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

Positive by default

I read a few replies to some tweets recently…and ended reporting half of them for abuse. Not replies to me, but to pretty famous people. Apparently nobody with over a certain threshhold of twitter followers can say anything without hateful abuse, insults, death threats, and the like being pasted to them. Some people stalk a celebrity and reply to every tweet of theirs with the same post, hoping to get the orgasmic thrill of thinking that person will see something that upsets them.

These people are sick, and need treatment, but mostly they need banning from twitter. Twitter of course doesnt care, because the platform is deliberately built to encourage hate.

This is a choice, and a bad one (for society) because it could quite happily have been based on a theme of positivity and inspiration and community instead. There is an assumption that all online communities collapse immediately into a horrific hate-fest because of human nature, but I don’t think people have seriously tried to do the opposite.

It would be trivial to train an AI (or even simpler) to bias the promotion of social media posts based on some analysis of tone. At the very least, you can hide, ban or even just auto-downvote posts containing negative terms and swear words, or in all-caps. If anything, twitter does the opposite, but thats a choice.

We live now in a society so corrupted by social media, that it has spilled over into life in general, especially the media. I recently watched (at my wifes suggestion) the disney film ‘moana‘. Not my kinda film, but it was ok, and a few days later I satill have this catchy, chirpy ‘your welcome’ song in my head. Whats notable about that film for me, is that its upbeat. Its positive. There is a happy ending, and not a lot of suffering or depression or hatred in it. Its sad that this sticks out, but a simple browse of whats trending on netflix shows you how unusual this is.

Dwayne Johnson's Moana-Obsessed Daughter Is Still Unaware Of One ...

Sadly we take these attitudes into our daily lives. We carry around the moods and thoughts and opinions of social media and netflix into social interactions. When I chat to my buddies each day they often say ‘whats todays twitter drama’ and we know that means accusations, or hatred or abuse. Its never ‘whats hilarious and exciting and awesome on twitter today’. We are all looking for todays 15 minutes of hate, not thanks, or celebration.

Its difficult for someone like me to preach about how everyone should be positive because 1) I’ve done very well out of life financially and 2) I actually have depression, so it can seem kinda ironic :D. However I shall try!

I read a good book last year about how everything in the world is getting better and better for all of us, and how things are amazing. Its sounds like bullshit but its true. By almost any metric, society just keeps getting better. Less hunger, Less disease, Less poverty, More education. We live in a time of relentless progress and awesomeness. This never gets on the news, but thats a CHOICE. We can choose to focus on whats good and awesome in the world if we choose to.

Even if you are on a low income, or unemployed right now, things are really not too bad compared with almost any point in history. Even given my own life, I would DEFINITELY prefer to be poor and unemployed right now than in the very early 1990s when I was both those things. We didnt have the internet to entertain/amuse/inform or educate us. Unemployment in the UK was pretty bad then (way worse than now). I had to learn computing by trips to the library as I couldnt afford the books. I’d listen to music on a casette player as I walked to the library. No mp3s, no spotify. shitty, poor quality clunky casettes.

Audio Tapes Vs. HD Audio?

The thing is, we DO live in great times, if you can brush apart the waves of monetized negativity and try to be positive by default. We are actually making phenomenal strides in renewable energy. Computers have got so laughably fast we all have a personal supercomputer we can talk to and it talks back. wtf! We can even carry them in our pockets and communicate with our friends wherever they are.

Just pause and imagine covid lockdown in 1990. No internet. No mobile phones. You cant see your friends, you cant even talk to them unless your parents let you use *the phone* for a short (expensive) period. You have to amuse yourself with books, a very, very primitive games console if you are super-lucky, or watch whatever your parents choose to watch from the 3 or 4 channels of terrestrial TV. And no, its not HD.

TV Whirl - ITV Teletext

Things are awesome now. People are landing rockets on boats to re-use them so even rural people can have super-fast internet soon. You can buy solar panels and use them to partially power your own house. Take that energy companies! There are a bazillion channels of entertainment in superb picture quality, and endless fun entertainment on youtube for everyone. You can make and sell video games FROM YOUR HOME, and you can learn how to do it from home too, for free.

And yes… believe it or not, you likely live in a society that is WAY less sexist, WAY less racist and WAY more accepting of people of all kinds than twenty or thirty years ago. Its telling that its totally unacceptable for me to even mention the derogatory words used for people of color routinely when I was a child. Sure, sexist, racist and transphobic people exist, but oh my god, the progress on these issues has been amazing.

But lastly, the thing that REALLY annoys me is that saying ‘hey, life is pretty cool isn’t it’ is something you will get ABUSE for posting on twitter. Its literally described as a ‘bad take‘. This is fucked up. People are so obsessed with doomscrolling and ‘calling out’ and hurling abuse they are actually subconciously banishing positivity from their lifes. This is nuts.

