An Analysis of the 2016 US Election Using the Mechanics of Political Animals

Donald Trump won a stunning victory in the 2016 US Election yesterday.  Regardless of how you feel about the President-Elect, you have to give it to him and his team for tapping into an undercurrent of fear and anger against the Establishment/Elite and utilizing it to win a victory.  When we started making Political Animals, I had a silly dream of political commentators using the game to analyze actual Political events.  Given the game's slow sales, that's not likely to happen, so if you'll indulge me I'll do a little armchair political analysis using my own game.

The Candidates

Candidate Donald Trunk (ha!) understands (some might say panders to) and empathizes with the needs of the citizens in a way that no other candidate (with the exception of Beary Sanders) does.  However, he is criticized for having a potty mouth and poor taste, and thus has difficulty attracting political patrons to his side.  His special ability, while not realistic, is the ability to build a wall around a district and prevent his enemies from coming in.

His platform is Public Works and Employment.  His staff Include an Agent to fabricate scandals, a Lawyer to help cover up his own scandals, and an Activist to further enhance his rallies. His homebase is in the Factory district, which isn't actually true but represents his campaign's strategy to woo Rust Belt voters.

Hillary Clinton (sorry I could not think of a pun) on the other hand is known as an efficient and extremely hard worker but is also one of the most unpopular candidates in recent history, meaning she doesn't do very well at attracting people to vote for her.  Her platform is Health and Employment.  Her staff include a Preacher to help her generate even more logistics to move and operate her staff, a courier that helps her get around and speak to patrons, and an Activist to supplement her lack of charisma. Clinton's headquarters is in the Kapitolyo (aka Capitol) which again isn't entirely true but is emblematic of the perception that she represents the establishment.

Scandals

Donald Trunk had to deal with a lot of smaller scandals on the campaign trail, but showed a remarkable ability to shrug them off with little effect.  Hillary was dogged by a few scandals which had a much bigger impact on her campaign.

The current mechanics of the game allow for a candidate to win despite multiple scandals, so it's very possible for a Trunk-like candidate to win in Political Animals.  It would be even easier if he used a lawyer to settle some of those scandals.

Undecided Voters and Reputation Decay

Political Animals maps the concerns of undecided voters as well.  They're affected by a variety of things including how popular a candidate is in their district, who has more scandals, and who visited their district most often.  It also has a reputation decay mechanic a candidate will lose support in districts that they have not visited for a long time.

There's been much ado about the collapse of Hillary Clinton's Blue Wall, particularly in the State of Wisconsin. She didn't visit it because her campaign assumed she would be a shoo-in there, which proved to be a costly mistake.

Political Patrons

Political Patrons in Political Animals represent a lot of different things, but they are essentially local leaders that hold a lot of sway in their communities or followers.  In the game there are three types of patrons : Influential, Wealthy, and Popular.  These patrons control access to Logistics (efficiency), fund raising, and campaigning, respectively.

In this election Donald Trunk had difficulty attracting the support of patrons like conservative talk show host Charlie Sykes and prominent members of the Republican party.  Clinton, on the other had, not only had Republicans deciding to vote for her but also had celebrities as wide ranging as Beyonce and Lebron James all the way to working class icon Bruce Spingsteen supporting her.

Political Animals uses Patrons as an in-game balance against pure populism.  In some ways we may have given them a little too much importance.  So if the real world mimicked Political Animals, Hillary Clinton might have won the election over Donald Trunk.  But it was not to be, as we'll see when we discuss the issues.

The Issues

I'm not gonna lie, I was surprised at how closely this Issues overlay mapped (the real) Donald's map to victory.  The areas highlighted in blue are generally the areas that he won and the areas in gray map Hillary Clinton's states.  Obviously there are some differences because this isn't really meant to be a map of the US, but still, kind of surprising.

So this is where Political Animals as a simulation kind of falls apart.  We (and the pollsters, apparently) did not expect how much impact the issues would have on these elections.  Our mechanics connect the concerns of a district to the success of a candidate's campaigns, but not to the extent seen during the elections.  It's as if our fake Donald Trunk hacked into the game and adjusted the formula to greatly increase the effect that playing to the issues of electorate had.  

Hillary lost this battle almost completely.  I read recently that former president Bill Clinton had some issues with Hillary's campaign manager about the lack of a clear message (his campaign famously coined "It's the economy, stupid").  I tend to agree, and so does this article.  Towards the end their campaign centered around "Stronger Together", which is nice but pales with "Make America Great Again."  If I was in charge of their messaging, I would have used "Let's Get to Work."  It would have enhanced her workaholic credentials while at the same time assuaging the fears of the millions of blue collar workers that felt left behind in previous administrations.  She could have even struck a Rosie the Riveter pose for campaigns to help cement her as a feminist icon.  

