Squeaky Wheel's Productivity Tools

As game developers, we can get so focused on the craft of game making that we can sometimes forget that the tools we use outside of actual game development can be just as important to the process. Having the right tools can make the team much more productive, so knowing which tools work best for your team is key. Here I will go over some of the tools we’ve used previously, and what we have replaced them with to better suit our needs.

From Hipchat to Flock


As a mostly virtual studio, having a good way to communicate online is absolutely necessary for us. When we first started developing Political Animals, company chats were still in their infancy, and Hipchat was one of the early companies providing this service. While Slack was around, Marnel preferred Hipchat because it had a much lighter chat client. Turns out the reason for this was that Hipchat was an incredibly primitive chat client compared to today’s updated products. It became very frustrating to use Hipchat during long chats, when it was unclear to whom we were replying to in conversations. We ended up creating our own systems for this, like copying and pasting the message we were replying to, as if we were on a forum.

 Our Scheduling, aka “Today’s Bowel Movement” channel on Flock.

Our Scheduling, aka “Today’s Bowel Movement” channel on Flock.

So we were kind of amazed when we switched to Flock and all of its functionalities. The ability to reply to specific messages, create reminders and notes, and being able to create custom avatars for people and rooms just blew me away. It felt like the difference between dial-up and broadband internet, or SD vs HD. Once we switched over there was no going back.

Flock over Slack

The leader of company chat clients is Slack. You almost can’t get away from slack advertising when listening to a podcast these days. In some ways this turned me off on Slack (I like rooting for the underdog). However we did try out Slack and some other products for a little bit just to see what it was like, and we still came back to Flock. The reason? Flock offers basically the same service as Slack, with a much more generous free version. They offer double the storage space (10GB) versus Slack (5GB) which means we have a lot more wiggle room when attaching files in chat. I’ll write a more in-depth article in the future, but I highly recommend Flock for small teams.

From Jira to HacknPlan

Jira has long been hailed as the gold standard for agile project management. What they don’t tell you is that for it to actually be useful, you need an actual full time project manager, or someone who is committed to that role. Unfortunately for us, we do not have anyone who is able to fully maximize Jira and all of its integrations. Vanilla Jira is, at least in our experience, painful to use. Basic things like looking up previous sprints consume way more time than necessary. Their strict adherence to the sprint methodology also created some annoying things like not being able to easily delete tasks (something that they added eventually). I was ready to move us off Jira as soon as I found a suitable replacement.

Hacknplan is agile project management created specifically for game development. It’s hard to immediately explain why Hacknplan is better than Jira for our needs. The easiest way to explain it is that while a good project manager could probably create amazing functionality using Jira, HacknPlan lets teams without a dedicated project manager just hit the ground running.


My favorite thing about HacknPlan is its GDM, which is essentially a living game design document. Previously, I would often want to write down some game design ideas for future reference. I would put them in Jira’s backlog, and there they would remain for the rest of their lives. HacknPlan’s GDM lets me create a category or folder containing all of these design ideas, and lets me easily access them in the future when we’ve run out of tasks and need something new to work on. The best thing is that you can assign tasks directly from the GDM, meaning there is a direct connection to your daily work tasks and the higher level design, which is something that is lacking in most agile management tools. HacknPlan has some issues (the pricing tier and some limits on the free version can be a little annoying), but the benefits far outweigh them. I’ve become quite an evangelist, and will push HacknPlan onto any developer within earshot. I’m going to write a much more in-depth post about HacknPlan and how we use it in the future, but if you are a small team making a game, I absolutely recommend you use HacknPlan.

From Google Sheets to (Sometimes) Airtable

Google Sheets is a great all around spreadsheet app that you can access from almost anywhere as long as you have an internet connection. It doesn’t do anything special, but in the hands of an expert like our designer Tristan, you can make magic with it.


Airtable is an app that lets you do some of that magic and much more without a lot of effort. It feels a little like Spreadsheets 3.0 (with Spreadsheet 1.0 being the actual paper spreadsheets), adding functionality to spreadsheets that can make them much more easier to parse at a glance. For example, while designing our research items, we decided that they would be arranged like a tree, with some items being unlocked by research a “parent” item. Noting down the parent of a research item in a spreadsheet is easy enough, but hunting down items with the same parent can be a chore, even if you take the time to color coordinate the cells properly (which can be time consuming in itself). With Airtable, it only takes a couple of clicks to instantly rearrange and group the data by “parent”, which is a godsend when we are doing internal QA to make sure that everything is working properly in the game. Even better, you can parse this data by grouping it according to two different fields. So for example I could organize the data by way of parent and research cost, allowing me to know which research items that have the same parent cost the same amount.

Airtable’s complexity is also what makes it annoying to use sometimes. For example, coloring a cell is something that anyone who has used a spreadsheet does on a regular basis. I often do this when I want to indicate that a specific task is done, by highlighting it in green. Airtable’s free version doesn’t let you do this seemingly simple task, meaning if I want to do the same thing, I would have to create a new column, assign it as a “checkmark” type of field, and us this to check off items as I finish them. So while I highly recommend that studios use Airtable and its immense capabilities (of which I feel like I have only scratched the surface), sometimes good old Google Sheets is more practical to use. Luckily Airtable lets you import CVS files so if you start out using Sheets and deciding to move to Airtable, the process is painless.

Bonus Tools : Bug Reports with Google Forms

We currently use Google Forms as a bug reporting mechanism. While it’s great and importantly, free, I have been wishing we could switch to a different service that was better at parsing the data we receive. It’s great that Forms links seamlessly with Sheets, but all that data can be overwhelming to comprehend.

