on the community as a whole is not being measured.

This is a major economic failure, and is a classic problem that economists refer to as an externality. (Cool fact: I actually studied at the London School Of Economics, unlike 99% of the abusive commenters telling me I am thick, stupid, clueless and don’t understand fuck-all about economics when they criticize my politics games…sigh…)

Externalities are major problems, and economists spend a lot of time trying to devise systems to solve them. A classic externality is pollution. If you have a paper mill, and the by-product of making paper is dumping thousands of gallons of pollution into a nearby stream… then this pollution can destroy the livelihood of a fishing business on the same river. This means economic activity is damaged, but unless the paper mill is fined, they have no economic incentive to act any other way. We see this globally with pollution, especially CO2 being a major problem. (Huge shoutout to the ‘special’ people who send me abuse for daring to represent climate change in a video game here…)

Abusive people in a gaming community cause an externality in two ways. Firstly, they drive away people who do not want to wade through trolling, abuse, fights, arguments and hatred, so that those people no longer contribute to the community, and thus reduce the economic value they get from it. (put another way, people just check out of the steam forums, considering them unusable, and thus find it easier to shift to rival stores like epic, as the lack of community is no big deal). Secondly, they drag other, normally quite civil people into abusive arguments, making the community more and more toxic, enraging the remaining posters until the ‘community’ becomes a place to be angry, providing no utility to anybody.

Social media is basically a big fat mistake, because it was designed around a broken mechanic: engagement. All social media seems to based on the checking of a single metric: how much time are people spending in the community. And how many posts or votes are there? This seems to be the only metric, whether this is because it enables more ads to be seen, or because there is a misguided view that this is all that matters.

The trouble is, deep down we are all pretty primitive animals. If we forget that, and tune our society purely towards engagement, then our society is going to resemble the Roman colosseums where gladiators were torn apart by lions before a cheering exuberant crowd. I suspect colosseum user-engagement metrics were excellent.

AT&T Switches Customers to More Expensive Plans Without Permission -  ExtremeTech

You might think this is hyperbole, but I urge you to consider it further. We already have numerous examples of people committing suicide due to abuse they received through social media. Squid game (a show I declined to watch) seems to prove that we have an appetite for watching horrific abuse as ‘entertainment’. Sure… squid game was just escapist drama right? but imagine if J K Rowling (a controversial figure in recent social media) were driven to suicide by social media. Do you really think there would not be hundreds, if not thousands of people cheering this on, and gloating on twitter? It is, at the same time, both true, and shocking to accept this to be our new reality. We are a mob rejoicing at the suffering of others.

We, as a society, MUST turn away from the mindless encouragement of ‘engagement at all costs’. Nothing makes people more curious than a car crash where people died. Just slowing down to enjoy viewing the carnage causes major traffic jams. This is our nature, and one that is clearly bad enough, without it being weaponized by social media in a competition to drive ever bigger profits for silicon valley companies.

It IS perfectly possible to improve the state of a community. Its pretty simple really. There is only one rule change needed. You just make it super clear that abusive posts, personal attacks, and trolling gets an immediate lifetime ban, without exceptions. You might think that’s crazy, but I’ve done it on my own forums for decades, and people still post there frequently. I’d say the level of discussion and debate is way, way, way better than reddit, facebook, the hellholes of youtube and twitter or anywhere else. Moderation is not evil, its not censorship, its just sensible. I’ve banned multiple users on steam from my steam forums for being abusive. The world did not end, it was not a slippery slope towards fascism after all.

Of course I know things will never change, nobody cares. Nobody has the slightest inclination to fix this problem. I’m in some private communities that are really nice, friendly places to be, and I’ve been in others where, due to a lack of any rules or moderation, people behave like they do on reddit or twitter and are abusive. I spend way less time there… In fact I spend no time now on facebook, and hardly any on twitter. I only use reddit for a handful of communities, and never read steam forums apart from my own games.

I feel that things have gotten so bad lately that when you read a friendly discussion where people are civil and thoughtful, it almost feels weird, or like a joke. When people are enthusiastic, helpful and appreciative, where they thank people for insightful posts, or for sharing their experiences… we can STILL do this, we can all be civil, friendly, understanding and appreciative. It just takes the tiniest bit of effort to do so.