Conclusion

The elections are now over, and it seems it was won primarily on a strategy of playing to the legitimate concerns of people who felt left behind.  It should be mentioned that playing to those concerns also included a lot of hateful rhetoric from the side of Donald Trump, but ultimately it seems that this election was won because of a failure of strategy on the Clinton campaign. That is at the heart of what Political Animals is about.  Politics is hard work, and in many ways the Clinton campaign was outsmarted and outworked by the Trump campaign. 

On quite a few occasions we have been accused of making a cynical game.  I think that's the farthest thing from the truth.  I personally would describe myself as falling somewhere between a pragmatist and an optimist.  We've simply described the political landscape (not only in the US, but around the world) as we see it. We've tried to make it balanced so that any kind of candidate can win.  At the end of the day if you believe in your ideals you have to fight for them during the elections. You cannot simply assume that people agree with or will follow you. 

Lastly, I hope you'll forgive me for being a little sentimental, but if we've convinced even this one person that playing clean is a valid political strategy, all the effort that went into making this little game was well worth it.

Thanks for reading. Political Animals is out! If you're a games journalist or streamer that wants a review copy, please check out our press kit and distribute() link.  If you'd like to be updated on the latest Political Animals news, please sign up for our mailing list, join our Facebook group, or follow us on Twitter.

What Does it Feel Like to Launch a Game?

It's been almost a week that Political Animals has been on sale on Steam/GoG/Humble.  It's been quite the emotional roller coaster.  I wanted to take a week to absorb all the emotions and share it with gamers and gamedevs alike.  My apologies for a lack of stats.  I was hoping to share some in this post, but given I can't be too specific with them as per Steam's rules, there's nothing super interesting to show you right now.  I may do a more stats heavy blog in the future once we have a bigger sample size.

Launch Expectations

Given we're not allowed to share actual Steam data, the best we can do is compare out expectations of launch versus how things actually turned out.  We had reasonable expectations for a good launch.  Our publisher, Positech Games, has a good track record and fanbase fond of political games to draw from.  We had positive experiences from players at PAX and EGX.  We gave out keys to press and Youtubers (This is the funniest LP by far) a week prior to launch and we were getting a lot of positive feedback.  Total Biscuit even responded with a Steam key request right after I blasted my press release, which was quite exciting. And we were able to launch right before the US elections, which was our target all along.

There were some warning signs though.  The Halloween Sale happened right before launch, and that's always a terrible time to launch a game.  It was not quite as big as a summer sale, but it's always bad to chase after customers after their wallets have just been emptied.  We were also having a hard time getting traditional press coverage, which would be an issue later on.  And Positech has had games do poorly before, with Democracy : Africa and Gratuitous Space Battle 2 being the biggest disappointments.  

Launch Results

Given we worked virtually (we all live in different parts of Metro Manila and meet once a week) We'd made a team decision to get together after the launch instead of waiting for it together.  I personally went to watch Dr. Strange (entertaining movie, if you can get past Cumberbatch's strained American accent) and waited up for the launch with some close friends before calling it a night.

Note: because we live in the Philippines, the 10am launch in the US was actually 1am in the Philippines.

After a less than restful sleep, I woke up to immediately check on our first day sales so far. We'd previously been informed that we'd be featured on the front page so I was a little bit excited. I'm struggling to remember what I felt when I finally saw the numbers.  Shock?  Sadness?  Probably a stunned silence.  Surely they couldn't be so low.  I impotently clicked refresh a few times until I was satisfied that this wasn't some error.  When it finally sank in that we were probably Positech's poorest performing game, I was a little surprised at how I felt.  I just sat there for what felt like ages thinking "well, we flopped."  I sank two and a half years of my life chasing this day and we flopped.  I was a little worried about how numb I was feeling.  Shouldn't I be crying or something? Is this what shock feels like?  

I stood up and told my wife the bad news.  We sat for a bit while she comforted me.  But it was a weekday, so she soon left for work while I drifted back to stare blankly at the computer screen to click on refresh yet again.  Then I did only thing that I could do, which was try to figure why exactly we'd flopped so badly.

Why Didn't People Buy our Game?

The Halloween sale probably had a bigger impact than we thought.  It's hard to ask players for more money when they've just shelled out for games.  Double Fine also had their day of the devs bundle out at the same time, providing incredible value for just a few dollars.  While there will always be other games out when you launch, I think we picked a particularly poor time to do it.  

"Looks really cute and could be a lot of fun. But as an American I really don't associate fun with elections right now. Dread, yes."

The above quote was from a comment on GoG.  I'm not putting too much stock in just the one comment, but the electino cycle in the US takes an obscenely long amount of time, and my sense is that at this point most people just want it to be over already. Had we launched a month or more ago this might have been less of an issue.

After noticing some people on our game's discussion page opine that the game A) had great art but B) "looked like a mobile game" and C) lacked strategic depth (despite their not having played the game), I decided to take a look at our Steam store page.  I got really upset at myself at that point.  The store page is the first thing most players will see of your game, so it's important to make a good impression.  Your trailer, screenshots, descriptions and reviews all have to work together to convince the prospective player that your game is worth buying. Our store page had an incomplete description and no links to reviews.  It's no wonder people were making these assumptions about our game.  If we couldn't even put together a proper Steam store page, how could we make a good game?  Sadly, the biggest thing that might have affected our sales was something that was very much in our control, and I dropped the ball.

