Cliffski Asks: Why Don’t You Buy My Games?

Too many lasers?

Cliff “Cliffski” Harris, creator of Kudos, Democracy and Gratuitous Space Battles, is launching another survey of his Positech customers to learn about their purchasing habits. Or more specifically, their lack of purchasing habits. He’s asking people, “Why didn’t you buy Gratuitous Space Battles?”

Two years ago Cliffski did something similar, asking people why they pirated his games. He responded directly to these comments, removing DRM, changing pricing, and being more inspired when making new games. This time the question is more open, not asking why people didn’t pay, but why they didn’t buy the game at all. So if that’s you, head over to his site and leave a comment. He’s inviting people to be absolutely honest. Cheers to Chris W for pointing us toward this.

P.S. I amuse myself by noticing that in that article in August 2008 I wrote of indie games, “I’d be fascinated to see someone emulate the model a few musicians have tried, letting people name their price, with advantages for those choosing to pay over a certain amount.”

If only such a thing could ever happen.


  1. Brumisator says:

    Why didn’t I buy it? because I never even knew it existed!

    On topic though, this seems to me like walking a weird line between indie game developing “hey dude, I got a great idea! let’s do THIS!” and mass-market gaming “hey dudes, let’s make a call of duty sequel, because we know it sells!”

    • jonfitt says:

      Read more RPS, it’s the cure for what ails you!

    • Brumisator says:

      I think that if I come here often enough to get 1st comment, I read RPS quite enough. heh heh.

    • President Weasel says:

      I bought the game in beta because I approved of the concept and wanted to vote with my money and encourage games that don’t fit into the usual mould. I played it to death in the beta though and had no interest in paying for the packs once it came out. I reckon I more than got my money’s worth out of the game, and I’d give his next one a try for sure.

    • SlappyBag says:

      On another note, I love you Brummy, hows the keyboard?

  2. Rob says:

    I actually did the reverse. I bought it when it was in the beta, played until the full game came out and never played again. I didn’t really like the game too much.

    • Heliosicle says:

      Me too, never felt the need to buy the DLC as I’ve played as much as I want to.

    • Pod says:

      Me three :3

    • Ovno says:

      Me 4

      Great concept but I really at least wanted to be able to tell my ships to “focus on a particular target at a particaular time” maybe that was just my ineptness with the interface though…

    • Carra says:

      I tried out the demo as I thought it was a great concept.

      But after playing it a bit the game couldn’t convince me that it was tons of fun.

      I might still buy it at ~€5 though.

    • Stromko says:

      Another on the bandwagon of ‘bought it, just not the DLC’. I don’t feel some new ships and a few new weapons will make things feel fresh.

  3. Mad Doc MacRae says:

    I bought the beta (and thus core game) but I haven’t bought the DLC because the game never clicked for me. Sometimes I know why I won/lost, but most of the time I don’t really (other than “all my ships got blowed up”) and I can’t be bothered to do the homework to figure it out.

    • Mad Doc MacRae says:

      Ha, simultaneous post with Rob. Great minds thing alike or something.

    • Rob says:

      *Tips hat

    • P7uen says:

      Ditto to both of you

    • Man Raised By Puffins says:

      I can’t be bothered to do the homework to figure it out

      That’s pretty much the game right there, whether you get on with it or not seems to depend on how much you’re prepared to get in and tweak your modules and try out new ship combinations, because that’s the real meat of the game (with enemy ships exploding off the shoulder of Orion being the exquisite pay-off).

  4. Txiasaeia says:

    It’s on Steam. Eventually it will be on mega sale, whether it’s this Christmas or a few years from now. I can wait.

  5. damU says:

    Because I didn’t (don’t) like Democracy

  6. Shadowmancer says:

    The reason I won’t get it is that it is more expensive on Steam than anywhere else tbh, make it cheaper or have a weekend sale and I’ll get it and the dlc.

    • Archonsod says:

      So get it somewhere other than Steam. Gamer’s Gate have already had it on sale as both the core game and the complete edition (though IIRC that was before The Swarm)

    • malkav11 says:

      Steam’s had at least one sale, too (maybe more). That’s how I got it.

    • jeremypeel says:

      Apparently Steam can be pretty accommodating in that regard – obviously it benefits them too, but I remember Introversion talking about how Valve helped them out with prominent sales of their games when they were seriously low on funds a couple of years back.

      It’s all somewhere in here: link to

  7. Vinraith says:

    For what it’s worth, I *did* buy GSB but haven’t bought any of the DLC. I haven’t bought the DLC because the game didn’t keep me coming back in its present form, for lack of any context for the battles. When and if that campaign mode Cliffski has talked about materializes I’ll re-evaluate, and if I enjoy it (and I expect I will) I’ll probably go back and buy all the previous DLC as well.

    • qrter says:

      Same here – bought the main game, never bought any of the DLC. The one-faction-per-DLC thing hasn’t appealed to me when compared to the price – which makes me feel like a bit of a cheap bastard, it’s not a lot of money, but it did play a part, I have to be honest.

    • Psychopomp says:

      This. Played the demo for about 20 minutes, but lack of any context to the battles bored me very quickly.

    • jsdn says:

      Lack of context in the battles? The game is called GRATUITOUS Space Battles for christ sake.

  8. Fumarole says:

    I didn’t buy GSB because the demo didn’t do anything for me.