So I offer you this challenge.

To make it clear, I want you to do this for OTHER developers. This is not self serving on my part.

Take the time today, it will be less time than it takes to play wordle… to find 3 games on your steam library that you enjoyed but did not review, and go leave a positive review for those games. Not a one-liner, but a paragraph or two, that is helpful, sincere and positive. YOU will feel better having done this. Think of it entirely as self-serving to boost your own mood.

Do it right now. I’m doing it too. (BTW have steam changed this? it seems there is no way to leave a review unless clicking the game prompts you, based on recent play time… seems…unhelpful?)

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.

What exactly is it that you do here?

I’m in the middle of making deals with two different sets of what we shall call ‘contractors’ here, although in both cases they would probably be offended at the term, because somehow people get very exercised at pretending they are not working for somebody when they are in fact, working for somebody… (you can tell they are, because that person pays them)

This process is absolutely infuriating to me, because what my ‘probably on the spectrum’ brain thinks should happen, and what actually happens is so completely and utterly different. Here is how I expect things to go when I need some work doing by a third party.

  • Cliff searches internet for lists of people who do X.
  • Cliff sees the prices each contractor quotes to do X
  • Cliff selects the best price/experience/talent combination for his needs and a contract is signed.

Thats not vaguely what happens, because what actually happens is more like this.

  • Cliff searches internet for lists of people who do X.
  • Cliff finds that each individual has a contact form, but no actual prices.
  • Cliff fills out contact forms and sends emails to people who randomly guesses are affordable, but has no real clue
  • Strange middleman Y who works for X, replies and suggests that cliff ‘hops on a call to discuss the job with Y, who I should repeat is not X, and is apparently somehow ‘front-running’ the whole deal making process.
  • After declining this social invitation, Y is now prone to asking cliff was his budget is, or what his expectations are, or what will happen to the work after its done and other such bullshit.
  • Cliff gives up and just doesn’t get the work done at all, in despair.

The whole thing just reminds me of office space:

A classic film, with a great scene where someone whose entire job description is that they serve as a pointless middleman between the customers and the workers, desperately tries to justify his existence and continued employment.

Fuck this.

If I go to a shop to buy some bread, it has a price on the product. I can buy it, or not buy it. Thats not to demean the bread, it could be a cheap sliced loaf, or an exotic sounding freshly baked warm artisanal loaf that costs 5x as much. Thats fine. I get that quality costs money.

What I don’t get, thank fuck, is some salesperson leaping in front of the bread and saying “Hi there, you seem to be interested in working with our range of yeast-based consumable experiences, what kind of budget do you have in mind? I can talk to our bakers and see if they can provide something that meets your expectations, but first let me talk a bit about what a great deal you will be getting if you choose to go for a sourdough option”.

I do not care if you sell bread, artwork, music, PR services, animation, full motion video, advertising, I really do not give a fuck. All I want is a price, and as few middle-men as possible.

I recently bought a pretty pricey car. I did it with one click on a website. I strongly suspect the only human involved in me getting delivery of the car will be the person who physically hands me a key to it when its in the UK. I did not need, nor did I pay for, a middle-man to explain to me what wheel options exist or comparing the different trims. This is all on the website.

Imagine that, a website where you describe the product or service is plain text, saving us all the futility of inserting some useless, waste-of-space middleman into the transaction.

BTW, some services (game dev related) I recently tried to get would cost $5-10,000. The middlemen responsible for ‘representing’ those service providers did not even reply to me. 10 seconds google will tell you that yup, cliffski can probably afford those services, and isn’t likely to fuck around, or fail to pay.

In this case, not only did the middle-men add no value, they actually destroyed it, and the gullible fools who hired them will never know about all the money they should have earned easily, but missed.

And here is the thing: some people think hiring an agent will make them MORE money. No. In my case, not only and I likely to pay WAY LESS for someone with an agent (because I know the real cost of their services is way lower, due to the agent needing to be paid), but its actually a net negative, because by wasting my time talking to a pointless intermediary, you have actually provided a WORSE service for me.

Plus I KNOW if I have to haggle with someone over pricing, that its because they are trying to size me up and squeeze more money out of me. Its the online equivalent of someone quoting more to do your plumbing because they notice your nice car. Its insulting, its rude, and aggravating, and it just means you are training your customers to be aggressive, confrontational, penny-pinching bastards. Is that how people want to do business?

