Democracy 3 creator discusses the game's growth, complex voters, and politics

Coming off this week's elections in the United Kingdom, Shacknews decided it was a good time to visit with Positech Games' Cliff Harris, creator of the political simulator Democracy 3. Among the topics touched on are the game's progression since its 2013 release, the complex voter, the UK elections, and what's next for the game.


It's been an active week in politics, especially across the pond in the United Kingdom. The region is coming off a contentious election cycle, one that has left parts of the country bitterly divided. The results of this week's elections will have repercussions for years to come, something that followers in the United States are keenly observing just a year before this country goes into its own presidential election.

One person that has been astutely following this week's proceedings is Positech Games founder Cliff Harris. He's the man behind Democracy 3, a political simulator that puts players in the role of the governing body. And just like in the real world, pleasing the entire populace is an impossible task. With Democracy 3 still going on strong, Shacknews felt that this week was a good time to reach out to Harris and get his views on this week's results, while also learning more about the 2013 political simulator that's still as relevant now as it was when it first released.

Shacknews: For those that are unfamiliar with the game, how would you describe Democracy 3?

Cliff Harris, Positech Games: It's a political strategy game, turn based, that puts you into the position of president or prime minister, and gives you the job of keeping the electorate happy enough to stay in power whilst also changing the country for the better. However, the player may wish to interpret the phrase "better."

Shacknews: How did you go about approaching Democracy 3 from a design standpoint? How much research did you need to conduct into the inner workings of government, as well as the various branches related to it?

Harris: I'm a complete political geek, so I already had a pretty deep knowledge of politics, the issues, and the mechanics in various systems. The difficulty was coming up with a 'generic' political system that you can use to represent the UK, USA, France, Germany. These systems are very different, the UKs second chamber is unelected, France has a President and a Prime Minister, and so on.

Shacknews: There are so many voters of different stripes, whether it's the idealistic college student, the conservative older voter, or the cynical thirty-something. Democracy 3 actually dives into deeper complexities than that, in terms of capturing individuals. How important was nailing the political habits of the individual person when creating this game?

Harris: This is something that is absolutely key to the design of the game, in that it does not simply model people in two-dimensional terms as 'a socialist' or 'a patriot'. As we know, real people are a lot more complex than that. The game simulates about 2,000 virtual voters and every single one is unique, because they all represent a mixture of varying strengths of allegiance to each social group, so for example we have a voter who is 42% socialist, 22% commuter, 75% liberal, 63% environmentalist, and so on. Its a bit complex to explain how it works, but basically the whole game is modelled as a custom-designed neural network, making the whole simulation a sort of 'brain' made up of lots of individual brain cells who are voters. It's a hideously complex game to write code for.

Shacknews: How has Democracy 3 progressed since it was first released? What's been added to the game and has anything changed through a patch since its release?

Harris: The biggest changes were the three expansion packs that we added, and I think each one addressed a defined area that let the game grow and become more realistic. The first one introduced subtle policies that take into account gradually, the second let people introduce extremist policies that are generally never enacted in real life, and the third introduced the idea of technological change and the sort of issues we will face in the future. That makes it a much more complete and rounded game.

Shacknews: As a resident of the United Kingdom, you closely followed this week's elections. What are your feelings on the results? And also, were you tempted to simulate this week's events in your game to get something of an idea of how the future might play out?

Harris: Haha, there is a question! My politics are pretty complex, I'm like the complex voters in the game, and I've voted for different parties over the years. I think the most depressing thing about our results is the huge gap between votes and representation. Our voting system is just appalling at giving us the results people actually vote for. In terms of simulating the results of this election, actually a few people have been doing that online already, so I've been hugely entertained watching them do that!

Shacknews: Positech has been fully supportive of Democracy 3 mods. What's been your favorite one so far?

Harris: To be honest I don't get the time to play too many of them. The one I really like the sound of is the Economic Realism mod, and I really need to find the time to give that one a spin!

Shacknews: New scenarios have been added through various DLC packages. Are there any plans to collect the full Democracy 3 bundle and offer it as one package in the future?

Harris: We already offer that direct from our website and also from steam, but not all the portals that sell the game support doing that. But it is available!

Shacknews: With the American presidential elections coming in 2016, are there plans to continue support Democracy 3 over the coming years?

Harris: Oh definitely. Working on it is very stressful, so I took some time away from it to make Gratuitous Space Battles 2, but I'm sure I'll be returning to it.

Those looking to simulate their own political careers can do so in Democracy 3 right now. The game is currently discounted on Steam until the end of the day today.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

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