  9. Lack_26 says:

    Hey, I brought Democracy 2, I just haven’t got around to GSB, but it is on my ‘to buy list’ (it just keeps getting shunted down, sorry.)

  10. IdleHands says:

    I gave a comment on my reasons, short version is every breakup line I’ve ever heard; it’s not you it’s me. I know it’s a good, well made game, just not a game for me.

    Plus Dwarf Fortress made eyes at me from across the room, and how can a man say no? I didn’t mean to cheat on you Cliffski, but I was drunk and Dwarf Fortress just got updated! I’m only human!

    (in seriousness it is great to have a developer give a crap and hear from people, most developers would dismiss)

  11. Tom OBedlam says:

    Democracy 2 is a game I keep coming back to every now and again, Kudos 2 didn’t particularly grab me because I found it repetitive and GSB I’ve yet to look at, but I think I’ll enjoy it when I work my through the big pile of games I’ve got at the moment.

    And yes, Cliffski, I paid for all three :D

    • Tom OBedlam says:

      I’ve not played GSB because, well… I own Galactic Civ II and Sins of a Solar Empire…

    • Peter Radiator Full Pig says:

      Think of GSB as the battles that are missing from these games. The organised and designed fleets countering the enemy.

      I played the game quite a bit, stopped once the 2nd DLC came out.
      Buying a few ships for the price didnt seem worth it, and once a new race comes out, everyone rushed to be them, and you cant participate.

      Fun game, though,

  12. L.B. Jeffries says:

    I really wanted to like GSB and I did buy it on Steam, but the learning curve is like a brick wall. I felt like I was getting dropped into the deep end of a swimming pool with that game.

  13. Jimbo says:

    Campaign, campaign & campaign.

    I really struggle to find the motivation to play games that don’t have a defined end point and some kind of motivation for what I’m doing along the way. It just feels aimless. Probably why I never get into multiplayer very much either.

    If you pretty much want to guarantee that I will buy any game, then give it a decent campaign and make it playable in co-op (and properly, not half-heartedly).

    • karthik says:

      This. Pretty much words stolen from my mouth.

    • Vinraith says:

      Agreed. This is basically what I was trying to say above, though I think Jimbo articulated it better. The good news is, Cliffski is addressing this very issue and working on a light dynamic campaign.

    • Archonsod says:

      Personally I find the lack of campaign isn’t an issue. The real joy of the game (at least for me) is in experimentation. If there was some kind of persistent campaign I’d never be trying out the more crazy designs (cruiser with nothing but engines and a laser, hmmm….). Plus it’s one of those games I tend to dip into rather than play for any length of time. Or at least that’s always the intention, half the time I fire it up for a half hour battle while I’m waiting for something to download and before I realise three hours have whizzed past.

      In fact, I’ve yet to get round to even designing a Swarm ship yet. Got distracted trying to find optimum fighter configurations for The Order.

    • Rich says:

      Same. That’s the main reason I didn’t stick with Sins of a Solar Empire.
      I also originally thought you’d get some control of your ships. Even if it’s turn based like Combat Mission.

  14. GoldenNugget says:

    I would get it if it were cheaper. I still haven’t played it or the demo (is there one?) but 20 bucks on steam for just the vanilla game is a bit much. If there were a sale that also included the dlc, I’d be more compelled to buy it.

  15. Memphis-Ahn says:

    I do buy your games, Cliffski.
    Except for that last DLC pack, since it’s not on Steam.

  16. markcocjin says:

    Why I didn’t buy Gratuitous Space Battles:

    – When I did see the ad, there wasn’t enough of a hook to catch my attention. Until now, I thought the game was an arcade shooter.

    – The game was chopped up in pieces that are for sale. First of all, study your market. When enough of your target consumers have bought your games, then plan on selling them the paid DLC. As I see it, you should expect less people to buy your DLC than those who got your base game. Some owners need to be convinced to get DLC for a game that they initially meant for a one time purchase. A game is less attractive for purchase the more price tagged attachments the grow.

    There should be a rule that only proven games should even dare to make paid DLC. I would suggest that you slowly nip away at your original sales target by continually growing your game. TF2 is a good example. More people were convinced the more the game grew and the longer it stayed relevant. If you’re worrying about a huge production overhead then you can also look to Audiosurf. Audiosurf’s content comes from outside the development studio. All they did was manage the community and kept them updated with news and blog entries. Another way is to make your game easily modifiable or have it take user made content. Things like giving users tools to create their own ships with editable specs.

    The market is saturated. You should always put that into consideration. If your game cannot stand out with just the concept on paper then it means you have to do other things to get around that hurdle.

    Good luck.

  17. Gorgeras says:

    I’m racist.

    • TeeJay says:

      Rascist !!!!!

    • Gorgeras says:

      It doesn’t have an ‘s’ before the ‘c’, don’t get mad because I left it out. I spelt it right.

    • Sonic Goo says:

      You might want to check TeeJay’s previous post, above. ;)

  18. perilisk says:

    Huge backlog of games to go through, so unless your name is Civ V, TES V, or Mass Effect 3, pretty much nothing makes the cut. Slide it into a big package deal on Steam and I might accidentally buy it though. That (combined with the holiday sales) is why I have such a huge backlog right now.

  19. MWoody says:

    Mid-70s reviews.