Lastly, I should say it is entirely possible that the game just feels too expensive for what it is, and that maybe the game just isn't good.  As for the first, I suppose we'll find out in a few months.  We've got a surprising amount of wishlists, and if a bunch of those convert during a sale, then we'll know how much people actually value the game.  As for whether or not it's good, we're happy with the feedback the game got at PAX and EGX so we're pretty confident saying we've made a good game.

Engaging the Community

Now that I'd identified some of the launch day issues, the only thing left to do was to try to rectify them as best as we could.  First, that meant fixing the issues with the Steam store page.  Next, we dived deep into the Community discussions and responded as best as we could to people's concerns. In some ways, this is a dangerous move.  Developers can get very defensive about their work, and it's very easy to get into an argument with a player and become labeled an angry dev.  Any devs who want to wade into community discussions need to approach it with an air of humility.  Always assume that any complaint is a valid concern, even if it seems dismissive.  My father in law once told me that a customer that complains is valuable, because they could just as easily have walked away without letting you know why.  If they're complaining, take that as opportunity to convince them to give you another chance.  Which is exactly what I did with one guy who was on the fence.  I asked what was keeping him on the fence, then we had a short back and forth which ended up with him saying :

"Well, with Steam offering a 2-hour refund window, I decided that I'll go ahead and grab the game and give it a whirl."

How did I do it?  It's not magic.  I never once tried to "correct" his intuition that the game was lacking in strategy.  I merely explained that based on our experience at conventions people were happy with the level of strategy, and also linked to a Eurogamer article about it.  That was enough to persuade them to try out the game, which is all I really wanted.

Aside from that, we took note of what people are saying they want from the game.  They say the game feels a bit unbalanced.  We'll look into that.  A lot of people are asking for multiplayer, so we've penciled that in as an update.  There were a few questions about Linux. Assuming all goes well that will be coming soon. More than anything it's the fact that we're engaging with the community that makes people commit to the game.  They feel like we're not just gonna drop the game and never update it again.  We're also still actively looking for press to cover the game to try to keep it in people's minds and give the game some more legitimacy.  

We've also been approached by localizers in China, Russia, etc. places where games don't traditionally do very well due to piracy and a lack of English speaking players.  Localization is definitely a pain, but maybe taking a broader outlook is the way we can keep the game relevant in the coming months and years.

Conclusion

We're proud of the game we've made.  We're also proud to contribute to the number of Philippine made games on Steam.  That may not seem like a big deal to countries with a wealth of developers and games, but it certainly means a lot to us.  It still seems almost impossible that we managed to put the game out on Steam.  

We regret being such a poor investment for Positech in the short term, but they'll make their money back over the long haul, and hopefully even sooner if we manage to play our cards right.  

As for the team, it was definitely pretty rough.  Our first meeting after seeing the sales numbers was pretty somber, but we ended it with a rousing karaoke session that lifted our spirits, if not our sales.  We'll keep working hard to make sure that this game is the best it can be, and hopefully we'll have a chance to make another one.

Thanks for reading. Political Animals is out! If you're a games journalist or streamer that wants a review copy, please check out our press kit and distribute() link.  If you'd like to be updated on the latest Political Animals news, please sign up for our mailing list, join our Facebook group, or follow us on Twitter!

 

How I Learned to get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable

As I write this I am pushing some last minute changes to our build. If all goes well, we will be handing out Steam keys to press so they can get their hands on our game and stream or review them (if you are interested, please check out our press kit and request a review copy). If all doesn't go well...we rush to put out another fire. A few months ago I would be blaming myself for this predicament, wondering how we could have done better, and why we didn't see it coming. Eventually it would lead to another panic attack as I multiply all the fuckups we've made during the course of development and sink into a spiral of despair. I'm still stressed out, but I'm doing a little better today. Why is that? It's because I finally accepted that I just have to be “comfortable with being uncomfortable”. In other words, its okay that things didn't go as planned. It's okay that some bugs just seem to refuse to go away. It's okay that things seemed to finally come together only a few months before launch.

Now to be perfectly fair, a lot of people have been telling me that. Hell, even our publisher told me something similar at one point. I'd heard the same advice from friends of mine who, while not in game development, are entrepreneurs who have to deal with similar situations. But the human brain is a weird thing, and sometimes it takes a very specific time and place for you to hear something and to have everything click. And that moment for me came from this excellent interview of Amy Hennig on the designer notes podcast. She and Soren Johnson have an epic 2 episode podcast which spans how she got into the industry and how she ended up directing one of the most well known franchises in console gaming. At around 30 minutes they start talking about the intricacies of putting together a giant game like the Uncharted and what it takes to get all of those moving pieces running together in sync. Her broad answer is that despite their best efforts, it often doesn't work in sync:

“I always say, get comfortable with being uncomfortable, because if you try to make it feel more known and more nailed down and more sure, you're probably gonna make something that is kind of dead. But if you just go, this is crazy and it's gonna feel crazy, and it's a tightrope walk and we're doing backwards and blindfolded, let's go...”

