Blog post on ongoing game balancing

Posting here for people who missed it. Feedback welcome:


I’d like to say that in some countries, parties do keep winning. The Liberal Democrats in Japan have (almost) never lost an election (20/22 elections won = ~91%) . And the Congress In India were in power for 54 years (out of 71, 10.5/17= ~62%). Similarly, in south korea, the national conservative/fascist/right-wing big tent “National Association” Party and its successors won elections almost entirely from 1948 till 1987, when they were defeated by the precursor of today’s “Democratic Party”, which was also called the “Democratic Party” (and now they have come to dominate SK’s politics).

  1. National Assembly (South Korea) - Wikipedia

In the US as well, the Republican Party has won the majority of Presidential elections (18/30) in the past 162 years.

The Conservative Party in the UK has also won a plurality of elections since its founding.

9/18 in the Parliament of Great Britain as the Tories.
23/47 in the Parliament of United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland/Northern Ireland.
(Total wins: 32/65 = 49.23%) in the past 315 years.

  1. Elections in Great Britain - Wikipedia
    2.Conservative Party (UK) - Wikipedia

I don’t want to be exhaustive, but merely point out with sufficient examples that the incumbency effect is real and very powerful and hard to dislodge. This, as I mentioned earlier, does not mean that you should abandon balancing the game (I would never suggest this), merely to observe that I would find it humourous, as it is the same that Apple had to do, they made their itunes App seem more realistic, by making it pseudorandom instead of purely random.

Similarly, you would have to make your game pseudorealistic to make it seem realistic (outside of any current such measures taken, of course).

But you probably already knew this.


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A bit to add regarding SK politics. While the first Republic of Korea (1948-1960) can be said to be semi-democratic and some even argue that it wasn’t that autocratic considering threats it faced, the military junta (1961-1963), the third (1963-1972), the forth(1972-1981), the fifth (1981-1988) Republic were mostly autocratic. Even the first president of the sixth Republic of Korea was one of the leaders of the military coup in 1979. After that, neither the conservative nor the liberal wing has been in power for more than 10 consecutive years (fyi, President of RoK has term length of 5 years which isn’t renewable).

Plus to that, I want to point out that consecutive wins are the main issue here. Not to mention ‘It gets easier to win as you play further into later stages’ isn’t an ideal situation for a videogame & doesn’t improve gameplay experience unlike that ‘iTunes’ in the first place, an incumbent advantage is something democratic institutions are trying to avoid since it hurts one of the most important pillars of democracy. It’s so important that some countries have a law or custom preventing too many re-elections. There’s a reason Dominant-party system is a term. While you can say ‘some parties remain in power for considerably longer than the others’, it doesn’t lead to ‘re-election is easy to win’.

On the matter of late-game difficulty, I’d like to suggest adding more situations that only (or mostly) affect approval ratings instead of actually hurting statistics. Fear of Motiveless, Random Crimes can still exist or even be greater in low crime rate countries. You might get even bigger backlash if you try something that will hurt the GDP a bit when it was also you who boosted the economy 2 years ago. Some might start to think your party is incompetent in economy when you are reigning for 15 years and can’t find a job thanks to skyrocketing unemployment. Such things are quite valid reasons to add late-game penalties or puzzles (some specific policies might subside these fears maybe?) that will bother only experienced players.


Gender dysmorphia


All I can say about “Everyone” is that, tobacco tax upsets them, but not “ban tobacco”. Both or neither should displease “Everyone”, they should eventually get over it, and at least the ban should placate parents.

I don’t even understand how you’re playing this game, if you aren’t reelected above 98% approval in your second term, with education, GDP and health at max, crime at minimum, and low poverty.

Poverty doesn’t seem to be a “human development” issue. Max wages by going in deep on unions, create high unemployment, have a bunch of poverty, give them good healthcare and education, and “Everyone” loves you for it.

There are too many inputs to determine party inertia. Outside of emergency powers periods, no administration ever has as much political capital as you have in the game. Things tend much more strongly to stay the same in real world administrations, so they tend to have fewer accomplishments, or no accomplishments, to parade for the electorate when it’s time to get re-elected.