Needless to say, I don’t have an agent. If someone wants to contact me, cliff AT positech dot co dot uk is my email address, Direct to me.

Common mistakes by indie game developers

Background: I’ve been a one-man indie studio for over 20 years, sold millions of games on steam, direct, and on mac and even some console stuff. I’ve arguably had 4 ‘hit games’ over that period (seven figure revenue). This is all just my opinion, but its based on long experience. I’ve been programming for 40 years.

Making an indie game is really hard, but making a financially successful one is way harder. Luckily, indie game development is not new, so there are a lot of old wise experienced devs like me whose mistakes you can learn from. Nobody ever listens to the old timers, but I commit this to the web anyway for the 1% who do. This is offered purely as a means of help, I’m not trying to sell anything to developers. So here is what you probably do wrong :D

Do not choose the wrong platform

Do not make a mobile game. No small indies make money from mobile games. Its entirely owned by the big mega-corps churning out bland F2P monstrosities. Your innovative and polished arty indie game will get zero visibility. The discoverability for games on mobile is awful. Unless your advertising budget is in seven figures, avoid mobile.

Some indies do seem to make reasonable money on consoles, especially switch, but be aware that there is a built in timer here… the new console will come out in X years and render your target platform out of date, also be aware there are publishing hurdles here, and QA hurdles, and that you are again reliant on the discoverability efforts of the platform holder.

PC is probably your best bet for now.

Do not choose a bad genre

So you fancy yourself as a talented 2d side-scrolling puzzle platform developer huh? Let me guess… this one is different? it has a cool mechanic nobody has seen before! its got a cool setting, its got a cool art style…you REALLY like puzzle platformers etc..

Unless you literally have a seven figure marketing budget, or….. actually no, I cannot think of any other circumstance that makes sense… Do not enter a genre that is super, super-crowded. Look up the genre on steam and check out new releases sorted by date. Are you absolutely sure that you are going to get visibility there?

Game Influence | Run Willy Run | BK Insight | Banana Kick

Do not make a game you will not love

There is conflict here with the previous tip, because if the only games you have ever played are puzzle platformers, you may be screwed, but c’est la vie. You can NOT make a success of a genre that you do not really absolutely love. I tried to make a tower defense game once and it (relatively) bombed. You cannot just ‘do a bit of research’ into a genre and understand what makes it tick, and what players want. If you really do want to make a game in a genre that you have not played before, then you better set aside six months minimum, and rack up a good 500-1,000 hours in the hit games in that genre.


You also need to read forum posts, blog posts and watch lets-plays of people in love with that genre. You have to eat breath and sleep that genre, and know what an audience is crying out for. You have to work out why the hits in the genre worked and the flops failed.

This is one reason why my own top genre (political strategy games) has very little competition. The venn diagram of indie game developers, and people who studied economics and politics as their degree must be really small. Sure, you can clone an existing game, but are you able to converse with players of that genre like one of them? I KNOW why we do not have women represented as a distinct social group in Democracy 4, and why we do not model individual states. I could give you a 10,000 word essay on each topic at the drop of a hat.

Know your genre. Know it really well. Be the superfan in that genre.

Pick your dev tools, language, engine once. NEVER change them

I code in C++ using visual studio. I coded my own engine. I have not changed this. Ever. Not in twenty years. Why would I? What do you see in indie strategy games that I cannot do using this development environment? Almost all indies chop and change languages, IDEs and engines like they are changing clothes. This is utter, utter madness. You do NOT need the features in the latest shiny engine, and you NEVER will. If you must use something like Unity, pick a version and never, ever change. Not for the new shiny thing, no matter how shiny, not for all the talk of ‘better productivity’. Its all bullshit, and it will waste your time and cause you stress.

When I edit the csv files for Democracy 4 I use my copy of office 2010. I have not upgraded, nor will I ever do so. I can do everything in Excel 2010. I will not upgrade from Visual Studio 2013. When I tell people this, I get angry tirades from people calling me stupid, and telling me that clearly they are using much more productive tools than me.

None of those people ever seem to ship anything.