Now before anyone jumps on me for defending delayed schedules and mistakes and whatnot, let me assure you that I know that all of these things are not okay. It's not okay to miss deadlines, it's not okay to have a scatterbrained development process, and yes, I know the value of a good producer that keeps an eye out for these things. That's all important, and they are all things I wish I had or I wish could do better. But there's also a line where being self-critical and wanting to do better starts to become emotionally harmful to yourself and the people around you.

I'm not a risk-taker. Which seems crazy coming from someone who cofounded a small PC studio in the middle of nowhere (in terms of PC-only game development we might as well be living in a desert) and is putting out an admittedly niche title, but there you go. It's the reason we wouldn't have moved forward without a publisher. There was no way I'd emotionally be able to handle all that risk.

I'm also a bit of a control freak. It's not that I'm a megalomaniac that needs to control everything mind you, it's just that being able to control certain aspects of my life makes me feel emotionally stable. When my wife and I go on trips to other countries I have our itinerary planned out. Where we're going, how we're getting there, where we're staying, etc. I make sure to leave a little room for serendipity, but generally speaking I don't like flying blind. I just don't. It freaks me the fuck out. Having some control just makes me feel a little better.

And yet both entrepreneurship and game development offer you no control. On the team, I'm probably the most flexible in terms of time, so the stuff that doesn't slip through the cracks usually falls on my plate. So I'm managing our finances including payroll and renting at the coworking space, dealing with our audio contractor, dealing with our publisher, handling any legal issues, all the way down to booking tickets and organizing itineraries for when we go to conventions (at this point a career shift to travel agency seems inevitable). Looking at all these moving parts constantly throughout the course of making the game made me feel physically ill at times. I always kept worrying that something would slip through the cracks, and they inevitably did. Then I would get super depressed and get into a funk that seeped into my personal life.

“You should delegate,” you might say. And trust me, it's advice that I've given out myself. I think that people who's first instinct is to do it themselves because other people wouldn't do it right probably wouldn't be good leaders. But delegating is harder than you think. And some of the soft skills I've learned aren't directly transferable to people. It's just stuff I've passively absorbed through almost 9 years of being a freelance artist and basically running a one-man business. Oftentimes the ball in in my court and I totally drop the ball (how's that for mixed metaphors?) And now I know that it's okay.

Why bring this up now?  As I said in the beginning, we're moments away from sharing the game with press, hoping they'll review it in time for our launch next week(!) and desperately hoping they'll like our game.  I'm scared they won't. I'm scared we fucked up somehow. I'm scared that 2 years of effort will go down the drain.  I'm scared Positech's first experiment with a non-UK company will flop, and I'm carrying all that responsibility on my shoulders.  But for better or worse I know that our little team did its best.  And at the end of the day we put out a game.  Whether or not we are financially successful, that's already an accomplishment.  We'll move forward. We'll try to learn from our mistakes. We'll always be trying to get ahead and make sure that everything is locked down and running smoothly. But despite our best efforts we never will probably never lock it down till we're almost at the end. But we'll never stop trying to be better.

Thanks for reading. Political Animals is launching in one week! If you're a games journalist or streamer that wants a review copy, please check out our press kit and distribute() link.  If you'd like to be updated on the latest Political Animals news, please sign up for our mailing list, join our Facebook group, or follow us on Twitter!

Can Political Games Change the World?

A couple of weeks ago, I did a Rezzed Developer Sessions talk at EGX entitled “Can Political Games Change the World?” Apart from doing the talk, it was also the first time we showed the official trailer for Political Animals, seen above.  Unfortunately there wasn’t any video coverage, although any coverage would probably have been marred by the fact that there was a Destiny shoutcaster literally yelling “DESTINY! DESTINY! DESTINY!” and throwing out swag to cheering crowds every fine minutes of the talk. In lieu of that, I thought it might be interesting to show my slides here with some notes to give you a flavor of what the talk was like.

Slide 1: “Can Political Games Change the World?”

Here I introduce myself and give the flow of the talk, which is to look at six political games along a spectrum and discuss how I think they have an impact on the world.

Slide 2 : Definition of Political Games

Here I address how the term “political games” can mean several different things, but for the purposes of the talk I've defined them as games that are about achieving and exercising positions of governance over a community, particularly a state.

Slide 3 : Spectrum of Games

Political games span a spectrum ranging from propaganda to pure entertainment. Essentially rehash slide 1, but now with a visual of the spectrum of political games. The next slide is when we get to the meat of things.

Slide 4 : Oiligarchy

Oiligarchy is a game by Molleindustria that explores the connection between Big Oil and Big Government. It’s a management game where you explore and drill for oil wells, destroying environments and communities along the way. You contribute money to Big Government by literally throwing money at them and “oiling” government representatives. If you manage to “oil” the president, it gives you access to the secret room, which allows you to do things like destabilize Iraq in order to obtain access to its oil profits.