I’ve done a little research into alternatives like Surveymonkey, but I’ve yet to see anything that would be exactly what we need, which is an affordable bug report website or app that parses out the bug report data in more understandable chunks. If you have any suggestions, please let me know in the comments!

Bonus Tool 2 : Rescuetime

We are a small team and we don’t do the typical time tracking expected in a virtual team. This probably won’t scale to a much larger team, but in general we’ve noticed that we tend to work longer hours than usual anyway, so asking people to time in and out just seems insulting.

Instead, we suggest that people download Rescuetime and track their productivity on their own. It’s a great free tool that helps you keep track of your computer time. We’ve found that most people are usually shocked at how little productive time they actually use during the day, and this helps give them an incentive to do better. The free tool lets you set goals (mine are to have at least 4 productive hours a day and to spend less than 30 minutes on social media during work hours) and is more than enough for the average person.


I hope this will be useful for other devs and studios out there to give them an idea of the tools that they can use to help make the process of making games a little bit easier. It’s important to note that these are the tools that work for Squeaky Wheel specifically. The best thing to do is to always try it out for yourself and see what works best for you and your team!

Thanks for reading, and hope you found this useful! If you're interested in Academia: School Simulator, you can buy the game now! If you're not ready to buy, please sign up for our mailing list, join the Facebook group, follow us on Twitter, or subscribe to our Youtube channel and help us spread the word!

What keeps the Philippines game industry from being more successful? Part 1

Recently on the local IGDA Facebook group a question was asked about “What is stopping the Philippine game industry from having more financial success and global cultural influence?” I generally don't like these questions because they're overly broad and usually are just expressions of frustration looking for affirmation. Luckily it did spark a lot of interesting conversation, so that's great. I was tempted to weigh in, but Facebook is a poor way to communicate. While this is only tangentially related to Squeaky Wheel, I guess I can get away with saying that it may be interesting to talk about the environment in which we make games. I'll respond with my thoughts on some of the responses, try to tie it in with our own experiences as a small PC game studio, and offer suggestions for improvement.

Note: My opinion is skewed towards PC games, and indie PC games in particular, since that is what we make. As such I have little interest in the mobile games market.

Is there a Lack of Support from fellow Pinoy (Filipinos)?

This one is a relatively easy one for me to respond to. We never targeted Filipino players in the first place because we don't believe the market is large enough to support us. This is a belief that I've long held, which only now is slowly starting to change.

Note : Just a warning, I'm not a statistician and the numbers I share with you here are taken from websites that may or may not have accurate research. I do believe them to be generally true, which is why I hold this belief about selling to the local market.

First, let's compare GDP at PPP between the US and the Philippines. GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is the value of goods and services produced in a country in a year. Divided by the population of a country, this gives you a rough estimate of how much an average individual in that country earns. PPP (Purchasing Power Parity) is a formula used to equalize the cost of goods between different countries. So basically we are comparing an average person's income between countries, which is important because we want to know how many people might be able to buy our games.

Using the numbers from this Wikipedia page, I took the data from the IMF, World Bank, and CIA lists and divided by 3 to get the average GDP at PPP for 4 countries : The Philippines, The USA to act as the “successful model”, and Thailand and Indonesia as comparatively similar economies.


So what this graph tells is that an average person in the USA has almost 6 times the purchasing powe of the average person in the Philippines, which means much more money to spend on things above basic necessities (ie games and other entertainment). So all things being equal, the average game developer in the US has a much larger domestic market than the average Philippine developer.

Things get worse when you factor in socioeconomic classes. According to this site (according to an SWS survey), the percentage of people in the upper and middle classes (A,B and C) are about 10%, while about 90% would be considered working class or poor. Let's assume that the survey is a little skewed and double the number of ABC classes to 20% of the total population.

That still means that of the average population that is earning less in GDP at PPP than even Thailand or Indonesia, only 20% of that population might have the disposable income to be spend on games. This doesn't even take into consideration access to PC/consoles, credit cards, piracy, and other mitigating factors that make depending on the local market a dangerous idea. So to respond to the claim that there isn’t enough support, I would say the more important question is whether there is even statistically enough people that are able to support a healthy industry. My answer would be a flat no.

That said, that doesn't mean that you should ignore the folks them. There are a quite a few players out there that are happy and willing to support local development, and I was pleasantly surprised at how many people came by our booth last year to buy Early Access copies of Academia : School Simulator. To be fair, I had expected not to sell a single copy, so my standards were pretty low. Certain communities can also be quite supportive. When I politely shared that we have Jose Rizal as a trading card on the r/Philippines subreddit, people were quite supportive and surprised that the game had been made in the Philippines. We also get excited youtube users that comment on our videos that they were excited to hear we're from the Philippines.

And of course the local development scene is pretty friendly and usually ready to help out (ourselves included, when we are able).

So yeah, it's a great morale boost to get some support from local fans, and we want to represent as best as we can in local events like ESGS, but our long term strategy is to sell to the world first, then hope that trickles down into interest from local fans. Given that the internet (via Steam and other global distribution platforms) gives you access to the global marketplace, you have a much better chance at survival as a game developer by selling to the world rather than just selling to the domestic marketplace.

It would be great to one day have such a large domestic marketplace that is large enough to accommodate super niche games as well as giant triple A games. But a lot of that is completely beyond us and has to do with the economic health of the nation. For now, the best we can do is to nurture the current communities that are already supporting local game developers, and survive by selling to the world.

This is part 1 of what may be a multi-part series. No promises, as this takes me way too long to write than is probably worth it!

Thanks for reading, and hope you found this interesting! If you want to support us, you can buy Academia: School Simulator now! If you're not ready to buy, please sign up for our mailing list, join the Facebook group, follow us on Twitter, or subscribe to our Youtube channel and help us spread the word!