  20. allen says:

    I didn’t buy the game because it’s boring. The trailer and previews that hyped the game made it sound grand and epic, but when I played it was a terrible strategic mess. It feels like a half-baked idea rushed into a final product. It could have been much cooler, but instead it’s dull and repetitive. And when purchasing the game now, it would feel like I am only getting part of the game, and I have to pay extra just go get the finished product. Does not appeal to me.

    He needs to spend less time worrying about pirates and more time worrying about his own games. Other indies have their games pirated to hell and back but I don’t see them constantly complaining about pirates.

    More importantly, he just seems like a man out for money. I don’t think he cares much about games, other than their monetary value to him. Which is why I’m attracted to indie games as opposed to most mainstream games, because they aren’t always about money. He may be independent, but he certainly isn’t “indie” (if there is such a word). He’s just an independent version of Bobby Kostik to me. He can take his games and shove them up his arse for all I care.

    • Jimbo says:

      Stop mincing your words and tell us what you really think.

    • Web Cole says:

      Dude, apart from anything else, personal attacks totally uncalled for. Seriously, get a grip.

    • P7uen says:

      Didn’t you watch that video where he got angry about Star Trek?

      I didn’t like GSB due to lack of feedback or any idea whatsoever of what I was doing, but he certainly seems like a stand-up chap.

      He is involved with and responds to his community, sounds like the Anti-Kotick to me.

    • Clovis says:

      @Web Cole: I think personal attacks are appropriate here. I think cliffski costs himself a pretty good number of sales because he comes off as a real jerk sometimes. Or he is a real jerk; I don’t know. Either way, that’s one reason I haven’t bought any of his games.

      The other is that I got a free copy of Kudos from RPS and it was the most depressing game I’ve ever palyed.

    • IdleHands says:

      I agree with Clovis that personal insults are appropriate here if that’s to do with why they didn’t buy the game. I have nothing against Cliffski but he did want honesty of why people didn’t buy his game, it may be a little below the belt to insult him but if he lost a sale for that reason I’d guess he’d want to know.

      It’s the price to pay if your a notable character in the gaming world, having a personality and opinions comes with having people disliking you. As a developer that can mean losing a sale not due to game quality but more down to personal dislike of the developers opinion or personality. If I was Cliffski I’d be interested in how many sales were lost due to personal differences, whether it may be a smarter move for developers to stay silent just to increase sales.

    • psyk says:

      You didn’t buy the game because you think his a jerk oh dear that and the comment on this article and BC2 about “NO CONTEXT FOR THE BATTLES” makes me think that valve have the right idea on trolling you guys.

    • Clovis says:

      Just to clarify, I wouldn’t want developers to “shut up”. With indie titles I actually care about the developer and that usually increases my chance to buy. I think Notch was a major reason I paid for Minecraft. I paid more for the humble indie bundle because I thought the developers were cool.

      That whole “Why do you pirate?” thing followed up with the removal of DRM earned cliffski a whole bunch of gamer’s good will. But then for awhile it seemed that he would pop up in just about every article on the internet (here, ars technica, slashdot, etc.) about DRM. And he’d say something like, “or we could… you know… actually DO something about the torrent sites?” His reaction to Spore’s activation limits: “The game has been out a week. why on earth have people installed it five times?” Or this: “90% is staggering. I’d be amazed if world of goo 2 ever made it to the PC. Why bother? just make it for consoles, or require people to be on-line to play. The ‘we pirate because of teh drm’ argument is so clearly now total bullshit.” A good way to annoy people is to build up some good will and then start playing the devil’s advocate.

      Most of the stuff I know about cliffski, and most stuff he has said is positive. He’s a cool indie developer and he makes unique games. But when it comes time to actually hit that “buy” button, I can’t help being slightly annoyed and then getting distracted by the hundreds of other options out there.

      So, I hope to continue to see developers interacting with the players, but they should remember that their words can hurt them. On the other hand, you can also just make a really, really fantastic game. If Activision bough Dwarf Fortress and by some miracle gave it amazing graphics and a friendly UI, but retained all the great stuff in the proper version, well, I’d hand $100 to Bobby Kotick himself to get it.

    • Hmm-Hmm. says:

      Clovis: Why shouldn’t torrent sites be dealt with? And how on earth is that playing the devil’s advocate? Unless you’re pirating games (and the like), you have no cause to not want torrent sites to remove illegal content. Being customer-friendly isn’t contrary to being against (and trying to prevent) piracy.

  21. darkripper says:

    Aside from the pricing model, one interesting thing is reading on his blogs how many gamers with jobs and family couldn’t invest a lot of time in mastering complex strategic games like this one. So I’m guessing the only chance of survival is getting new, younger players and adapt to their tastes and to the way they play. And that means better interfaces, tutorials and even art direction. Else, you’re gonna stay in a niche that gets progressively smaller. Exactly what happened to historical wargaming (both tabletop and computer-based) and flight sims.
    I think Stardock gets this. They are working kinda in between, working toward classic gameplays but with elements that can appeal to the people from outside the playerbase. Look at what they’re trying to do with Elemental, using a sporelike customization system for in a 4x game that otherwise feels pretty traditional.

  22. TeeJay says:

    My large backlog of games rules out casual purchases except for exceptionally cheap ‘special offers’ which get added to the pile – occasionally there is a game which everyone is raving about so much (eg Dragon Age) that I end up getting it within a couple of months of release for a “normal” price.