If congress, the courts and inertia effects actually let anyone fix a country as fast as you can fix it in the game, the people would actually fall over themselves to vote you back in.

In the game, I assume that the player has finally figured out that you need to send men in black suits to threaten judges and senators in their beds if you want to get anything done. Call it an implied mechanic.

Like I said in another post, just max inertia for “technology” and “education” effects. Probably raise it significantly for “health” effects, though here, I’d have to think about what health effects we’re talking about. You’ll see effects from better treatment a lot faster than you’ll see effects from better prevention, diet, lifestyle and environment, whose effects to some extent are accumulative lifelong.

Then, just raise the inertia cap.

This seems easier to do to raise the difficulty of the game than anything else, and it would be fully realistic.


A good & valid point. I agree some stats are too easy to ‘fix’. Experienced players get things done at unrealistic speed while not wasting a single PC on useless issues (as they are free from other political figures). I understand this is a videogame and thus including clear feedback loops is important. But I think such problems should be dealt with approval adjustments instead of making it easy to control statistics as players wish. That’s why I have been arguing that adding more political players can be a key at adjusting game difficulty. Players need to be distracted from actually improving stats.

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Well, if you made inertia effects more realistic, catering to political players would become much more important. You can appease some constituencies with changes to laws overnight, but you cannot actually fix traffic congestion by funding road construction overnight. That takes time.

This is why real life administration has more to do with running up the deficit and less to do with making long-term investments, than it does in the game.

I assume that “donors” are also donating to my supporters in congress, so another potential way to make the game harder would be to keep the “political capital” limit the same, but make donors and their appeasement a source of political capital necessary to manage in order to reach that limit. That would be annoying, and I suppose that annoyance is a source of pleasure.


“Players need to be distracted from actually paying attention to stats”, news events, situations, dilemmas among other things are designed to distract the player, or more accurately draw their attention, adding more features to just distract players, would lead to info fog, greater complexity (which is already a problem for new players) and poor game design. If anything, as Cliff said, we should be making the game more accessible, not less.

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I can tell you now, annoyance is not a source of pleasure, it only leads to more negative steam reviews.


Do you know what makes this game different from an absolute-but-enlightened monarch simulator? The stakeholders, aka the voters. You are not a mere god or an abstract ‘general will of the people’ in Democracy series because you have to deal with people’s wants & needs, not just national statistics. The whole point of approvals and elections is to distract players from doing anything they want instead of doing something the people want. Improving simulations to boost approvals and acquire more resources (budget, for example) is part of the game but players should still be forced to appease the voters and reconcile conflicts of interests, at least in higher difficulty settings. If you think such distractions are making the game worse, you are failing to grasp the core mechanic of it.

+adding a bit on difficulty
removing all the challenges from the game does not make it better obviously. While you can argue that annoyance hurts the fun, boredom does so too. And the late-game of D4 is definitely far from being too hard or complex.


Nobody’s arguing that all the challenges from the game would make it better. I certainly am not. But going out of one’s way to obfuscate information and distract players, is in my view not advisable. Make it more difficult if it needs to be, make it more easy if it needs to be. That’s good balance.

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This is just me, but I personally don’t care how difficult or easy the game is, I care how accurately it models social-economic systems.

There are plenty of games out there, which are endlessly replayable and optimized to challenge. For this, I play Starcraft II, and used to play chess.

This game is an educational tool, and possibly even a policy analysis tool. Its value to those functions is much greater than its value as a game. Those functions are more important than the functions of games as entertainment, and this game is much better positioned to monopolize that niche, than it is positioned to monopolize games as entertainment.

Aside from inertia, if you want to make the game harder, consider adding more political barrier mechanics - donors, congress, and courts.

It’s pretty easy, in the game, to clean out your ministry and change directions. In real politics, there are huge inertia drags in legislatures, donors, lobbies and courts.