Drawing Inspiration from a Global Community of Game Developers


I've opined before that I think game conventions are a net negative when it comes promoting or marketing your game. If it's a consumer focused event, then player feedback can be valuable. There is an infinitesimally small chance that press or streamers will find your game and help it blow up. But I think many games have proven the digital age it is very possible for you to succeed without participating in game conventions at all. But that's a topic I'll go deeper into for another day, as I've yet to give it enough thought to write anything coherent.

So what value is there in attending conventions? Why did we bring Academia : School Simulator to Bitsummit this year? Well for me, the best thing about game conferences is meeting fellow developers from around the world and hearing their stories. In where political and ideological divisions are becoming more and more stark and divided, it's more important than ever to build bridges and get to know each other better. So here are some stories from Bitsummit, with all the specific details brushed out to protect people's identities.

Note: a reminder that I am from the Philippines, which hopefully helps give context to some of what I say.


Three of my formative years were lived in Jakarta, Indonesia's bustling capital. This year at Bitsummit I met a few awesome young game developers who are really making waves both locally and around the world. We compared notes on whether Metro Manila or Jakarta was the worse city ( I decided it was a tie) and how linguistically interesting it was that even our slang words were sometimes similar (The slang for women's breasts is “dede” in Filipino, while it's “tete” in Bahasa Indonesia). We hoped to one day be able to grow the regional industry to the point where we could have our own GDC, aspirations we shared with a Singaporean dev that joined us for lunch.

In between dick jokes (remember how I said they were young?) they mentioned that they had read my article about publishing games in China and how that had shaped their decision to seek publishers there. Hearing these stories really affirms that the time I spend writing these blogs is worth it.

Just a day after the event, the news about a suicide bombing in Surabaya shocked the Indonesian nation. I've always had close ties to Indonesia, but now having made these new friends, I feel their pain even more intensely.


Drinking beer by the riverside is one Bitsummit's most time-honored traditions. I had a conversation with a Danish developer about old age in the game industry. He's pushing 40 and a little worried about it, and I was happy to have a conversation with someone older than me about my fears of aging.

I asked how he felt about the influential Danish architect Bjarke Ingels and he said that while he doesn't agree with everything Ingels does, it's kind of nice that he(Bjarke) is a larger than life personality coming out of a country and region that prides itself on the Jante Law (tl:dr living a modest life is A-OK). I agreed that it's good and necessary for certain people to be able to stand out and make their mark in the world and hopefully improve it. But he agreed with me when I said it's also important not to worship these people or require everyone to aspire to be like them.

He talked about how he owns a gun and hunts in the Danish countryside, but that he can't wrap his head around American gun laws. I just shook my head sadly and mentioned how disappointed I was that some people on our forums seem really eager to have school shootings in our game. I have a standing invitation to call on him and his team if we ever visit Copenhagen.

South Africa and Germany

There is something about bi-racial couples that really makes me happy. It's like my view of the world being interconnected and everyone being equal is encapsulated a relationship between two individuals, and it's a beautiful thing. One such couple was staying in the same guesthouse as us, and we had a little conversation over breakfast. There was a disagreement about how we felt about doing game conventions:

South African : I don't know what you're talking about, I get so pumped doing conventions, I'm fucking ready to go! *stretches and flexes
Me and the German : Ugh, get out my face.


I met a Brazilian game developer who is living in Japan. I approached him because we were both building simulation games, and we talked about the difficulty of explaining and showing a simulation game in a convention that tends to favor loud, quick to play action oriented games.

We had a couple too many beers at the mixer, and it became clear to me that with each increasing beer he began to progressively bring out his grab bag of spoken languages and accents, which led to two awkward/hilarious moments:

Ukranian : Hey, I'm from the Ukraine.
Brazilian : *something in Russian!
Ukrainian: That is Russian, but I forgive you.

Third Party : These guys are from Australia!
Brazilian : *something in ridiculous Australian accent!
Australians : …

A couple of beers later (perhaps we should have stopped, but they were free) I brought up the current situation in Brazil and he went on a passionate defense of Lula da Silva and how the charges against him were trumped up. The short argument was that yeah, the left was corrupt, but at least they did some good things. The right will just destroy everything!

I should end this by saying I think he's a really lovely person, but when we meet him next time maybe I'll tell him to slow his roll with the alcohol.


I tried out a Japanese developer's game and I really liked it. We alternated speaking broken Japanese and broken English to each other, and I encouraged him to shop his game to publishers so that he finds a wider audience. I pointed him out to publisher that I knew, and then proceeded to take one of his flyers over to said publisher.

Me: Hey have you checked this game out?
Publisher : No, what is it?
Me: *explains game
Publisher : Oh awesome man, thanks for this, (you're) always looking to help others out.


I met a lovely couple living in Canada who were both game designers. We discussed the difficulty of calling their spouse their “partners”, especially in the context of a game exhibition where a partner more often means “business partner”.

One of them brightened up when I mentioned we had made Political Animals. Apparently she had really loved how it took certain risks by showing that politicians were just people responding to incentives. I told her that it really warmed my heart to hear that, especially since the game was a financial flop. She said she thinks it's well known in game designer circles because she hears it being discussed a lot. This is the first I've heard of that, but that certainly made my night.

We talked about how we were both so in love with Japan and were trying to figure out a way to settle down there or just live there for a few years, and how it sucked that Japanese immigration and residency policies made it really difficult to attract people here.

I should say I’m actually quite picky when it comes to my friends, but it was one of those wonderful moments where I felt like we instantly connected and would have been best friends had we lived in the same area.