    Kudos, Democracy and Gratuitous Space Battles are in my “will probably get round to playing eventually some day” category, but I don’t have any reason to buy them right now. There are some games that are really good (going on reviews & my previous tastes) that I still have played 5 or 10 years later, along with free games and multiplayer, so unfortunately it takes a combination of massive noise levels plus bargain prices to get me buying and playing immediately rather than at some unspecified point in the future.

  23. ^_^Y says:

    I think this game is really good! I would insta buy it would there be a Game+DLC pack with a price reduction of ~60%!

    Thanks for asking our opinion! :)

  24. HYPERPOWERi says:

    I bought the original, the Tribe and the Order DLCs. Didn’t bother about the latest DLC, the Swarm, because I’ve sadly exhausted the momentum of playing GSB. The charm of gratuitousness wears off after a while. Also, I paid full price for all three installments and felt iffy about dishing out another fiver for a handful of extra units.

    I’ll likely buy the campaign DLC.

    If people who haven’t yet tried GSB are reading this — please don’t let me put you off giving it a shot. It’s a gem of a game with a great deal of thought required to succeed at, and it’s purdy.

  25. bleeters says:

    Because I’m a penniless student.

    • jeremypeel says:

      What he said. Although I have been eyeing up Cliffski’s games on his site, even though the basic concepts of Kudos and GSB don’t really appeal to me.

      I’ve been led to consider them, by the way, because Cliffski hangs around here, seems pretty community-minded and has some interesting ideas. So, y’know, keep that up Cliffski, I think that works in your favour.

  26. Trelow says:

    I bought Democracy 2, so Cliff can suck it. :P

  27. JimmyJames says:

    I bought GSB during the beta but stopped playing just after the release. It’s sort of cool for a few minutes but the automated battles just aren’t that interesting. There’s no point. Others have mentioned similar things, but it feels like the entirety of GSB should be the planning and replay phases for a battle in a big 4x space strategy game. The DLC is it’s own issue. I can only speak to how it appears, as I haven’t purchased any, but I perceive it as almost approaching a RailWorks level of ripoff (though I bet train enthusiasts have more to connect to than some spaceships). To me, the game just isn’t worth $38 and counting. I’m sure it’s a lot of work, but the product just doesn’t seem valuable.

    I guess the reason I don’t want to buy Positech games is because they don’t seem to bring anything new to the table. Even if they’re well done, they feel like very small elements (like an attack menu, as mentioned earlier) of bigger games that have also done that element well–so why not just buy the more developed one, especially when the price isn’t that much higher?

    I’ve donated more to Dwarf Fortress than I have spent on Positech games because even over four years it stays fresh and the changes are more than cosmetic.

    • Duoae says:

      I haven’t played the game as it didn’t really look that interesting to me for pretty much the same reason – you’re watching a video of something you have very little control over.

      I’m assuming here that you can’t do this but it’d be cool if:

      – You could have preset actions (that the player decides beforehand) that you, as fleet commander, can issue DURING a battle. Things such as attack patterns, whether to focus power towards defence or weaponry. Maybe even allow a single, very powership to draw most of the enemy’s fire whilst letting your smaller, weaker ships do most of the damage.

      I definitely prefer games with some active component to them rather than having made a decision 10 minutes ago that is so “stuck” that you know at the beginning of the battle you will have either wasted 20 minutes or not. That’s not fun for me and is one of the reasons why i thought about the game and then dismissed it.

  28. Heliocentric says:

    Democracy? Tickling numbers sounds like work. In tropico or settlers I’m manipulating traffic and logistics, but I find the subject matter in democracy hollow. I might do similar political machinations in Tropico but i find the ability to pay off the religious faction by throwing up a church near the slums on an intersection more mentally pleasing than anything the democracy “spreadsheet” has to offer.

    The kudos games I genuinely enjoyed the demo of but found the amount of variants off putting, I guess had they been similar to the offer price when i first played them I likely would have picked them up.

    But now i need to suggest a killer app for kudos, make the games use the previous titles as dlc. If i buy the kudos rock star game make those options splice into the other kudos titles I own, if only on some kind of menu.

    Still the game i was most close to buying is GSB, sadly i need to admit the demo killed it for me. I don’t think I would have dropped cash without a demo but upon playing it the games magic man behind the curtain was exposed.

    GSB is about setting up a plan and it not surviving contact with the enemy, I love that principle with all my heart. When company of heroes was my most played game i would scribble “plays” on notepaper at college during lunch and then eagerly unleash them on automatch. I’d know the fastest way to knock out a pair of stugs and get them both mg’s, and when i had a pair of war machines ripping up poor tommies it was a beautiful thing, but here is why company of heroes and notepaper is something GSB will never be, once the plan fails, or even simply falls under different pressures in GSB you can try again, in a strategy game you can adapt.
    “They’ve dug in, i’ll need arty fire”
    “They rushed me, I will go with infantry upgrade my grenadiers and grab shreks if needed”.

    GSB just has tweak it and try again.

    I might be won over by GSB if it more on a strategic level “Attack enemy ammo supply before battle”

  29. ledpup says:

    It’s a clever form of marketing this. Using a “why did/didn’t you buy my game?” to advertise the game. Like Steam and others updating their software once a week so they can advertise Steam – as a product – with the update release notes.

    What’s the next step?

  30. malkav11 says:

    I haven’t bought most of Cliffski’s -other- games, mostly due to a lack of interest in the subject matter or a failure to engage with the gameplay mechanics. GSB I did buy (on sale) because it held the potential to interest me. That, in practice, it doesn’t, is largely down to the lack of a campaign or similar context to the battles, like other people have said. I’m also not really sure I understand what I’m doing when building the ships.