It’s a really intriguing and pretty game, as are all of Molleindustria’s titles. However, the fact that it is clearly propaganda has a noticeable effect on the game design. It’s super simplistic, and there isn’t much challenge to searching for and drilling oil wells. Perhaps the lack of challenge is a commentary on how easy it is to run an oil company, but the game becomes very tedious after 15 minutes or so due to a lack of depth.

The game sacrifices good design in order to make a heavy-handed point, i.e. oil companies are evil. I suspect this also means that it preaches to the choir and doesn’t really do a good job of changing people’s minds or even opening up a conversation about oil.

Slide 5 : Rody Fight Duterte for Change

slide5.jpg

Rody Fight Duterte for Change is a minigame collection on mobile by Keybol Games that features a presidential candidate literally fighting for change. It’s an Android minigame collection that was released to coincide with the Philippine elections. It straddles a moral gray area and caused a kerfuffle in the local game dev community because while it doesn't explicitly promote the candidate it quotes the candidate throughout the game and portrays the candidate in a heroic light. Our election laws are too antiquated to handle questions about game as propaganda. Keybol is a well known game dev locally and there are some brilliant moments in the game when I laughed out loud, such as the minigame where the candidate is literally punching red tape to death.

Given the fractious nature of the most recent Philippine elections, it’s hard to say whether this game really had any impact on changing voters’ minds. It could be argued that the developer was also taking advantage of the popularity of the candidate (now president) , especially given the information in my next slide.

Slide 6 : Screenshot of additional Duterte Games

The Philippine president seems tailor-made for mobile games, and even his chief of police has a game made about him. Obviously given his popularity games made about the president are likely to do well locally.

Slide 7 : Democracy 3

Caveat : the creator of Democracy 3 is our publisher so take what I say here with a grain of salt.

Political philosopher and economist Thomas Sowell once wrote that “There are no solutions, only tradeoffs”. The Democracy series of simulation games is the embodiment of this idea. It shows you how policies result in different outcomes across different sections of the population and challenges you to balance these competing interests in your country. The way it abstracts political horse trading into political capital is also a stroke of genius.

At times, however, it suffers from feeling too efficient. Democracy 3 is almost a Utopian vision from a programmer about how governance “ought to be”. Government should logically weigh the pros and cons of a policy and make exact calculations about how to bring about the greatest overall benefit for the most number of people. But people aren’t rational and logical. People are emotional and inconsistent, capable of holding two contradictory points of view at the same time.

Still, it’s a useful teaching tool, and Democracy 3 has already been used at a European Youth Event for young political leaders. It's interesting to note that it’s being downloaded and played in China, where there is a one party system.

Slide 8 : Crusader Kings 2

As a child of a once-colonized country I was basically taught that Kings and Queens ruled absolutely and did as they pleased. This was reinforced by Games like Civilization and Total War, which essentially cast you as an absolute dictator with the sole decision making power over what to build, who to war with, etc. CK2 forces you to negotiate that power structure with the nobles who swear fealty to you. You cannot commit to a war for no reason, and if you do end up going to war your nobles are only obliged to send a certain percentage of their fighting men to you. While governments have certainly evolved (and sometimes devolved) over time, CK2 taught me that governance has and always will be about how society negotiates power with its leaders.

Crusader Kings 2 has no illusions about changing the world, but it certainly broadened my perspective about history and governance in a way that few games ever have.

Slide 9 : Prison Architect

Another caveat : I was the artist of Prison Architect, so obviously I am rather biased towards it.

Prison Architect is the least overtly political game, but touches on a very political topic, which is for-profit prisons. Interestingly, it was critiqued by Paolo Pedercini of Molleindustria on the political ramifications of making a game about prisons, which in a way brings the spectrum of political games full circle.

Prison Architect makes no pretension about being a political game. It touches lightly on some political themes in its tutorial, but it makes a clear point of allowing the player to build a socialist utopia or an authoritarian gulag without ever penalizing them for either choice. 

Prison Architect never aimed to change the world, but it did give people a way to interact with a social issue in a way that they never would have been able to before. I would also argue that because it wasn't propaganda it reached a much broader and wider audience, which is shown by these articles from Atlantic and Mother Jones.

Slide 10 and 11 : Lame Answers to Important Questions

Essentially these slides were used to re-ask the original question “Can Political Games Change the World?” and offer my profound answer, “Maybe.” I feel it’s too hard to say one way or the other, and creating change in the world is too much to ask of one game. At best, political games can and should challenge us as individuals and open us up to different ideas. Which then leads us neatly to Political Animals.

Slide 12-16 : Political Animals

Slides 12-16 for the most part describe Political Animals , which is probably something best served by going to the game’s website.

At this point I'd like to go a little more in depth about the more high-minded goals of Political Animals.