Last Conversation : Iran

We shared a table space with a couple of Iranian developers. I had given them advice on how to get to Kyoto via Tokyo through email, and it turns out we shared the same guesthouse as well. We shared our extension cord with them, and before we packed up and left I had a quick conversation with one of them:

Iranian : Hey, thanks for being good neighbors and sharing your extension cord with us
Me: Oh no problem, its's really nothing. I uh...good luck with those economic sanctions I guess?
Iranian : *Sigh These fucking politicians.
Me : I know right? We just want to make games and get along!
Iranian : Exactly!

Note: I understand that this is a rather naive statement and obviously having made a game about politics we believe in some sort of political process. It does get frustrating sometimes that people on the ground can be friends while their leaders bicker with each other.

These are only some of the many conversations I had in Bitsummit. I left feeling a little more energized and connected to the world than I had been for a while. It's important to hunker down and build your games. But making games in isolation can become lonely and disheartening, and sometimes it's good to reconnect and feel like you're a part of a larger, global family of game creators.  Here's to next year's Bitsummit!

Bonus Conversation : China

While in line at the airport I tapped a guy on the shoulder because his bag was wide open and the contents looked ready to fall out. He was very appreciative and friendly, and we chatted a little bit while in line. Turns out he's a Chinese businessman with “many businesses” in many countries and doing “distribution”.

Chinese : I distribute cleaning implements
Me: *excited Oh! Like vacuum cleaners? (excitement context: I love my Dyson vacuum cleaner)
Chinese : No, like liquid cleansers
Me: *hiding disappointment Ah.

Since he was friendly enough I offered him by business card before we split up, and he offered his in return while his girlfriend nodded approvingly (she was very keen for us to exchange contact info). When I looked at it, his business card was an “invitation” to join Amway. He texted me afterwards thanking me again for reminding him about the bag. Needless to say, I will not be responding to any and all further texts.

Thanks for reading, and hope you found this interesting! I'd like to take this moment to say you get get Academia : School Simulator now! If you're not ready to buy, please sign up for our mailing list, join the Facebook group, follow us on Twitter, or subscribe to our Youtube channel and help us spread the word!

Squeaky Wheel's 2017 Year in Review

This is the second year of Squeaky Wheel's life as a company, and things are certainly looking a lot different from when I wrote a similar blog post 1 year ago. We started 2017 at a low point. Our first game, Political Animals, was (and still is) a financial flop. We had shifted pretty hard to our as yet unannounced game (Academia: School Simulator) in a last ditch attempt to launch an Early Access game that could save the company. We were fully prepared for this to be Squeaky Wheel's last year as a company, but it turns out we still have some life left in us! Still, as with last year, many lessons were learned. Here they are in no particular order.

We Launched our Second Game!

First things first, we launched our second game on September 8, 2017. We had gotten a lot of interest in the months leading up to launch, but being this was a game that was only in development for all of 8 months, anything could go wrong. I wrote a much longer blog post comparing the launch of Political Animals with Academia, but the short version is Academia did much, much better than Political did. In fact it did well enough in the first month of sales to ensure that we could operate for at least one more year. That's a huge deal for us, because it ensure that we can keep the lights on for all of 2018 working exclusively on Academia : School Simulator.

Political Animals is Getting Recognition Despite Lack of Sales


As a small team, knowing where to devote our resources is a very important skill. It quickly became obvious that Political Animals was a sunk cost, and we needed to move on. So after a couple of character and language updates, we moved to work full time on Academia : School Simulator.

Despite it's financial failure, it has reaped recognition in other ways. It was awarded a 5 star review by Common Sense Education, the primary resource for teachers looking to integrate games into their teaching. Political Animals was also included as one of Common Sense Educations' Best of 2017 under the Social Studies category. We also did some local workshops using Political Animals as a way to discuss civics and politics with high school kids. So it's certainly paying a lot of karmic rewards and “good feels”.

Moving forward, we want to explore how to get Political Animals into schools by creating worksheets and workshops with teachers to better enable them to use the game in their classes. We're also going to pitch the talk to the Games For Change Conference in 2018 under the Civics track.

It's become very apparent to us that there is a good game buried underneath some bad presentation choices in Political Animals. I'm holding out hope that maybe next year we'll have the opportunity to dig into the game again and release a deluxe edition with new characters, play modes, and a proper tutorial, so that it can fulfill its destiny as a game.

An Evolving Company Structure

When we hired our programmer Don last year, it was a little unclear what his position was in the team. Was he a cofounder? An employee? Legally he was a contractor, but our small team and egalitarian nature meant that we made very little distinction between him and the core team. While that may generally be seen as a good thing, I do think that confusion partly led to his decision to leave the company to develop his own game, Shots Fired. I want to make it clear that we parted as friends, and we wish him the best with his game (go on and wishlist it!) but it did teach us that we needed to have more clarity when hiring people.

My previous work with Introversion has given me some insight into how they run as a company, and that has given me a model to work with. Essentially they have a core group of directors, and with the exception of one (or two?) employees, they hire out contractors as necessary. In fact, that's how they hired me for Prison Architect.

I like this model because in practical terms it allows us to be more flexible with how we operate. So apart from the core team, we can hire freelancers to help us out for short term tasks like art and social media, or contractors for the duration of the project. Contractors can also be offered bonuses based on their time with the project, and can share in the success (or failure!) of the game.

In a hit-based industry like games where there is little to no stability, having the right kind of structure can be vital to the survival of an indie studio.

What's Early Access Been Like?

Honestly? Not as bad as most developers think it is.  I think we have struck a good balance with Academia : School Simulator.  We have been as honest and forthright about what we can and cannot do, and our capabilities.  We've never overpromised, and the fact that we're constantly on the discussion boards and responding to emails when we have free time has built a sense of trust with our community, one which we are very serious about keeping.

