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

Political Animals Gameplay footage…

Sooo…we really are getting very close to November 2nd, which is release day for Political Animals. Oh yes. Scarily close. Not that there is a big unmovable target of an upcoming US election or anything like that…

Anyway, in preparation for this, I put together a little video of me playing through ten turns of the game. This is to give people a better idea of how it plays than you can get from any conventional preview or trailer. Ultimately nothing beats watching someone play the game right? Please excuse a minor bug I found with a window that won’t close, obviously we will fix that :D. I have to admit, I am no ‘youtube personality’, but I do have the time, the inclination and more importantly, a playable build of the game, so here goes…

My expectations for the success and popularity of this game are very varied. I love it, I love the look, and the gameplay and obviously the theme is SPOT ON for releasing right now. In the US, politics is incredibly topical, and the US always represents a big chunk of the market. On the other hand, we have translated it into French, German Italian and Spanish, so we are hoping for some international attention too. Political Strategy is a bit of a ‘niche’, and yet I *know* (as the developer of Democracy 3) that it can be quite a big one if you hit the right notes. Also, Political Animals is far less serious, and far more a conventional strategy game than Democracy 3, so I’m thinking it may well appeal to players of games like Tropico too.

As a publisher, this is some new ground for me. I’ve previously met and worked with developers in a closer way than with PA, mostly because of distance. I have only met 2 of the team (in total), and only met them twice. The developers are Squeaky Wheel, from the Philippines. If this game makes a profit, its proof that long-distance publishing arrangements can work, which would be excellent. I am also planning some twists on my normal launch marketing strategy, which I will blog about in more depth after the event, but one notable change is we are doing a simultaneous release on our website and on steam, so no pre-orders this time.

I’m nervous about the release of the game, because I’m always nervous. its a big bet, both in terms of actual money, and also in terms of reputation. To be honest, I’m more worried about releasing a bad game than I am about losing money. I intend to be very, very picky about the games I make and the games I release. I know some people release games much faster than me, investing less in each one, but I don’t think that is a style that suits me, or my ‘brand’. Anyway… 16 days to go…


Political Animals Trailer! Take your mind off the real thing!

With politics descending globally into farce, with politicians comparing themselves to Hitler, punching others in the head, supporting torture, wanting ‘companies who employ foreigners’ to be named and shamed….jeez… there is not much humour to be had in the world of politics.


I didn’t want to do a trailer for Political Animals…but the developers in the Philippines insisted that we build a beautiful trailer and make the UK publisher pay for it. And I couldn’t say no. So here it is…Enjoy!

Say hello to Ryan Sumo at PAX.

So… PAX is coming up. I have never been. I will go one year, maybe. I don’t fly a lot due to some insignificant concerns. Anyway…Positech sort of has a ‘presence’ there this year because a game we are publishing (Political Animals) is in the ‘minibooth’ bit of the Indie Megabooth.

If you are at PAX, you will be able to see (and play!) political animals on Sunday and Monday (4th-5th). It is worth your time. We don’t publish many games (PA will be our fourth published game, the others being Redshirt, Big Pharma and Shadowhand), but we get a LOT of pitches (roughly one a day) and the games are mostly forgettable. We don’t publish clones, generic games, or games without an interesting twist. Political Animals meets all of our criteria. Its a political strategy game like our own Democracy, but nothing like it in terms of gameplay. It is an election game, rather than a government game, it has a cute and funny design, and it focuses on corruption more than any other political game I am aware of. Plus the characters in it are awesome.

The team also has serious pedigree. I first met Ryan (in fact the only time so far!) at a game show where we was helping to man the Prison Architect booth, as he is the art genius behind the style that helped sell ten trillion copies of that game. As a result, Political Animals has a fantastic style to it. The only problem is both games are abbreviated PA. Bah.

Anyway, its an election year in the US (and also was in the Philippines, where PA is being developed), and a great time to be making a game on the shadier side of politics. Modern politics in the US and UK and Philippines makes Democracy 3 look like some idealistic dreamworld born out of a posh school debating society. I am hoping PA gets the attention it deserves, but as ever, this is increasingly tough. There are an insane number of indie games, and only so many press. maybe even fewer press.


This is what Ryan looks like:


He will look more tired and jetlagged when you see him. Go talk to him, ask him about the game, and try the game. PAX is all about player feedback, so if it sucks, we want to know. if its confusing, we want to know, if its AMAZING, we want to know. Do try and find time to give it a try. Like I say, its only on the Sunday and the Monday.

Also…other devs, and press types. Invite Ryan to things. he is a nice guy, he is a great guy to interview! he will be able to tell you hilarious anecdotes about prison architect! (or make some up). He probably has things to say about Philippines politics! He is someone you should have at all your cool indie parties. He is @RyanSumo on twitter.

Ryan & co will also be at EGX in London, but if you are US press, this is your ONLY opportunity to interview the makers of the best political strategy game coming out before the election. Go do it!