The common argument put forth when discussing politics is that all we need are “good people”. If only we had “good people” who weren’t “corrupt” we would have an excellent working government. Yet time and again it seems we elect “corrupt” officials. Why is that? Are we just so unlucky that we live in countries where only bad politicians thrive?

We put forth the argument that bad systems make for bad politicians. If we had better systems in place that encouraged good behavior, we would generally produce better politicians who serve the interests of their people.

We want to throw the player into the election campaign as we currently see it, with the countless interests that constantly compete for your campaign funds. We challenge the player to weigh pragmatic results against tough moral choices. And at the end of the day we ask the player what every politician at some point will have to ask themselves: What are they willing to pay in order to ensure victory?

Will Political Animals change the world, or even our country? Probably not. But we want people to question themselves. We want people to ask if they really would do a better job than their politicians. And we want them to come to the realization that politicians are just like them, just flawed human beings working in a bad system. We want them to think about how to fix that system, because we have no answers.

And as if we weren’t setting the bar high enough for ourselves, we want them to enjoy playing our political strategy game at the same time.

Thanks for reading! Political Animals is launching soon, and if you'd like to be updated on the latest Political Animals news, please sign up for our mailing list, join our Facebook group, or follow us on Twitter!

Political Animals Campaigning at PAX

Attendance at PAX West (formerly PAX Prime) was finally surpassed by PAX East this year, but you wouldn’t think that given the line stretching out of the Washington State Convention Center.  PAX West is so large that the convention center cannot contain it, spilling over into multiple locations aroundaround downtown Seattle.  Tucked into a corner of the Expo Hall as part of the Indie Megabooth, Political Animals was shown off for the very first time in a major games convention.   

First Two Days

The Indie Megabooth tried something interesting this year where they split up the days that exhibitors would be presenting.  Since we (my wife Aissa and I went together since we both had US visas) were arriving the night before after a 20 hour flight, we negotiated for a Sunday-Monday slot.  This was a good thing, since PAX was really overwhelming and it took me some time to make sense of it all and figure out a way to make the first two days worthwhile.

PAX Panels

One of the most enjoyable and entertaining parts of PAX were the variety of panels they had on hand.  The first panel we attending was about an organization called Anxiety Gaming whose mission was to help gamers with mental health issues.  It’s pretty cool to know that there are organizations like this springing up to cater to the needs of different kinds of gamers.

My favorite panel was the “A History of the Great Wars of EVE Online” by Andrew Groen.  While I don’t think I could ever really play EVE, the stories I hear about it are some of the most entertaining game narratives I’ve ever read or experienced.  Andrew’s dissection of the political systems of two of the major coalitions of EVE, “Band of Brothers” and the “Goonswarm” was both revelatory and hilarious.  By the end of his panel I was ready to pick up his book, but unfortunately he’d just sold out all copies.  I may still pick it up on Amazon someday.

Networking

Aside from handing out flyers and pins, the second work aspect of the convention was going around and meeting fellow devs, console representatives, publishers, and media.  Networking is probably the most useful thing any developer can learn, because it creates opportunities for you down the line.  While most of these connections probably won’t bear fruit, you will always learn something new, and if you're lucky make some awesome new friends.

I first made the rounds in the Indie Megabooth, where I met a lot of different developers.  I naturally gravitated towards simulation games like Halfbus' Basement and Somasim’s Project Highrise. Other games that caught my eye were Masquerada, Battle Chef Brigade, and Dog Sled Saga. Aside from the Megabooth, I wandered around and played Amplitude’s Endless Space 2, checked out Battletech by Harebrained Schemes, and tried out Runic game’s latest, Hob.  I'm a huge fan of all of these companies' games so it was nice to be able to chat with some of the developers while playing their games.

Last Two Days

This was the moment of truth.  While we’d showed off the game to some people and had it tested by playtesters, this is the first time we were going to show off the game to the public.  I was beset by worries.  Would players like it?  Would they get the theme?  How would we be noticed sandwiched in between so many other games? Was our game even any good?  Aissa did and excellent job of organizing the booth while I fretted over some bugs in the latest build.

Turns out I didn’t need to be so worried.  We always knew that we were a niche game, but there were enough people playing and enjoying the game that I’m confident that we’ll be okay as long as we are able to properly reach our target market. 

The revelatory moment came for me when I met Philip.  Philip found out about the game through targeted advertising on Facebook.  He made it a point to find us at the megabooth and waited patiently for almost an hour while another player finished his turn at the game.  In the meantime, when he noticed that a small crowd was starting to build up and start watching the game, he would hand out flyers and even offer explanations of the game, all without any prodding from me.  The next day I met Jonah, who was also avidly handing out flyers and explaining the game unbidden.  He even emailed me afterwards volunteering to help us with QA!  It felt great when attendees started talking between themselves, explaining the game to each other and offering strategies.  The game was starting to take on a life of its own.