It's been really great to get feedback from people, and for that reason alone Early Access has done tremendously for us.  It's still a bit of a balance managing player expectations for the game and the direction we want to take it in, but that's par for the course. The majority of our players have validated my belief that people who buy into Early Access games are mature and understanding of the process, as long as we are open with them.

What's happening in 2018

2017 started rough, and we ground it out, patiently working on Academia and posting updates and Youtube videos dutifully and crossing our fingers for launch. It turned out better than we could have hoped, and we're happy to say that we'll be working on Academia : School Simulator for the rest of 2018 and beyond. Prison Architect took 5 years to complete, and Rimworld is still chugging along and putting out updates with full release nowhere in sight.

2018 will definitely be very interesting. We're hiring two new contractors to help us speed up development. If all goes well, we have many plans that will make Academia an even better and more complete game within the next few months. We're hoping for a Mac release early in the year, and we're currently working on a language modding tool so that even more people around the world can start playing the game.

I'd like to thank everyone who has helped us make it this far, including everyone that bought into the game so early on and believed that we could make it awesome. We wouldn't be here without you!

Lessons Learned From Two Game Launches

A little over a year ago I wrote a rather depressing blog post about Political Animals' launch. You can read it in full if you like, but the bottom line is the launch was a major flop despite the fact that it was featured on Steam's front page. Indiepocalypse aside, a front page feature should still have assured us a enough views to break even. It didn't. Academia : School Simulator, on the other hand, did well enough to ensure that we could continue development into the foreseeable future. In fact, despite not receiving any features from Steam, Academia : School Simulator sold almost 3 times as much as Political Animals in the same time period.

Why was that? Since we're talking about first day sales, I posit that it cannot be the actual quality of the games that mattered. Because if Political Animals was simply a bad game, what we should have seen was a flood of purchases based on that front page feature and then a subsequent amount of bad reviews, returns, and refunds. Instead, what we saw was people finding our steam page and then immediately deciding “nah, I'll pass”.

I realize now it's the months leading up to launch day that matters most.  I'm going to describe and differentiate what we did for Political Animals and Academia : School Simulator with the hopes that you can use the lessons we learned for your own game launches.

Social Media

Political Animals:

This was a social media failure. While we had a Website, Blog, Twitter and Facebook accounts where we would post sporadic updates, we weren't showing anything that the players could engage with. This was our fault. Cliff from Positech would push us to do video devlogs, but we would demur from lack of ability/time. This shot us in the foot at launch, as we had not built up the requisite trust and awareness from our target market for a good launch.

Academia : School Simulator

We did a MUCH better job this time around. We decided from the beginning that we would do youtube devlogs. So as soon as we had a primitive prototype that we could show off, we started doing devlogs. They were really bad at the start, but you can see the improvement in the devlogs and the game as time moved on. We had a very strict once a month devlog rule, even when we had little to show for the month aside from polishing the game for launch. While we didn't get hundreds of thousands of views, we had an active community that was asking questions and sending suggestions, excited for every month's update.

For every devlog, we posted it on Twitter, Youtube, and our Mailing List. There was a great feedback loop where at the end of every month we would see our Mailing List numbers increase.

We've been a bit negligent on the Youtube side since launch, something I'm going to rectify at the end of the month. The honest reason is that these videos are exhausting and take up a huge chunk of time to work on. So at the end of an exhausting dev month, the last thing any of us wanted to do was to make a video of our progress. But they're the touchstone of our outreach to players, so we need to get back on it.


It's important to have a good, consistent media plan and follow through on it. Start as soon as you can, especially if you know you have to build up trust and create a community around your game.

Steam Store Page

This was a fail for both launches. Aside from filling up the requisite store information (which by the way takes a hell of a lot of time) we essentially did not do anything with the store pages before launch. This is a huge mistake. Like it or not, many gamers are treating Steam as a one-stop shop for their gaming information these days. So there will be a lot of people ending up on your Steam Store page that will never have heard of you before or seen your Twitter, Facebook, or Youtube account. So if they end up at your store page and there have been no updates since yo made the store page live, it will look empty, and emptiness breeds mistrust.

This is even more important for Early Access games. Because so many people have been burned by Early Access games before there is a huge hurdle of trust that you have to overcome with skeptical players. In fact, some people on our Steam discussion boards for Academia wrote saying they initially thought we were scammers because of the similarity to Prison Architect and the fact that there were no updates. The worst thing is we only saw this comment days later, making us look even more suspicious! It took us a few days to gain players' trust by sharing all of the devlogs that we had previously made on Youtube and establishing a track record of development.


The lesson here is that once you publish your Steam page you have to start treating it as another social network that you have to manage, if not the most important social network. An active Steam store page assures players that developers are legit and communicating with the playerbase, which gives them more confidence in the game



Political Animals

For Political Animals we went to quite a few conventions, the most important of which were PAX West and EGX in the UK. We got some good press out of it, with Eurogamer even giving us a small writeup as one of their “Best of EGX”. We met some cool players who were super into the game, and it gave us hope that we were on the right track. Sadly, it turns out that this was not the case. We spent a lot of time and energy going to conventions around the world, but I think that money was essentially wasted, especially since for Academia we didn't even go to a single one.

Academia : School Simulator

Aside from our disappointment with the results from Political Animals, the easy answer for why we didn't go to any conventions is simply because we had nothing to show yet. We were way too early in the dev process to be showing it off.