There are no lobbies, in the game. In the game, you can hurt the wealthy, and all that happens is that they don’t vote for you. Donors are “wealthy” by definition, all constituencies have lobbies, and some of them have more money per constituents than others. The “wealthy” lobby has a lot more influence over legislatures and courts and hence political capital in real life, than in the game, where their influence is zero.

If these effects were added, additional policies and policy effects, such as upon “Judicial Independence”, campaign finance laws, congressional term limits and lobbying restrictions would have to be added, at the immediate effect of extreme loss of political capital, but at the long term effect of reducing the ability of lobbies to modulate executive political capital through the other branches of government.


Okay I see your point. I, too, can’t deny that such simulation aspects of Democracy series are what make me keep playing it. Its neural networks are rather complicated for newcomers but, at the same time, are very engaging for specific audiences.

However, I’d still say adjusting late-game difficulty would be good for the game and wouldn’t hurt its simulation aspects. Not to mention there are many ways to do so in realistic ways as you’ve listed in your comment (reps, donors, lobbies, etc), late-game being mostly static can be a bad factor for a simulation too. It’s not like I’m arguing that societies are always changing no exceptions or should be changing. But a simulation that replicates dynamic societies is more interesting to fiddle with.

On the part regarding lobbies, I really liked a mod in D3 introducing such things. It had Public Campaign Funding & Election Law influencing lobbying power simulation, which feeds various lobbying situations. Lobbies in that mod hurts approval of specific voter groups. I was fine with that but since the game has PC and actual funding from party members & donors, it would be glad if modding tools allow modifying them so that the game can simulate other stakeholders that may affect player’s political power and/or actually pose threats outside votes or assassinations.

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I would also add here that “difficulty” in this game depends on what objectives you set for yourself.

If your goal is just to “get re-elected and be the president!” then sure, it is an easy game.

Achieving my goal of “max GDP, health, education, wages, zero unemployment, crime, poverty” was challenging, and I am now engaged and challenged by trying to replicate this achievement, in America, in as few turns as possible, a “speedrun”.

The non-linearity of the game is what makes it engaging. If the player doesn’t have the creativity to set goals for himself, and is just looking for challenging win conditions, he should play Starcraft II.

Saying that this game isn’t challenging, is like saying that any sandbox game isn’t challenging, because it doesn’t force you to do very much in order to survive. The point of life isn’t to survive it, it’s to set goals for yourself and to try to achieve them. If you find that too easy, you need to start setting higher goals.


YES. This 100%. This is why some people complain the game is easy. Its not a game you play to win at all costs, but to win while still having your principles :D.
I do love the chart showing the difficulty curve. All game devs aim at that incredibly thin light green strip, but to hit it with all game levels, for all styles of player… is incredibly difficult.

On the point regarding how easily or quickly things are done, this is where the game currently is set more to be satisfying as a game than realistic.
We all know fixing education, even with an unlimited budget, would take a generation, but in 20 years you might have 5 terms, and having your hard work not pay off for 5 terms would be an incredibly unsatisfying game. In this respect, the real world of politics is a really badly designed game!

In code terms, it would be very easy for me to make the inertia effects of all policies adjusted by game difficulty. I’m not sure if thats a good idea or not though.


That’s fair.

Probably within the confines of game balance.

Its not a game you play to win at all costs, but to win while still having your principles :D.

That must be why I find it so easy. Results are my only principles.

having your hard work not pay off for 5 terms would be an incredibly unsatisfying game.

You don’t die of old age, in the game. I would also add a 30 year total limit to the game because of your own lifespan.

In this respect, the real world of politics is a really badly designed game!

Real world politics is an optimally designed game for gameplay built for “get re-elected and be the president!” plays.

In code terms, it would be very easy for me to make the inertia effects of all policies adjusted by game difficulty. I’m not sure if thats a good idea or not though.

It’s not a good idea - it’s a great idea. Get rid of the 0-200% slider and add block difficulty levels. At the next level up from “normal”, make inertia realistic, and make the game unsatsifying. It’s an educational game, and if there’s one thing I can teach you about politics, it’s that if you want to fix a country’s problems, you’re going to be unsatisfied.

At the next level, add in other branches of government.