Serendipity

I’ve always said that the hardest thing about being an indie PC developer in the Philippines is lacking access to conventions like PAX.  Sure we have our own conventions, but our target market is the entire world, and right now, the world pays attention to conventions like PAX.  While showing off the game we were approached the gaming director of SXSW, a representative from Sony that was interested in getting the game to consoles, and a really awesome Twitch streamer named SeriouslyClara.  Clara really loved the look of the game and wanted to introduce me to a friend of hers that distributes content to Twitch streamers.  Her tweet about the game probably brought more attention to the game than any of our individual tweets.  It’s this kind of serendipity that makes shows like PAX so valuable to a small developer.

Back to Work

At the end of each day my voice was hoarse, I was exhausted, and I vowed to never do that again.  But at the end of PAX I felt myself missing it, and wishing we had a few more days to show off the game.  At the start of the trip , I was worried that no one would pay attention to the game.  Now I feel like we have to get back to work to really clean up the game and make sure we don't disappoint all the folks who came to play it!  

Thanks for reading, and if you'd like to be updated on the latest Political Animals, please sign up for our mailing list! We'll also be at TGS until Friday Sept. 16 (look for the ASEAN booths) and all 4 days at EGX.  If you want to schedule a meeting just click on the contact tab and get in touch!

Why I Made Challenge Coins for Political Animals

The salmon sushi seen above was excellent, if rather overpriced at 800 Yen.  Unfortunately that's typical of the inflated prices you find in every single airport around the world.  From here we fly to Portland, have another 4 hour layover, then finally take a 1 hour flight to Seattle for PAX.  I wanted to document the trip using one of the challenge coins I had made for the game, hence the "artfully" arranged picture above.  

Challenge Coins

I first heard about challenge coins from the excellent podcast 99 percent invisible.  Essentially they're a way for a military unit to identify and and tell a story about themselves.  They can also be passed on to people outside of the unit as a sign of gratitude, friendship, or to mark any momentous occasion.

These days almost anyone can go ahead and have a challenge coin made.  They're made for schools, companies, sports teams, etc. as a really neat way to show a sense of shared community.

I'd been thinking about getting challenge coins made for a long time.  Video games are such an ephemeral medium, especially in this day and age of digital distribution.  Sure you can "make" a game, but what do you really have to show for it if you don't have a computer screen near you?  A challenge coin solves this problem.  It gives you a physical object that you can look at and say "yup, we went and made this game."  It's a physical manifestation of the hours of stress and sweat and care that went into the production of the game, all held in the confines of a single metallic disc.

Plus, coins are super cool.

How to have Challenge Coins Made?

I wanted to have some challenge coins made before PAX, so my original idea was to order some from a company in the US and have have them shipped ahead.  I sent an inquiry to numerous companies but the quickest one to reply was allaboutchallengecoins.com.  The process couldn't be easier.  You can either download their template and design your coin in Photoshop or Illustrator, or just send them some designs with some ideas and let them figure out how to go about it.  They did a super job, but just as I was about to order the coins, I wanted to test an idea.

I knew that a lot of these websites were basically the storefront, while the actual coins were made in China.  Given that the Philippines was pretty near to China, I wondered if I could figure out a way to order direct from the supplier and save some money that way?

Wandering into the Land of Alibaba

Alibaba is the gateway to the factories of China.  Like a giant marketplace, companies display their wares with slogans and assurances of quality and environmental protection:

"Our factory is approved by many famouns brands such as Walt Disney / Coca Cola / McDonald's etc. To avoid causing pollutants, we obtain the electroplating license from China government and build sewage treatment plant."

Once again I cast my net wide and emailed a bunch of different companies.  My criteria was simple, I wanted a lower price than the US company, as well as a company that could communicate fluently in English.  As a bonus test I sent my original design ideas to them to see how they compared with the US companies.

The first companies were a bit of a bust.  One of them charged almost double the original asking price of the US company.  Another came back with enthusiastic Google translated Engrish.  But one company really stood out and offered rates that came out to almost 50% cheaper than the US company and spoke great English. 

Dongguan Jian Plastic & Metal Products Ltd. 

Dongguan Jian Plastic & Metal Products Limited has the wonderfully succint slogan of "Think of emblems, think of JIAN"  Their original copmany name, according to the brochure they sent me, was "Punctual Company Limited".  I liked them already.  

Their sales agent Ella was super professional and treated me like an important customer even though I know most of their orders were probably magnitudes larger than my measly 100 coins.   She guided me through the process step by step until the final point, which is when they asked me to fill up a form and attach pictures of the front and back of my credit card.

I know, I know, a lot of you must be freaking out right now.  That's one of the things every IT security expert tells you not to do. But I did ask around and at least in these parts this is pretty typical for a company that doesn't have e-commerce built into its online presence.  I was fully prepared to cancel this card in case any funny business occurred.  I sent in the application and waited.  I was informed by my bank that the proper amount had been charged.  Then I waited some more.  About 3 weeks later I got a call from Fedex saying my package was en route!  

So it was a little scary but the final product was definitely worth it. If we manage to make more than one game, I want to start a tradition of having coins minted to commemorate each game that Squeaky Wheel makes, especially now that I'm confident with Jian.