Do NOT upgrade your tools, do not upgrade your dev PC. Get everything sorted, start your game’s development, and touch NOTHING until a year after you have shipped your game and support has dwindled.

Use a name that describes the game.

Do not get all arty and clever and name your game ‘Adrift upon fragility : prelude’ or anything that sounds like a pretentious prog-rock album cover. Can I tell roughly the theme of your game, and its genre from the name? If not: you failed. You are not Jonathon Blow. People are not buying the game based on your name, they just see a game name and a thumbnail. If they cannot tell the genre and setting, you lose. Minecraft is an excellent name.

Actually start marketing from day one.

The minute you have anything, even some blue blobs on a black background, thats when you start talking about your game. Marketing your game is your job. Apple and Google will not do it, nor Sony, nor Valve, and streamers are not constantly scouring steam looking for obscure games. YOU have to drum up interest. Start tweeting, start blogging, start posting on reddit about your game in development. Do something related to your game marketing every week, right from the start so it becomes a habit.

Your individual style will determine what platform works best for your during-development marketing. I love youtube, despite being a complete introvert. I used to do weekly 15 minute youtube videos talking about my game. Now I do them every 3 weeks. In between this I also post development stuff to Facebook, reddit, my forums, steam’s forums and twitter. You need to cover multiple channels for people to hear about your game.

Marketing is NOT beneath you. Marketing is a skill, that is every bit as hard, and technical, and involved as programming. You need to take it seriously. its a BIG part of what you do. Marketing the game IS game development, and you have to put the hours in.

Tweeting a WIP screenshot once a week is not a marketing plan. Do more. Do much more. Ignore how many followers you have at the start, it WILL grow.

Do not make excuses.

Your game normally fails because you fucked up. Yes you. You did something wrong. Its almost always your fault. Its tempting to blame poor release timing (again…thats your fault anyway), or to blame a platform for not promoting your game, or even to blame gamers for not realizing how awesome your game is, but its almost certainly your fault. If you cannot accept that you screwed up, you will never learn how to avoid that mistake again.

Maybe your game had poor performance (learn to optimise) maybe the character art was poorly received (change artist/work on art skills), maybe the game was too short (add more content!), maybe you got the price wrong, maybe the name/platform/genre choice was bad. These are all your decisions.

This is especially seen during marketing. Devs always say they are too busy to do youtube videos or blog posts (MAKE the time, this is poor scheduling on your part). or that they do not bother tweeting a screenshot because there are no views. Its a circular argument. Nobody is hanging on your every word, because you never say anything…

Many devs DRAMATICALLY underestimate the effort required to market a game during development. As a good rule, tweet your dev progress every day, do a video once a week, a decent blog post with screenshots once a week, and submit this all to reddit and facebook and whatever other platforms you are marketing on. There should be dozens and dozens of articles and videos about your game BEFORE it releases.

Have an actual marketing budget.

Knowing what I know now, if you took away every penny in my bank account and asked me to market an indie game, I would do 3 things.

  • Sell something I owned, probably a laptop, to raise money for marketing
  • Get a part time job waiting tables or driving to raise money for marketing
  • Put in 40 hours a week full time making videos, writing blog posts, replying to forum threads, tweeting etc.

If you have zero dollars marketing budget then you need to go get some dollars. Not $100 or $1k, think $10k bare-bones minimum. In an ideal world, 20-50% of your development budget would be for marketing. This might be spent going to shows / keymailer subscriptions / PR companies / Advertising / Software and equipment to make better videos (webcams/lights/greenscreens).

The extent to which established developers spend advertising money is under-reported. Most developers have some weird superiority complex about paid-ads, and feel dirty and guilty for doing it, so they don’t blog about it. They want you to think that it was all word of mouth because they are so awesome.

I spend a lot of money on advertising. Probably $100,000 per game. Yes really.

Support the game post-release.

Releasing the game is literally just the beginning. As far as many of your players are concerned, this is a BRAND NEW THING. They do not want to forget about it and move on. They just played it for the first time today and oh boy, they are excited about all the improvements you will be making on a regular basis over the next 12 months bare minimum.

You hate this right? Most devs do, but I don’t mind it for a year or so. If you plan to release the game and then forget about it and just expect money to roll in then YOU WILL FAIL REALLY BADLY.