    I realize that if I wanted contextual battles I should probably have bought the game’s close rival Incredibly Meaningful, Deeply Contextual Space Battles. Oh well.

  31. Kid A says:

    A more involved campaign, instead of a series of skirmishes, and less of a feeling that I’m being nickel-and-dimed with the DLC would be nice. If he’d offered 3 DLC races and a decently writted campaign (nothing huge or dynamic, necessarily) for £8-9, I’d have snapped that up as DLC. As it is, I’m sticking with vanilla GSB.

  32. Tyler says:

    I totally just bought this game and can’t run it because fmodex is crashtastic in Wine.

    I get ERROR – FMOD[Failed to getDriverCaps] (37) An invalid parameter was passed to this function.
    :..\src\GUI_sounds.cpp 645.

    I haven’t really dug in with a debugger. I can’t see any registry values or config files to disable sound.

    This is why I didn’t buy the game, in retrospect.

    • Sam says:

      And hearing about issues like this with GSB is one reason I didn’t get it (since I’d probably be playing it in Wine).

  33. Marcin says:

    Well, if you read his blog you’ll note that that’s one of the things he wonders about – he’s also trying to remedy that particular failing by adding floating damage numbers (MMO style) to the combat, so you can more directly see what’s doing damage and what’s … not.

  34. Henrik J says:

    I dont know if it was only aimed at people who were aware of the game, i have seen the title mentioned here often but i could never get past the name, Gratuitous Space Battles just doesnt sound very good, and so i never bothered to even check if its anything like i imagined when reading the title. I may investigate the game further

  35. A-Scale says:

    Because everything I’ve ever seen him say on this website has made him come off like an absolute prick. I do all that I can to not support pricks.

    • Grunt says:

      I wish more mothers had taught their children the phrase: “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”.

      Personal attacks are not cool, A-Scale. RPS demands better.

    • Nick says:

      Sweet irony.

    • Skinlo says:

      Pathetic personal attack.

    • Stijn says:

      Well, he did ask for honest answers.

    • A-Scale says:

      Indeed, would you prefer honesty or politeness? If you’re a developer of games or someone who essentially relies on the kindness of strangers you’d do well to shut your mouth on contentious topics that raise hackles, like DRM and piracy.

    • Grunt says:

      “Indeed, would you prefer honesty or politeness?”

      Why do you think those qualities are an either/or proposition? It’s entirely possible to do both at the same time. We adults call this ‘Maturity’.

  36. Robert Yang says:

    I played Kudos 1 for 15 minutes, couldn’t really figure out what I was supposed to be doing. Same thing with Gratuitous Space Battles. It sounds great, but then when I try the demo, I’m not really sure what’s happening — what are frigates good against, or what does the ship class mean?

    None of it seems particularly intuitive, and it seems like the “game,” as in Kudos, is all about fiddling with all these menus and buttons, which isn’t terribly fun.

    And then the cool looking part in GSB — the actual battle — I don’t have much control over?

    Just didn’t click with me, even if the mechanics are deep.

  37. Azhrarn says:

    There seems to be a bit of theme going on, I too bought the game, but not the DLC, because it didn’t really hook me. However, I did rather enjoy it while it lasted. :)

  38. MaxNormal says:

    I didn’t buy your game because I have too many games bought on impulse in sales that have never been played by me more than once. Some games get quite a lot of play but yours have not appealed to me enough to spend $$ yet. In the past month I got VVVVVV for free and Uplink for 1 pence, as well as 3 new to me humble bundle games for $10 – it is hard to compete for my attention when the gaming world offers such great distractions for so little cash. Not to mention the amount of sleep I’ve lost thanks to buying Galciv2 complete on sale.

    The gaming world is very crowded…

  39. mlaskus says:

    I only bought it because it was bundled with AI War and Solium Infernum, two games I really wanted to buy. I had some fun with it but I got bored with it pretty quickly. Now I will only boot it up and launch some battle with one of my saved deployments to make surviving a boring lecture a wee bit easier.

    • HermitUK says:

      Got GSB in the same bundle and haven’t really played a lot of it. I know it was the entire point of the game, but the hands-off battles really put me off – There’s little to draw a player in, since battles are basically an excuse for a pretty light show. The lack of any control or input makes it much harder to work out why you won or lost, too, since you don’t get any feel for your ships weapons and handling.

      Overall the battles reminded me a lot of Football Manager – after watching a couple you just want to skip them and get to the hard stats and results instead. Only in this case you’d end up skipping most of the game that way.

    • Nimic says:

      I agreed with this post until you got to Football Manager. The difference is that in Football Manager you can pause the game and change things, as it’s under way. In GSB you sort of just sit and wait till its done, and then you can do something.

      Usually what I changed wasn’t really because of anything that happened in the previous battle outside of “I lost”.

    • Grunt says:

      HermitUK nailed exactly why I didn’t buy the game – the disconnect between what you did in the design phase and the result. I think that’s largely me, though, and no fault of the game itself.

      I’ve sent Cliff an email with my thoughts. :)

    • HermitUK says:

      It’s a fair point, Ninic. And in fact I’d welcome the ability to pause the game and delve into some proper stats – how much that last laser shot did, how many guns on the ship are idle, and so on. Some proper detail like that gives you something to dig through when making fleet improvements.

  40. Wulf says:

    Interesting question.