We did go to a convention, but only to a local one in the Philippines called ESGS. While ESGS is one of the biggest gaming conventions in the Philippines, it pales in comparison to PAX and EGX. We also went there post-launch, meaning we already had a game we were selling and could sell to attendees at a significant discount. We also had a free booth courtesy of indiearena, and we wanted to support the local game industry and meet our peers while we were there.


As with Political Animals, it was great to meet the players of our games, and we even picked up some local press. We also found out later on that we'd been nominated for a local industry awards, and even ended up taking home best game! So there's certainly a lot of emotional value to be gained from doing conventions, but don't go there expecting to boost your sales.


There are many reasons to attend conventions. Meeting players and fellow devs, getting feedback from them, and just enjoying the experience of seeing the other games. PAX was a whole lot of fun when we didn't have to man the booth. But our experience is that they are not very good value for money.

For ourselves, I think we will only go to conventions if we can get a subsidized spot, like with the Indie Megabooth, or even a free booth as with ESGS or Busan Indie Connect. We'll only go if we already have something to sell, so that we can subsidize the cost of travel. While some devs may find value in the cons, there are many devs that completely avoid them as a policy (Rimworld's Tynan Sylvester and Zachtronics for example) but are still successful studios. That's the model we want to emulate moving forward.

Streamers and Press

Political Animals

We reached out to streamers and press a week or so (memory fails me) before launch. I think we gave press a headstart just because it takes them a little longer to write an article, but that was the gist of it. We got some pretty big streamers on board, the biggest of which was TotalBiscuit. It was amazing watching him stream the game. Unfortunately I think it was a mistake to share the game a week early. By the time the actual launch rolled around, interest in the game had dissipated. Every second between the initial impression and clicking to buy a game is crucial. Bigger studios can rely on marketing right before the game's launch to help cover for this, but for a small studio it can be the kiss of death.

Academia : School Simulator

This time around we were adamant that we wanted to close the gap between first impression and game purchase. We released keys to press and streamers a few days before launch with a loose NDA that basically said “We are releasing this to you early so you can familiarize yourselves with the game, but please release your content only after the game is available for purchase. Otherwise you will receive a long, heartfelt email full of disappointment from me.” There were one or two outliers, but for the most part people stuck to the NDA.

Just to tie this back to social media, one advantage of doing those early youtube videos and spreading the word early was that we got youtubers emailing us asking for access even after our first devlog. So they were primed and pretty pumped to share the game by the time we finally released the keys.

For Academia we used a combination of both Keymailer and Woovit, so people could choose what they felt most comfortable with. Email or Twitter was a last resort, but we would ask for some verification before we would give out the keys to avoid the inevitable scammers.


I realize now that I didn't really write too much about press. That's because for the most part, press outlets hold much lesser sway now than then used to. I would suggest picking out the most important one for you and sending out a personal email, then crossing your fingers.

Build a marketing strategy that will inevitably attract Streamers and press to your game. Release as close to launch as you can to maximize day one sales. Cross all fingers and toes.


Political Animals

We launched Political Animals on November 2.  This was awful timing because A) It was a terribly fatiguing election (The US election in 2016) and people were sick of it and B) November is a very heavy month for launches, and we were sandwiched between some really big attention grabbers.  We had no choice with this as we could not have launched any earlier, and launching AFTER the US elections might have been even worse.

Academia : School Simulator

We consciously went for a September launch.  Our actual target was August but we needed just a tiny bit more time so we settled on September 8.  There was less of a crowd when we launched, and I think we came out the better for it.  We also had the benefit of three successive sales (Halloween, Autumn, and Winter) coming one after the other, where people are primed to buy new games.  We carefully set the discount to 10% so as to be part of the sale but not undercut the value of our new game's release.


The general rule for indies is to try to launch around February or August because those are the quietest months of the year for launches.  Given the number of games coming out every day on Steam this rule is rapidly losing currency, but I would still advise you to never try to launch in the October to December window because you will be facing up against studios with huge marketing budgets that will drown you out.

Final Thoughts

We learned from the mistakes we made with Political Animals and applied them to Academia : School Simulator. While it wasn't the best launch in the world and I'm sure we could have done better, we did do well enough to keep the lights on. In these dark days of the Indiepocalypse, that's already quite a feat.

Thanks for reading, and hope you found this useful! If you're interested, you can buy the game now! If you're not ready to buy, please sign up for our mailing list, join the Facebook group, follow us on Twitter, or subscribe to our Youtube channel and help us spread the word!

A Guide to Modding in Academia : School Simulator


We recently added Steam Workshop to Academia : School Simulator, and we’re super excited to see what mods our players will create.  We already have an explanation of the actual process of creating and uploading a mod to the game here, but this article will go into more depth on how we manage the art in the game so you have a better understanding of how to create visual mods.

Objects and UI images

Objects are the most straightforward things to change, since they are individual images.  Simply replace the current object image with one of your own, making sure that every rotation of that object is included.  Also make sure that your modded image has the exact same size as the original image.  For example, if you want to mod a chair, which is 128x128, make sure your modded image remains 128x128.


These are a little bit more difficult.  Each wall image is a 512x512 image divided into 4x4 tiles, with each 128x128 tile being one section of a wall.  Each section of the wall is properly aligned to each other so it’s important to stick to this alignment to make sure that the walls render properly in your mod.  Here is a helpful image to help you better visualize how each section connects with each other.


Once you are comfortable with how the walls interconnect with each other, you can start making some more radical changes, like maybe making the walls thinner, and seeing how that looks in the game.