Fear of being ignored at PAX.

Thats probably the big thing for indie developers right now. Its about a week until Political Animals appears at PAX West, in the minibooth at the megabooth. Thats already 2 levels removed from being ‘at pax west’, and its not like there will be a shortage of stuff to grab peoples attention at PAX in general, and the wider world of gaming anyway.

Sure, we can email people who we know are going there to write about games and say ‘hey we have this cool game…’, but those people get a LOT of emails. If we lived in the USA, or better still, west coast USA near Seattle, we would have met a lot of the press people before/several times and our email *may* go to the top of the lsit…but probably not.

Which leaves 3 strategies:

  1. Dumb Luck. This is the strategy most indies go with. You never know which game will catch peoples eye. I see a LOT of indie side scrolling puzzle games…. I see a lot of amazing unity tech demos with a game wrapped vaguely around them. Hopefully as the ONLY political game at the show (we hope), and certainly the only one featuring ryans amazingly cute artwork… we should stand out, meaning we get coverage purely by being different. This could work. In this case, I’m saying the ‘smart move’ was to pick the right game early on, and give the team time to polish it and make it good
  2. Do something silly, crowd pleasing and hard to ignore. We could dress the team up as animals, or maybe hold a mock rally outside PAX, or commission a giant Donald Trump ice sculpture for our booth, or something like that. I think this sort of thing maybe *can* work, but there is a huge randomness factor involved, and it can seem kinda desperate. Also its drawing attention to you and your stunt, not the actual game.
  3. Splash the cash. The PAX booth thing is an experiment for me, I’ve never even been, so didn’t want to do a full non-megabooth setup without knowing how it would go, so the option to have a bigger or louder booth didn’t apply here. What I *could* do is to promote the game in the run up to the show, and hope that gives people name and logo-recognition as they walk by, encouraging them subconsciously to try the game. I may well go with this.


Frankly, the whole thing is kinda scary. I am pretty lucky, because I only have 2 fears here, and compared to other peoples fears, they are pretty mild.

The first fear is that the PAX appearance is a waste, the game flops, and people think I’m a crap publisher as a result.

The second fear is that as a result of the first, I lose money when the game is released, and feel like an idiot/failure.

The reason I say I’m lucky, is that fortunately, neither of these outcomes really has any real material effect on me, its all perception. I didn’t get into any debt for Political Animals, or Shadowhand, or my next game, so I’m not going to be cancelling a holiday, selling a car or downsizing my house if any/all of them fail. There are a LOT of indies with more at risk and more to lose than me who will bee pinningĀ  all their hopes on some internet celebrity loving their game at PAX.

But it still scares me. I like to win. I like to do well. I hate to lose, and I don’t like looking like a failure to other people. I’ll still be biting my nails checking twitter and hoping people try, and talk about Political Animals.

Political Animals Teaser


Greetings Mr/Madam president! And welcome to the land ofcCorrupt crocodiles and meritocratic mice! Yup… we finally have our first teaser video to show political animals to the wider world. This is a political strategy game being developed by Squeaky Wheel, the studio founded by ex prison-architect & spacechem artistic genius Ryan Sumo. Its being published by me! Who would have thought I would choose to publish a political strategy game huh? SYNERGY BABY!

Anyway…here is the teaser video. Nothing is final, as is normally the case with teasers…

Why release this now…? well partly because <insert drumroll.wav> Political Animals is in the Indie Megabooth (technically the minibooth) at PAX. Details on the megabooth are here:

Indie MEGABOOTH PAX West 2016 Line-Up!

That means the intrepid Ryan will be propelled around the globe to stand there and talk to members of the press and public alike about how Mousey and Croccy will battle it out for political control of the island. I’ll be honest… we are a bit of a disadvantage on the US press/PAX stakes. Ryan is from the Philippines, and I’m from England and I will not be at PAX (I’m not keen on too much long distance flying for tree hugging reasons), so we don’t have a ton of contacts in the local press. This means we are relying on Ryans intense charm, and my own ability to shout loudly on twitter to persuade members of the press to go check out the game.

It is the ONLY game featuring politically motivated mice in the entire show. So that’s one scoop right there. Plus I’m not sure how many other Philippine dev studios are showing at PAX but I suspect not many, so there is the whole ‘covering international dev scene’ angle to it all too. Plus…in case you have not noticed there is an election coming up soon in the USA (Seriously, its been quite low key, but I assure you that it is this year), so what better way to reference current affairs than through the prism of cute mice with megaphones.


Seriously US voters…if mousey ran as a third party candidate right now, he would win right?

Feedback on our teaser is most welcome. Its obviously not our final trailer, loads more details to follow, plus I intend to finally get the hang of youtubing to the extent that I’m going to do weekly playthroughs of the game to get people in the mood as it approaches release. For UK press…do not despair, we are at EGX as well this year, so we recommend you pop along to that. More details on the Political Animals Website, plus we are on facebook and Twitter as you would expect.