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

An indie game developer posts about introversion

Ha. Thats me just being funny in a way that will mess up Chris & Marks SEO efforts :D

But seriously…

I’m reading a cool book, called ‘Quiet‘. Here is an exciting screenshot of the cover!

I’m about 50% through the book, but feel motivated to mention how good it is. Normally I’d post stuff like this to facebook, but meh…do I really want to be monetised, scanned, aggregated and catalogued just because I like a book? Anyway. This book is pretty awesome. its basically all about introverts, what is feels like, why its not a bad thing, how you get treated by other people, and most interestingly, it raises awareness of how society treats introverts.

I’ve never really thought about it before, but there is an implicit assumption that extraversion is good. When you see someone who is loud, confident, shaking hands, smiling, hugging people and laughing, you assume they are good people, worthy people, people who are going places, high achievers, people you can trust…blah blah. Almost all politicians are extraverts, they shake tons of hands, do the proverbial kissing of babies, they speak confidently with no equivocation, they often have louder voices than normal, they never, ever shirk from public appearances…

This book makes it clear that this can be *really bad*. Some problems (like climate change) are best dealt with by people who are quiet, reflective, deep thinkers. It brings to mind the old joke that ‘we must do something! this is something! lets do this!’ which is pretty much the attitude of most politicians, and the cause of many a poorly thought out law or economic policy.

Of course, not all walks of life are as obsessive about extroverts as politics, but the entertainment industry and games is definitely one in that general area. To succeed 9we are told) one must go to games shows, shake hands, talk to everyone, be confident, be outgoing, be personable. Go to all the GDC parties, and meet new people! Walk up to journalists and pitch your game to them! Practice your elevator pitch!


Thankfully this good will make you feel good, happy, content to be an introvert. It will also open your eyes to the very low-key preference for extroversion in the media. In my own tiny, tiny way, I am trying to support introverts by not being stupidly LOUD AND EXCITABLE when I do my video developer blogs.  My part in the great war :D

Where did the extrovert game devs come from?

To cut a long story short, personal interaction with me can be pretty random. Some days, if you meet me I will be confident, outgoing, friendly. I will smile and shake your hand. I will probably be very sarcastic (tis my way…) and make jokes. I will try to be helpful. Other times, depending on the circumstances, I may be VERY shy. Its very unlikely I’ll start a conversation, or have much enthusiasm for keeping things going. At a lot of social events, if I haven’t seen someone I know within 10 minutes (max) I’ll leave, even if it took me an hour to get there.

Generally, when it comes to business, I far prefer email to all other forms of communication. I don’t need to meet you to sign a contract. I don’t even need to speak to you. Email is perfect for me, its excellent in all ways. Ironically, in groups of people that I already know, I can often be gregarious, maybe even loud. It is sooo random.

I do muse if people who are like me are naturally biased towards becoming programmers, especially in games. Games programming is about creation, and creation is about control. I wouldn’t choose to create a situation I didn’t want, or people I didn’t like, or locations that freak me out. As a coder, I have total control over the entire world, the entire ecosystem, I can see what everyone is thinking, because I coded their AI.

For a long time, I got the impression that almost all indie developers, and maybe most game developers in general were people like me. Quiet people. people who didn’t draw attention to themselves. hard workers, but the quiet studious types who beaver away in some dark corner of a room somewhere learning C++ or developing a game engine. In short…people like this:

Then after Indie Game:The movie came out, indie became cool, and it seemed the total opposite happened. The last game conference I went to, I recall seeing some distressingly stylish and attractive and confident young game developer strutting the stage with a headset mic on, behaving like he was a veteran of TED talks. What the hell happened? Where did all these extroverts come from? Maybe I am wrong, and being superficial about it. A friend told me that a famous game dev (who I’ve met a few times) is NOT AT ALL as outgoing and confident as he appears at shows, its all an act. if so, its a good one. Is that the case for everyone? Is there some genetic link between being an extravert and making a retro puzzle platformer game in the same way there seems to be between introverts and simulation game coders? (molyneux excepted). Modern game devs seem to be more like this:

FWIW, if you ever saw me give a talk, it was likely this one at the GDC rant (its the biggest audience I spoke to I think, maybe tied with steam devs days #1 marketing talk). Here is the talk:

I was so nervous beforehand you have no idea. I actually thought I might vomit. No, you can’t tell (hopefully), but there you go. Maybe we ARE all faking it?


My 2016. A year in review.

Its not even Christmas yet, but fuck it, I’m typing this now. So how was 2016 for Cliffski/Positech?

Lets start with the easy stuff: Statistics! Oh how I love statistics. Looking at steam, my companies revenue comparing the last 365 days…

Steam revenue is down 19%. Steam units sold are down 16% suggesting not much in the way of price pressure downwards. Income from other channels, like direct sales, GoG, Humble seem pretty steady.