The characters are where you can get really creative with your mods, but it takes some understanding of how we put the characters together in order to get the best results.  
Our characters are separated into four parts (Hair, Head, Body, Hands) as seen in this image:


We have a few “types” of each part, which we mix and match randomly in the game to create unique characters.  As you can see from the image below, it doesn’t take a lot of art to create quite a bit of variety:  


You can see we’re severely lacking in variety in terms of skintones and body types, and so we’re planning a substantial update to this in the near future.  We also separate male and female hairstyles, faces, and bodies, so that female type parts will exclusively be combined with each other, and same for male parts.  As with the objects and walls, you cannot create “new” body parts, you can only “replace” them.  So based on this image, you could only create two different male body types by replacing the standard ones.  If you added a third male body type to the image, there is no code as of yet that will extract that image to display it in the game.

Body Orientations


Another important thing to note is that each body part has 4 orientations: (facing)down,up,right,and closed. It’s important to keep this in mind in case you want to do a full change of all of the images in the character spritesheet.

Prison Uniform mod


While the current character spritesheet can be fairly limited in terms of modding, there are definitely ways to get creative with it.  The first mod I thought of making was the Prison Uniform mod.  When we were talking about what mods to make I immediately wanted to make this.  It’s both an homage to Prison Architect, and a slight dig at people who insist that Academia is a mod of Prison Architect.  The idea of creating a Prison Architect mod for a “mod of Prison Architect” just tickled my funny bone.

This mod was pretty basic, we can call it a “uniform” mod.  All I did was change the uniforms of the students to prison jumpsuits, and that was it.  This is a great, quick mod with minimal effort.  Our most popular mod so far is a Gryffindor mod which basically uses the same process.

Green Aliens mod


I wanted to push a little further with this mod because I wanted to show just how creative you can get with it if you spent some time on the images.  For this mod, I basically deleted the faces and bodies of the students, being careful to make sure my new images still kept to generally the same size.  I wanted my students to be “bald”, ie have no hair, so I went and deleted all of the student hair.  In game terms, the game code will still “draw” the hair on the students, but since the image is empty, it will draw empty space, making them look bald.
Why did I do this?  To make our system of matching hair to faces work, we have to be very strict about the positioning and dimensions of our face and hair.  So if I want to make a “taller” face, it would mess with this system.  Deleting the hair means I have a little bit more leeway with the face shapes.  In fact, if you wanted to, you could delete the hairstyles and add hair directly onto the face types.  This would reduce the amount of uniqueness/randomness when generating students, but would allow much more creativity with the designs.

So there you have it!  I hope this blog has been useful to you and made you excited about the prospect of making mods for Academia : School Simulator!

Here are some files to help you out with making mods:

Character texture PSD

Wall texture PSD

Thanks for reading, and hope you found this useful! If you're interested in making your own mods, you can buy the game now! please sign up for our mailing list, join the Facebook group, follow us on Twitter, or subscribe to our Youtube channel and help us spread the word!

Why Introversion had no Choice but to Make Scanner Sombre

Introversion Software recently released a video sharing their surprise about how poorly their latest game, Scanner Sombre, has done for the PC, moving only 6000+ units.  It cameas a surprise to them because their last title, Prison Architect, did incredibly well, selling well over 2 million units.  They've received a lot of guff from the gamer and developer populace for their perceived arrogance and foolishness at having such lofty expectations.  Many say that the right thing to do would have been to capitalize on the success of Prison Architect by making a sequel or another “Architect” style of game.  I'm here to argue making Scanner Sombre was not only the right thing for Introversion Software to do, it was the only thing they could do.  

There are More Reliable ways to Make Money

Mark Morris essentially says it himself in the video:

“Yeah, I think that people will mock us and say about us, well you guys were idiots, y'know. You had prison architect, you shoulda done airport architect, you shoulda done parkitecht...”

He underlines this point later on by saying:

“If we were hardnosed businessmen, we wouldn't be working in the games industry...if that's genuinely what drives you, to make you that rich, just go and work in the City and be a management consultant. There are plenty of other routes to huge wealth that are a lot more reliable than what we do.”

There is and has always been a struggle between any art form and the business that drives it.  A responsible indie game developer lives the struggle between art and commerce everyday.  You need the art to sustain you spiritually, but you also need to protect your physical and mental well-being by making enough money to support a decent quality of life (even more so if you are a dev with a family and the responsibilities that entails).

Prison Architect was a once in a lifetime success story that succeeded beyond Introversion's wildest dreams and made them a lot of money.  The idea that they would then turn around and think about ways to make even more money simply goes against who they are as a studio.  The money is great, no doubt, but what it bought them was a chance to make a game in a shorter time span without the fear that it would bring the studio to the brink of financial ruin.  It is a situation that I am quite honestly envious of as Squeaky Wheel pins its hopes of survival on our next game.  But more on that later.

When I cofounded Squeaky Wheel after working on Prison Architect, it probably made sense to make a similar systems driven game to pitch to a publisher.  Instead, we made a political strategy game called Political Animals.

Why did we do that?  Well, while it would have made business sense to immediately ride the wave of Prison Architect's popularity, I really, really just wanted to make a different game.  I wanted to make a game that explored the idea that it's really hard to keep your hands (or paws) clean in an election.  That was the idea that drove the development of the game. I simply would not have had the heart to immediately run out and try to do a Prison Architect “clone”.

So how did our passion project do?  I have gone into a lot of detail about Political Animals' launch and how it's done in terms of revenue (here, here, and here) but tl:dr it's done even worse than Scanner Somber!  Thanks to the Steam summer sale, we've managed to finally move over 4000 units on Steam (If you want to try out the game during the steam summer sale I sure as hell won't stop you).  

The Cash Grab

Given how adamantly I didn't want to do a Prison Architect clone as our first game, it might seem ironic that we're now working on Academia : School Simulator, or as others might call it, “School Architect”.