    There are two reasons that I don’t buy Cliffski’s games, and neither of them have anything to do with them being bad games, because I don’t believe they are. I actually think that Clifski is accomplished at making the sort of games he makes, but they just don’t appeal to me.

    1.) I don’t like most strategy games, not because I’m crap at them (which I am), but because I’m physically unable to play most of them.

    It doesn’t help that all of Cliffski’s games are strategy games. The problem I have with strategy games mostly is that I’m visually disabled, which means I’m physically unable to play them, which means I get incredibly depressed when I try. Few, few strategy games avoid falling into the trap of having lots and lots of tiny text which is necessary to read. The ones that avoid that? I like those!

    I mean, Revenge of the Titans? Beside being rather difficult, I enjoyed that. Why? Large text, and you didn’t have to read text every few seconds to play the game. It had a very icon-based interface. Cliffski’s games don’t. That’s not an insult, because lots of good strategy games don’t. Sword of the Stars, which I long to play if I ever get my sight fixed, is another good game which I can’t play.

    It’s strange, because I don’t have so much trouble with bars, large numbers, icons and so on, it’s just small text. I can’t focus well enough to read small text. So the only other option is to zoom in. And it’s not a lot of fun playing a game with Windows Magnifier on all the time (which makes Win 7 freak out every now and again if it’s running for too long, since it has a leak, I wish MS would fix that because otherwise it’s a particularly brilliant app).

    This is one thing that Japanese strategy games figured out, that Western games never did, so they’ve got a one-up on us, there. They have a manual, the manual shows you icons and what they mean, with long explanations. Then in battle they have icons, and next to icons they have nice, large numbers, bars, or both. It’s all very friendly to the visually disabled, and I’ve often wondered why the Eastern world cares more about this than the Western world, because generally they seem more clued in.

    Here’s an example: What does any of that on the left say?

    Now, I’m not saying that Cliffski should be making games for people like me, or spending development time on accessibility concerns… but if he did, I’d be much more inclined to buy the games. So much more. I can understand why he wouldn’t though, which is the same reason that many a Western strategy developer has: They want to spend development time on making a great game, and accessibility is a headache they don’t want to deal with.

    The thing is, accessibility isn’t easy. I get that. Some games can do it, some games do it so well, in fact, some games do it that well that I would actually buy the game just for its support of people who can’t see that well. A great example of this is Torchlight. I fell in love with Runic Games after that. Stuff like Titan Quest tends to give me nasty eyestrain, but for some reason, Runic Games included everything in nice, big, friendly fonts. That wasn’t helpful for people who had 20/20 eagle vision, but within a day or two a patch came out with smaller fonts. Everyone was happy.

    I’d have more interest in EvE, even, if I could physically play it.

    2.) I want a reason for everything I do, even if I might not agree with it.

    One of the things I loved about VVVVVV is that it wasn’t a straight up platformer. It actually had a storyline, one that left a lot up to the player to figure out, and it was actually kind of good because of that. I enjoy that sort of story as much as I enjoy the sort one would find in games like Alpha Protocol. I realise that an Alpha Protocol level plot might be hard, unless you can get yourself a writer, but a VVVVVV type plot should be easy.

    [ Some VVVVVV spoilers, here. ]

    Then again, though, VVVVVV’s plot was actually very, very clever. Despite being only a few lines here and there. The crew actually came across as something that strongly appeals to me: they were like technoshamans, antibodies of the Universe. Their mission was to heal entire realities. And at the end of the game they find out they can do it, too. They learn that they can fix their home reality and the one they escaped to and found themselves trapped in.

    My head ran with this after the end, and I could imagine Captain V and his crew fixing up that reality, running home and healing their own, and then, because they’re just helpful, awesome, shining people, mounting a mission to hop from reality to reality, fixing whatever reality bugs they come across and just generally healing the Universe, one reality at a time. That could be a plot point for WWWWWW if Terry ever chooses to make a sequel.

    I felt strangely satisfied by that, like I’d helped to make superheroes, people who would run around healing the sickness of the Universe, and that was very, very specifically keyed into my brain. In fact, it’s one of the reasons I ended up loving VVVVVV so much. It was a massively feel-good ending for me. It was hard not to continue writing that plot. Realities being fixed, people being able to go home, what’s not fantastic and brilliant about that?

    Their inquisitive, helpful, and nice nature came over really early though, whatever the Vs are, they’re bloody ethical creatures, and I loved them for it, so I felt compelled to play on. I had a reason to help them, and at the end of the day, I’d helped them become something more and transcend their problems, it was my favourite sort of ending. It was just a really feel good story.

    I don’t have to have happy stories though, but I do like knowing why I’m doing something. One of the problems with strategy games is that they don’t always have much of a story, so I find myself not really caring about what I’m doing.

    Therefore, I feel a story is important.

    And that’s two reasons why I don’t buy Cliffski’s games: A lack of accessibility and a lack of plot.

    These games just aren’t targeted at me, though, so my opinion probably isn’t valid, but since the question was asked…

    • jeremypeel says:

      It’s definitely a valid issue, Wulf, and rarely talked about in mainstream circles. As you say though, developers often aren’t willing to put time into accessibility because they’re always, always so pushed for time in every department, and I guess that problem is even greater for indie developers.

      I remember there were mods for Arcanum and the Infinity engine games to increase text size in-game; it seems like the kind of thing modders could really make a difference for people with, rather than extra-jiggly boobs plug-ins or whatever.