Gamers, esp on PC, EXPECT post-release updates. If you do not exhaust all those post-release update visibility things on steam, then you pretty much are saying you abandoned the game. The absolute #1 best thing you can do to boost sales after release is update the game. Fix ALL the issues that players complained about in week 1. Yes ALL of them. You should still be working full time on the game at this point. Meaning 40-hours a week minimum developing requested features and adding requested content.

Not all player ideas are good, sure, but you need to fix all the bugs you can, improve performance when required, and add quality-of-life features that players request.

The day you release your game you basically get given FOR FREE (in fact they pay!) a small army of QA staff who work around the clock to provide you with bug reports and feature requests and data to help you balance the gameplay. So many devs just turn their backs and ignore those players and all their free help. Do NOT do this. It doesn’t matter if the launch was not a big success, even if you sold just 100 copies, its worth updating the game with those low-hanging fruit fixes and tweaks.

I’m on update 40 for Democracy 4 now, which took about a year of updates. Each update probably has between 10 and 30 changelist items. Every single one of these things improved the game. And yes, a solo developer can do this. Its really hard, but what did you expect?

Talk to other developers.

There are lots of indie devs, and we are not all your rivals. The competition is Call Of Duty and Fortnite, and frankly Netflix and Twitter, not another indie dev likely selling a few thousand copies a year. Helping a fellow indie is not a zero sum game.

There is a ton of wisdom out there. Almost anything you run into during development is something that more experienced devs have seen 5 or 6 times. Ask us how we dealt with it. Ask for advice, and TAKE advice if its relevant to you and it comes from experience.

Note that developers who are on reddit 8 hours a day are not people to listen to. There is nothing ‘elitist’ about checking the credentials of people telling you how to make a game. There is a ton of content out there from long established devs like Jonathon Blow, Introversion etc, who discuss what they did, what worked, and what did not. Read/watch and actually apply the lessons they have learned the hard way.

Democracy 4 Translations. The Economics

I’m trying to decide what other translations make economic sense for Democracy 4. Its never a clear issue. There are some countries where sales are potentially high, but then most gamers speak English anyway, so the boost effect of a translation is small. Then there are countries that sales are entirely dependent on translations being available. Also some countries have higher piracy rates, meaning you are basically just making pirated copies better! Time to look at some stats. Obviously I cannot make any decision without stats. Yes, I may well be on the spectrum…

Here I am going to consider the arguments for translating into Korean, Chinese and Japanese. Which, if any, of these countries make sense as a potential translation target? One useful stat would be to look at Democracy 3s steam sales figures in each country, as a percentage of revenue, as this game is older so it has lifetime (not just early access) stats.

  • China: 1% of revenue (Chinese translation available but added post-release. 5% revenue in prev year)
  • South Korea: 1% of revenue. Not translated 2% in prev year
  • Japan 0% of revenue. Actually to be precise: 0.478% of revenue. Not translated Yikes…

There are a bunch of countries where we do not have a translation with higher revenues such as these:

  • Sweden. 2% revenue
  • Norway 2% revenue
  • Netherlands 2% revenue
  • Denmark 1% revenue

But I think its fair to say that English is commonly spoken in those countries by gamers, and if not, they also have French or German to choose from, so not bad. The big question is picking between Russia, China and S Korea. Its worth noting that S Korea is a playable country in the game… so maybe this needs adding? So is Japan!

So to get really stupid, lets look at the population under 30 to get the total addressable market for each of our now 4 countries:

  • Japan: 27 million
  • China: 237 million
  • South Korea: 13 million

Hmmm… not helpful. Maybe a better source would be to look at steam traffic in general, which I found on this page.

  • Japan: 1.5% of traffic
  • China: 22.7% of traffic
  • South Korea 3% of traffic.

So frankly Japanese is looking like a bad idea. Untranslated sales were close to zero, and as a percentage of steam traffic, its really low for EVERYONE. South Korea is better, but still low. China might be a better bet. We DO have a swanky Unicode engine which will effortlessly render everything in Chinese and Korean… so it seems like that could be a good idea. I need to get a translation quote, and then look at the numbers a bit more, and then pace up and down and lose sleep some more. I’ve scheduled the stress and pacing for tomorrow…