But essentially we've just found ourselves in the opposite situation as Introversion.  Our project was a financial failure, so now we're doing what we think is the sensible thing to do, which is to ride the wave of Prison Architect's popularity to hopefully achieve financial stability, if not success.  

But even at this point, the artist in me still can't help himself.  Analyzing the core elements that made Prison Architect work is an interesting thought exercise, but the process of actually implementing them is sometimes really depressing.  It's at those moments that self doubt creeps in and I start to believe it when people say we're just “cloning” Prison Architect.  

But honestly, I simply cannot imagine just cloning Prison Architect's mechanics.  And it's not even for moral reasons.  Iwould just find it so incredibly boring to do that. Everyone at Squeaky Wheel left jobs (as a freelancer, I did a lot of artwork for iOS clone games) where we had to do that, so what's the point of starting a company to do the same thing?

Unfortunately for us, the parts that will be fun to work on, like school dances, varsity sports, dealing with issues like bullying and teen pregnancy and everything else that makes the school an interesting ecosystem to play with?  That all comes later.  And whether or not we will get to do that will ultimately be decided by how well our Early Access does.  If we can sustain ourselves with our art, then great.  If not...well, we'll cross that bridge when we get there.

We Don't want to Be Starving Artists

I want to end this by saying that I'm absolutely not advocating the “starving artist/gamedev” lifestyle.  I'm too practical to ever go that route, and in many ways I believe that the idea that one must suffer in order to create great art is very harmful.  But like Mark said, if we only cared about making piles of money, we wouldn't be making games for a living.  We struggle to find the balance between art and commerce everyday, and its a tightrope that very few companies cane successfully manage.

So sure, make fun of the Introversion guys for not making Prison Architect 2.  Criticize Squeaky Wheel for trying to make a ridiculous political strategy game featuring animals instead of immediately chasing after that “Architect” money.  But please understand that for us to have done anything else would have been a betrayal of why we do what we do, which is the overwhelming desire to create new and interesting games and share them with the world. 

Thanks for reading! Just to prove we have zero interest in being starving artists, here is an obligatory marketing footer! If you're interested in learning about our latest game, Academia : School Simulator, please sign up for our mailing list, join the Facebook group, follow us on Twitter, or subscribe to our Youtube channel!

7 Tips for Aspiring Game Designers

Last week, we introduced you to our game designer Tristan Angeles (That's him on the left, with our programmer Marnielle) and his path to becoming a game designer. There was so much interview content that we decided to break it up into two parts. If part 1 was about his path to becoming a game designer, then part 2 is about practical tips for aspiring game designers.

1. Learn how to code

Or at least learn the basics of coding so that you can understand what the programmers are talking about. Knowing how to code also lets you make your own games and join game jams even with ugly programmer art.

2. Read Lots of Books

Read as many books as you can about any topic that you find interesting. Recently I heard a podcast interview with Sid Meier, he said "The challenge of game designers today is to bring things outside of the gaming world into gaming world."

3. Enjoy using spreadsheets

You will be using them a lot when it comes to game economy and balancing. I used to hate using Excel until I of my QA friends gave a workshop on how to use it for games. Since then I've found it to be both an enjoyable and indispensable tool.

4. Join Game Jams

One of the jams I joined was The Experimental Gameplay Project. It happened once a month, and you'd have to think about weird ideas and make games about the month's theme.

5. Learn to Compromise

Always be open to the possibility that you can be wrong. Ask for ideas from your team mates. These are the things I constantly keep on telling myself. Everything you think you know while designing is just your hypothesis or assumptions, and can only be validated once you start playtesting.

6. Find an Experienced Designer and Ask Them Questions

I once bought a book called Challenges for Game Designers by Brenda Brathwaite and Ian Schreiber. I emailed Schreiber to ask how he would approach some of the design challenges I had at Gameloft, and he responded. I think the best advice I got from him was about deconstructing games. He told me when tackling a new mechanic the question to ask was why? Why did the game designer introduce this mechanic? This allows you to make a hypothesis why a certain mechanic was put into place.

7. Watch the Extra Credits Videos about Game Design

These videos were my Saturday morning cartoons when I was getting started. These videos cover a broad range of game development topics from basic game design, to more advanced topics like game economies and balancing.

There was no elegant way to transition between the tips and this last segment, but hopefully it will also provide some more insight into practical game design:

What Resources Were Used While Designing Political Animals and Academia?

Social media was a very good resource when we were developing Political Animals. People would post news on Facebook, and it seemed like there was always something we can use or put in the game as events or a feature. In fact, when we released the game and people were posting about it on Facebook, one of the best parts for me was when people 'got' the game by relating it to things they knew or experienced in real life. For some of the mechanics like concerns, voting and bribing I based the mechanics on how I understood this paper on Vote buying by Eddie Dekel, Matthew O. Jackson, Asher Wolinsky .

Getting ideas for Political Animals I believe was the easy part since the team followed Philippine politics. Also, it seemed then that every person I asked knew something(or was an active participant) or had experience with cheating in elections in their home town.

In designing Academia, I'm trying to keep a balance between using school administration textbooks, and entertainment. I've been watching a lot of TV shows lately about or set in schools. Currently, I'm being entertained by Boston Public, just a few episodes of this series gave me respect for principals. Running schools is a hard job! I've also been watching documentaries about schools so that I can get ideas about the challenges faced by school administrators.

Thanks for reading! You can read more of Tristan's thoughts on his old game design blog (which he unfortunately no longer updates) If you're interested in learning about our latest game, Academia : School Simulator, please sign up for our mailing list, join the Facebook group, follow us on Twitter, or subscribe to our Youtube channel! !