    • the wiseass says:

      Wulf, I just wanted to pop in and say that I feel with you my brother, for I am also visually impaired and have my troubles with small text. That’s also the reason why I can’t play EvE Online, even if I really really want to :(

      Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that you’re not alone. Keep on gamin’ :)

    • terry says:

      Wulf: I would guess the visual friendliness is down to character based languages – if you are using pictograms anyway, you might as well make them iconic, and easier to understand universally. A picture is worth a thousand etc. It’s an interesting subject and one I haven’t really considered (yet).

    • tekDragon says:

      I know that wasnt your main point, but… what Japanese strategy games? You’ve made me curious.

    • Psychopomp says:

      Surely you’ve played Disgaea, Front Mission, Fire Emblem, or Final Fantasy Tactics?

    • Wulf says:

      Also Shining Force II. So much love for Shining Force II.

      Vandal Hearts was pretty decent, too.

      But yes, they all seemed pretty easy to play, even for a person with poor sight. This is contrary to Western strategy games, which I find completely impenetrable. That Western games are teeny, tiny text heavy, with teeny, unreadable (to me) text everywhere that one needs to understand at a glance, surely has a lot to do with it.

      I’ve always wondered: Is it necessary to have so much teeny, tiny text for a Western strategy game? Japanese developers didn’t seem to think it was necessary. Are there any Western strategy games that don’t rely heavily on such?

    • tekDragon says:

      Ah yeah, I’ve played many of those, it just didnt occur to me that you were talking about tactical RPG style games.

    • Wulf says:

      Gaming mags always called them SRPGs, or Strategic Roleplaying Games. And I suppose the term rubbed off on me, since that’s what everyone seemed to call it at the time. I remember a lot of people calling Final Fantasy Tactics an SRPG, but never a TRPG.

      This does not, however, diminish at all the fact that you are correct, just that a lot of people were very wrong about what genre they pigeon-holed that into, and I never really gave it any thought myself, either.

  41. Pew says:

    I guess I am the only one who thought that “Cliffski” was Cliff Blezinski’s later nickname….

    • Wulf says:

      Noap, his nickname is and always will be: Cliffy “Don’t call me CliffyB!” B.

    • Gabe says:

      I made the same mistake myself, and for a long time wouldn’t go near Positech games, because I thought Cliffski was that annoying bloke I saw once on some video hyping up Gears of Naff Xbox Fanboy Homoerotic Gunplay 4 or something like that.

  42. Gabe says:

    (And now for my serious answer…)

    GSB… Heard of it, Haven’t tried the demo, Haven’t bought it.

    Points in favour…
    + Cool name
    + Nice screenshots

    Points against…
    – Sounds like it plays like a dual-army tower defense game
    (I’ve enjoyed playing DTD – a free browserbased TD game, felt no need to buy any TD games)
    – All this talk of ‘buying different races’ sounds like something from World of Warcraft,
    and I’m *not* into “I am an ork”, “I am a Space warrior from Planet X” stuff.

    The only Positech game I *have* played, and been attracted to was Rock Legend.
    (got it for free from GameADay a while ago)

    I enjoyed it, but found a few frustrations…
    (1) Played it for ages before reading tips online that said you could book more than 1 gig ahead of time.
    (up to that point, I’d book a gig a week away, and do other things till that night)
    Not knowing you could do this lead to poor outcomes and frustrations.
    Maybe the game should have noticed I was repeatedly doing this, then make a suggestion?
    (2) After a while, the (*admittedly, good) tiny number of songs that play in the background DROVE ME NUTS.
    (3) There’s so many items to buy your band, but you don’t know how much effect each one will have.

    PS: Cliffski, hate to state the obvious, but….
    If you ask the internet for feedback, you can’t really expect us to follow links to your blog and/or send you an email. We’ll participate in a discussion where we find it (eg HERE @ RPS) and you’ll need to follow your site link traffic to find us. Sorry mate, the customer is right, etc etc.

  43. Dubbeltje says:

    Cliffski has, on more than one occasion, sent his customers a newsletter containing 50% off offers actually.

  44. TotalBiscuit says:

    Well I certainly know the reason that I won’t be buying any MORE of his games, the man is a flaming hypocrite. He spent weeks, nay months bitching on his Twitter about Steam and it’s online DRM requirement, before that had promised his games would be DRM-free and then did a 180 on all of that and incorporated ‘you must be online’ DRM into his latest expansion. Any game with a single-player element that requires me to be online in order to play it is an automatic no-buy for me.

    • Vinraith says:


      incorporated ‘you must be online’ DRM into his latest expansion.

      Wait, what? Is this documented somewhere? What are the details? If that’s an accurate description I have to say I won’t be buying any more Positech games either.

    • Wulf says:

      It’s a shame, really. I mean, all these DRM schemes and it might be that the strategy genre just doesn’t have a huge playerbase. I’ve been wondering if that’s the case for a while.

      If he went the Zombie Cow route and made something like Ben There, Dan That, or Gibbage, he’d probably have something that would sell like hotcakes without any DRM.

      I mean, the man has a sense of humour, you have to give him that. I think the DRM is a sense of inadequacy due to low sales. I feel kind of bad over it, really, since they’re games I have no interest in for the reasons I’ve listed below (tl,dr; strategy games are shit for accessibility, and those games tend to lack in my favourite thing – story).