We released 2 games this year: Political Animals and Democracy 3 Africa. neither of them set the world on fire, although D3:A is currently profitable (yay!). PA may break even in the long run. We also released Democracy 3:Electioneering, which didn’t do quite as well as I hoped, but I’m still glad I did it, as I enjoyed making it, and it kind of ‘fleshed out’ an area that was missing in the games coverage of politics in general. Democracy 3 & Big Pharma continue to sell well, as do some older titles.

In other business news, we got a retail deal signed for Big Pharma and Democracy 3 in Poland, which was some cash & some nice shiny boxes for my shelf :D. D3:Africa was my first experiment at trusting someone else to write code that I would put the positech development name to, which was a big step. In PR terms, we were a bit too low key. I didn’t give any major talks this year, nor show any games personally at shows, although Jeff showed off Democracy 3:Africa. There was GDC, and a trip to Steam Dev days, both of which were worth doing personally, even if not really justified in PR terms.

We also invested in new games, notably shadowhand, which will be released soon, and despite being quite late development wise, may prove to be a bit of an indie hit. Its the sort of game that does very well through word of mouth. I have my fingers crossed for that one. Also… I started work on Production Line officially (I had been developing it slowly for ages secretly). Roughly a year ago it looked like this:

It now looks better.

In Business…but not games news…we carried on investing in renewable energy stuff, which gives about a 7-10% return, which is pretty good in these days of low interest rates. Technically my best non-games investment was probably a robotics tracker fund that is up 34% (yay!). I’m a big fan of diversifying investments and income sources, as I hate to be too dependent on just one business relationship. This does mean I now spend more time on the phone talking to banks and accountants than I would like, and I don’t consider either activity to be much fun, but its probably well worth my time.

In personal terms, my usual resolve to be ‘calmer’ each year hasn’t completely worked, although I do get less angry about things than I used to, especially in person. Due to hurting my arm just before summer started I totally failed to do archery this year, but have discovered the joy of casual puzzle games on an ipad attached to an exercise bike, which seems to be my best bet at losing weight. My BMI is 23.5, which is healthy, but I hate having any sort of belly. For years I was a boatbuilder, and we had muscles, not flab.

We raised some money for War Child this year, haven’t got final figures yet, but probably about $14k. We also finally met some representatives from the Cameroon organisation we built that school with. Hopefully we will do more of that soon.

One thing that *is* business related that I started doing weekly development videos for YouTube showing progress on Production Line. So far I have done 9, and I expect that to be more like 50 by the time the game *ships*. I’m well aware of how important youtube is, and how many gamers prefer content to be in video form. I don’t want to be one of those dinosaurs still updating their geocities page in 2016 and wondering where everyone has gone. I’m hopefully getting better at it, despite not having a face or voice for such things.

If I have learned one business lesson in 2016, its to take my time more with games, and to get opinions from gamers early. This was the first year we started using professional player research companies, and I intend to embrace this sort of thing more with a  paid-alpha program for Production Line. The other semi-business lesson I learned was related to the stock market, and thats to set a stop loss when my shares are high, but never sell them otherwise. I am very guilty of ‘banking my winnings’ too early.

If there has been any *theme* to positechs 2016 its been one of holding steady. We have not expanded to a great extent, and we have maintained a fairly constant release schedule and work schedule. Earnings took a dip, mostly due to a lack of a *big-name* first party release. With luck, that will be next year with Production Line.  On reflection, 2016 went very very quickly. It seems like only yesterday I was stood in a car factory in Michigan doing research.

Hope you all had a good year.


Coding for fun (but not profit)

I’ve had problems for at least a few years when it comes to coding purely for fun. Thats not to say I do not enjoy coding, I LOVE coding, its my passion, but I made the mistake (in some ways) of turning my passion into my job, and then my career and my whole livelihood & retirement plan, and when you do that, suddenly when you are writing code you have a little voice at the back of your head saying “who is going to buy this”. And thats not a problem, in fact its a GOOD thing because it means you release commercial games and not arty self-indulgent bullshit about crying and existential angst among cartoon Bolivian hamster-weaving. Thats how I’ve stayed in business.

But the problem with working for yourself, at home, when you are the boss, is that you can work WHENEVER you like, and this means the line between working and having fun gets not some much blurred but obliterated.


If I decide to take a day off work (madness!), I really can’t go near a PC, because the PC is where I work, and my office is for work, not for fun. Its hard enough to sit here at this desk and play games instead of work, but if visual studio is open then I am IN WORK MODE. My Brain goers all serious and strategic and long term.

So I’m trying to shake myself out of that and re-discover the joy of pure creation as a hobby, as fun, as something experimental and silly, and not something that I expect to ever charge money for. I will probably never get around to achieving anything, and certainly not making anything public (unless miraculously I make something I’m not ashamed of). The main goal is going to be to learn how to code some stuff without getting all world-domination and work-ethic about it.