So yeah, life is good. Not perfect, but then it never was and never will be, but life is good. Dont be afraid to think it, or say it, or even tweet it. Its not a ‘bad take’ if its what you think.

Heres a final feel-good thingy. I love solar panels, and I like doing the odd charity thing. We just handed over a check for £10k (yes an actual check!) to our local primary school (which has an eco-school group and have been protesting about climate change), so they could have 32 solar panels installed on the roof. They gave me this cool certificate :D. I’ll take some drone pics of the fitting of them in a month or two when they get installed :D.

If anyone can do it, everyone will.

Every now and then I come across a story about how mid-tier youtubers are making an absolute pittance, or that indie bands on spotify earn less than minimum wage, or that writers (like my wife!) can expect to earn a really trivial amount for what they do.

This is totally and utterly expected, and its down to barriers of entry, of which there are a few.

Barriers to entry is an economics term that refers to all the stuff you need to have to produce a certain product in the market. Some industries naturally have small barriers to entry (busking only requires a guitar, for example) and some have huge barriers (spaceships, cars, silicon chip production). Generally speaking, barriers to entry are very bad, from an economics point-of-view, because high barriers-to-entry lead to ‘abnormal profits’ by people in that market, as its difficult for newcomers to enter the market and bid down the price of the product.

It might seem that this explains why indie game devs rarely make any money, because the barriers to entry for indie dev are tiny. You need an office chair, a laptop, an internet connection, and…a rudimentary skill in programming and game design. Thats a LOT of people, and its WAY more than it used to be, now you dont have to code your own engine and dev-tools are affordable.

SIDE-NOTE: YES amazingly cliff is aware that there are millions, if not billions of people who cannot afford a laptop and broadband. Well done! 10 internet points for you! But this blog post isn’t aimed at solving inequality. Not everything on the internet is aimed at everyone, or is a political statement!

Anyway… indie game dev does indeed have super-low barriers to entry and this should mean that nobody in that industry makes much profit, but hold on! some of them do! Jonathan Blow! Introversion! Me! The Factorio & RimWorld devs… how is this possible?

Barriers to entry can include personal ones as well, not just financial requirements. Sure, anybody can buy visual studio (my dev tool of choice, about $500), the same chair as me (aeron, about $1k) and a decent PC (maybe $1,500 tops?). They can then decide to make an indie game. This will not be profitable, as there are a LOT of people in this green segment below…

Some games are technically much easier to make a first-game in than others. Platform games come to mind, as do arcade games. If you are using unity or similar, maybe a primitive FPS. Some genres are harder. Strategy games are harder, as are RPGs, Simulation games can be really hard. By choosing one of the ‘harder’ genres, you are already putting up barriers to entry to prevent your market value being competed down. Of course your job just got harder, but thats to be expected. There are fewer people in the white segment below.

Where it gets more interesting is in leveraging barriers than cannot easily be broken down by any means. That comes down to what makes you…YOU. Leveraging that unique venn diagram of skills and interests that makes you capable of making the game that YOU can make, but its unlikely any other dev can.

In my case, studying economics at LSE, and the son of parents who were both trade union reps, someone who got taken on ‘fun trips’ to the Trades Union Congress and Labour Party conference as a child (yes really), plus an aptitude for maths and logic (and clearly being on the autism spectrum) means that my venn diagram screams MAKE COMPLEX POLITICS SIMULATIONS. There are a handful of people in the white segment below. maybe me and Brad Wardell and half a dozen others?

Now in theory, anybody could try to clone Democracy 4 and force down my profits, but in practice its hard because you have to REALLY be a politics geek to spend the time and effort to make that sort of game, and the coding challenge is sufficient that it still gives me headaches after 39 (yes really) years of doing programming. Plus I have a special super-power that allows me to be even better suited to that exact project:

I’m pretty much a centrist. Politically I’m slightly right leaning on economics and slightly left leaning on social issues, but generally speaking I’m a moderate. That means I can sit down and have a meal and a chat with a hardcore bernie sanders supporter OR a trump-supporter, and get along with both as people. That means I’m not trying to have a big political agenda with my politics game, which broadens its appeal. (I’m not going to attempt to add another circle to that diagram…)

Every extra circle you can add to your indie game dev venn diagram of uniqueness™ is going to boost the probability of you earning decent money. Of COURSE…. you still need to work hard and make a great game, and make it appeal to enough players and do the other 999 things. This system only helps you maximise the returns WHEN you have an idea, and execution that results in something people want, and buy. I still think its worth keeping in mind.