      I think Cliffski could branch out into other genres, I think he should do a platformer, or an RPG, or an adventure game, and I think he should put his sense of humour to good bloody use. I mean, fair play, if you follow the guy he’s almost as sharp witted as Charlie Brooker. Why he doesn’t use that talent for the good of gaming (and the good of his own games) is beyond me.

      What I think should happen for his next game:

      1. Pick another genre: platform/roleplaying/adventure game, or something with a larger demographic.
      2. Get a writer. Doesn’t need to be a professional one, just someone who can string together a reasonably interesting plot.
      3a. Get an artist. Again, it doesn’t have to be a very professional one, just one that’s capable of varied scenes.
      3b. Go lo-fi, anyone can do appealing low-fi aesthetics, they’re almost invariably pretty. See: VVVVVV.
      4. Use British humour in the game (everyone loves it, see: Python).
      5. Work the same level of obvious polish into it that other Positech games have.
      6. Use a sane form of DRM that’s respectful to your buyers. I’m not saying use none, but at least go with something like Uniloc, and the Uniloc philosophy.
      7. Develop a game, and release it.
      8. PROFIT.

    • Wulf says:

      Further points…

      It sounds like Cliffski could do with a musician too, from what others have been saying.

      Keep in mind Cliff that you don’t have to share your profits X number of ways, there are plenty of aspiring artists willing to accept commissions. You could commission a plot, art, and music, and then recoup the spent money and actually make a decent profit after, I’d think.

      Yeah, it’s a risk. But thus far Positech games have been very, very, very safe.

      Sometimes you have to take a risk.

    • cliffski says:

      My games don’t have DRM.
      If you want to download a challenge through the game, or send a challenge to another player, or send or receive in-game messages…well that requires using the internet and my server, so yup you have to be online. Thats just technically impossible otherwise.
      You can happily play GSB offline.
      The campaign, when its done is integrated with online challenges. Every enemy fleet is a player-designed downloaded fleet, just like Spores creatures. Thats the reason it needs a net connection.

    • Vinraith says:


      Thanks for the clarification, I didn’t think that sounded like something you’d do. With respect to the campaign, how frequently does one need to download new challenges? That is, do you connect at the beginning of a campaign, download challenges, and then you could play offline, or is it a regular interval thing or…?

    • cliffski says:

      The campaign will be constantly grabbing challenges as you warp your fleets to new systems, so when playing the campaign, you effectively will need to be online. But not for the normal skirmish game.

    • Jimbo says:

      That doesn’t really sound like a campaign, that sounds like a series of random battles strung together. How do you build a narrative around it if you don’t know what the battles are going to be like? How do you go about balancing something like that?

    • TotalBiscuit says:

      “BTW, to play the GSB campaign add-on, you will have to be online. If anyone is going to fume and curse and get upset, Don’t buy it.” – that’s from your Twitter.

      I just find this hilarious because of the amount of bitching you’ve done on your twitter about online requirements for single-player games. It does smack of hypocrisy a little. From a man who’s pissed off plenty of people over Twitter, it’s probably best you be a little clearer in the future to avoid nerdrage from people.

  45. Nimic says:

    I’ll copy the comment I just posted on his site:

    I actually did buy it, and I’ve bought some other games as well.

    I haven’t bought any of the ‘expansions’ though, and I can’t really see myself doing it. It just doesn’t seem to really add anything to the game. Now, while I did buy the game, and did enjoy it, this last example you made sort of fits my view:

    “I wanted a campaign wrapped around the battles. It was too sandboxy”

    It just didn’t really seem like a full game. Then again, I did buy it, and spend some time on it at first, so this comment might be pointless.

  46. Choca says:

    I bought your game but still haven’t played it.

    Sell me time and I’ll take ten gallons of it.

  47. RogB says:

    since he asked…
    GSB is something I should really like, so I downloaded the demo. But the whole lack of interaction is a big turn-off for me, so I didn’t bother with the full game. (plus, it was way too pricey at launch IMO)

    My curiosity piqued again around steams Xmas sales, so I got the demo again thinking maybe I didn’t put enough time and effort in. and once again, decided that the game was a bit shallow to purchase.
    I’d agree with previous comments about it feeling like its a WIP testbed app for a larger game in production.

    • RogB says:

      i’d like to add, that I love the presentation of it. This is what got me to download the demo twice (something I very rarely do) The videos of it in action make it look fantastic, unit graphics are nice, visual effects are lovely.
      I just wish there was more to it than just setup>sit back and watch. :-(

  48. Matzerath says:

    I bought it, and had a lot of fun with it. As much or more as any other game. I respect it as being exactly what it advertised itself as, as what its very name implies. Pew pew!!!
    Though I agree it was a mistake to make gratuitous DLC for a perfectly satisfactory gratuitous experience. The DLC should have been gratuitous levels of detail — seeing your crews running around frantically, for instance.

  49. Greg Wild says:

    I bought Democracy 2. Probably the best pure policy politics sim out there.

    Didn’t buy GSB. Played the demo, but I just wasn’t too interested in the lack of interactivity in the battles without, say, Gal Civ’s grand strategy backend. It felt like contextless numbers pushing. Even if the battles were pretty.

    • Tom OBedlam says:

      I think Democracy 2 and Peggle are the only games I’ve ever gifted, to my girlfriend who studies Politics and likes flashing lights.

  50. Trin says:

    I bought it, didn’t have much fun with it, and advised other people not to get a copy.