How do you get one?

I've been rather surprised at the amount of attention the challenge coins have gotten.  I guess it just confirms my suspicion that people really do value having some tangible to hold on to (and that coins are cool).  I initially intended for these to be souvenirs for the team and specific people that have supported us along the way to making this game.  We're also looking to give them to the first person at each convention that wins a campaign of Political Animals with more than 75% of the vote. But if there's enough interest we'll definitely look into a way where people can buy the coins, maybe as part of a limited edition boxed set or something like that.  But that'll have to wait until after launch!

If you're looking to get challenge coins made for yourself and you live in the United States, I would highly recommend allaboutchallengecoins.com but if you're outside the US and don't have a local company that makes these coins, I can vouch for Jian Pins.

Political Animals Updates!

Last week I mentioned that the Political Animals team will be attending numerous conventions around the world to promote the game.  We've been hard at work the game to make sure that convention goers will enjoy it, and I'm excited to share some of our work with you.

Particle Effects

Particle Effects are a relatively easy way to add a lot of polish to a game.  Above you can see some particle effects that affect the entire island.  The Rain particles seem particularly apt for me right now given we've been having torrential downpours recently.

The characters also have particle effect now, depending on the actions you give them.  Here Croccy is raising funds, although his animation makes him look like he's throwing away money.  I guess you need to spend money to make money!

Strategy

Despite its cutesy look, we wanted to make it obvious that Political Animals is a strategy game that you can really sink your teeth into.  Marnielle worked on different AI types ranging from Corrupt to Clean to just plain unpredictable, and three levels of difficulty.

We also noticed early on that our playtesters liked trying out different staff combinations.  We now have seven different staff types each with their own special abilities that you can mix and match to devise your personal strategy for winning the elections.

New Candidates!

We are slowly designing and adding new Animal Candidates for you to choose from.  Eventually we'll have an entire menagerie of political aspirants!  Is there a particular animal that you would like to be turned into a candidate?

Polish, Polish, Polish!

As we ramp up to launch a lot of the work now is polishing up the game and making sure everything works properly.  We think it's worth it, and hopefully you do too!

Thanks for reading. If you'd like to be updated on the latest Political Animals, please sign up for our mailing list!

 

It's Game Convention Season!

Time certainly does fly when you're working your asses off, and suddenly we're in the middle of August already!  September is soon coming upon us, and that means it's time to hit the convention trail.  But first, a trailer!

This was a bit of a rush job by me and Cliff, but it'll do for now.  We'll still work on a much better trailer of course, but in the meantime this will have to do for the FOUR conventions we'll be heading to in September!

PAX West : September 2-5

ryan.jpg

That's right, for the first time ever I will be heading to the city of Seattle to attend PAX West to show off Party Animals.  And even better, we're part of the Indie Megabooth lineup! Check out the game at the Indie Minibooth Sunday and Monday.

I'm super excited to attend PAX and show off the game.  Not only that, I hope to meet awesome developers from around the world and attend awesome PAX panels like the Giant Bomb variety show!

 

BICFest : September 9-12

"The Busan Indie Connect Festival (BICFest) is a global independent games conference held annually in Busan, South Korea. Each year, dozens of independent studios and hundreds of developers converge to see sessions, share their projects, and help foster a growing global independent developer community. Organized by and for independent game developers, BIC's primary focus is provide a friendly space for creativity, sharing, and play."

Our youngest programmer Don will be attending the second Busan Indie Connect, an Indie games festival held in Busan, South Korea.  I wanted to join him, but due to flight schedules he's gonna have to go by himself.  If you're in South Korea and into games please do drop by and check out all the awesome indie games!

Tokyo Game Show : Sept 15-18

Meanwhile in Japan, our co-founder and designer Tristan will be joining a Philippine delegation in presenting the best of Indie games from the Philippines.  This is also the first time we're going to be at TGS, and Tristan's first time in Japan!  Hit him up if you want to know about what went into designing the rules and events in the game!

We're hoping the fact that we have a Japanese inspired map will entice Japanese players.  We'll be looking for distributors in Japan interested localizing and releasing the game there so please get in touch if you're interested!

EGX : September 22-25

This is my second time going to EGX, after the Prison Architect Launch last year.  It will have been one year since I first met up with Cliff of Positech Games and sealed a publishing deal that made Political Animals a reality.  In some ways this is us coming full circle, and hopefully the folks at EGX will love the game as much as we do.

This time around I'll be joined by co-founder and programmer Marnel.  Come visit us and chat him up about neural networks, machine learning, and all sorts of nerdy programming shit.  Afterwards we can hang out and knock down a couple of pints of Guinness.

Please Contact Us!

Phew, that's FOUR conventions in just one month!  Unfortunately for us introverts, showing up at these conventions is often crucial for the success of indie games, so we have to do suck it up, do the work, and show off our game to the world.

If you're going to be at these events and want to schedule a meeting, please get in touch with us using the contact tab on this website.  We're looking meeting you!