I know a lot of people do one-game-a-month stuff and game-jams, but thats just not my scene. I prefer to code for fun, than design for fun. Design is too intense for me. I can practically code while I’m asleep. Ask anyone whose tried to use my code :D.

Steam Dev Days afterthoughts

(I’ve never done this before, but I’m typing this on the plane, so I have time for some detailed thoughts. Long post ahead!)
I’m returning from the first steam dev days conference (they will surely become regular). By now you will have heard all about attendees getting steam boxes & controllers, and the major announcements. I bet journalists have that stuff covered. I’m going to write up more strategic thoughts, combined with some thoughts on business in general that have weighed on my mind.

This is the big takeaway for me. I’m not a big Linux fan. Nothing ‘political’, I’m just so used to windows. I’ve used windows constantly since windows 3.11. I don’t know anything about Linux, and I now have to learn. Valve have made this clear. Not ‘Linux is growing’ more ‘learn Linux now… today…’. Personally, I’m not too bothered by this, especially now I have a steam box. What this really means for me is OpenGL. My hand-coded directx engine is now looking like a bit of a dead end. This is unfortunate…

Steam Boxes.
Actually not a big deal for me, this shores up the PC gaming market share against console erosion, which is great. Will PC’s migrate into the living room? maybe… but not for text-heavy strategy games that I make. I think the impact for me may me minor. Ditto the steam controller, although this might be worth using for GSB 2.

Virtual Reality.
I didn’t attend a demo. I should have, stupidly assuming that being stereo-blind would rule me out, but fellow stereo-blind devs assure me its still amazing. I don’t make first person games, I make totally abstract ones, so again, maybe not a big impact for me.

Micro-transactions/economies/user-generated content.
Fascinating stuff, brilliantly presented, and a bit of an eye opener for me in how to do this stuff in a *nice* way. I am hugely motivated about doing work in this area in future. These were the most interesting talks for me, although I hear that the marketing panel was also amazing :D

Deeper Thoughts.
This is kinda separate. I need to add a disclaimer here so I can put these thoughts into context… Positech Games in recent years has become very very successful. I used to publish sales figures back in the day, but I don’t do that now. Things have ramped up big time. I am still basically a one man company, but with an increasing army of contractors and also automated systems and methods to boost my efficiency. As a result, things have gone kind of huge. Not notch level, but damn good.
This isn’t meant to be bragging, this is to put this next section into context.

A lot of things are happening in games. A lot of people are getting into the industry. The industry is growing, but also changing. There is a lot at stake. A well-placed solo indie developer can make or lose a million dollars or more based on a good or bad call. This is high stakes poker, or in some cases roulette. We are playing with live ammunition now. I love metaphors.
I have decisions to make about company growth, platforms, investment, languages, genres. These decisions will make or lose those millions of dollars. The stress and pressure related to those decisions is massive.

Intuitively, I know that I’m fine. Positech has a great financial base. I’m not about to bet my house on a game release, or lose everything if I get things wrong. I have no employees I might have to fire. In many ways I’m lucky, and can relax… but frankly, I like to win. That doesn’t mean at the expense of anyone, I don’t need others to lose, if that makes sense? The most adrenaline-packed and rewarding strategy game I play is called ‘running positech games’. I want to make the right calls and win, it’s burned into me at some primeval level. As a result, I take these decisions incredibly seriously. This leads to intense pressure and stress, that is outwardly completely invisible. I take from this two things:

1) Company executives earn their money. It’s very easy to look at people who run a bank or huge company, in their chauffeured car and executive hotel suite and million+ dollar salary and think that life’s easy for them and anyone can do it. No. There is more to an easy life than having great food and a nice car. Those big salaries come with epic responsibilities and incredible pressure and stress. I cannot imagine how much worse it is at the billion-dollar 10,000 employee level. Get it wrong there and you can kill of thousands of jobs. Intense Pressure. I don’t begrudge anyone in that situation their big salary and aston-martin. I’m surprised there are not more CEO suicides, to be blunt.

2) This can’t be healthy. I’ve taken the opportunity in the last year to have my heart and blood pressure checked. Both were absolutely fine. I could maybe lose a little bit of weight, but generally I’m healthy. This is great, and also very surprising to me. It’s something I try to keep an eye on. I am acutely aware of the fact that high stress and pressure is bad, and I don’t want to be the guy with the highest sales figures in the morgue. So far I seem to be balancing it well, but it isn’t easy. I slept for just 3 hours last night, purely due to stress and pressure. Rare, but still bad. I guess I’m trying to max out all my Kudos 2 stats at once, I want to be healthy, happy and successful. Not easy :D

So there you go, my first post-steam conference thoughts. Maybe a bit scattergun, but I thought I’d jot them down while they are fresh. I have a lot more to say about Linux, but I’ll save that for the next post…

TL ;DR: Linux is coming, Positech is selling lots, This is stressful and creates pressure, but I’m somehow still healthy!