Interview: Alex Winchell, Creator Of ‘Politics and War’

Politics and War is a browser-based nation simulator game designed, created and managed by one guy; an American high school student. The game officially left beta testing and went live on August 5th, and has been running constantly since November of 2013. The Games Cabin managed to rake in an interview with the impressive young developer, Alex Winchell.

The Games Cabin: “If you had to explain Politics and War to someone who had never heard of it, what would you say?”

Alex: “Politics & War is a game that lets you simulate ruling your own nation. You get to create your own fictional country, place it somewhere on the globe, choose its flag, capital city, social and economic policies, and then you essentially have full control over it. This single-player “roleplaying” element of the game isn’t what really makes Politics & War that great, though. The really cool part is that while you’re playing and managing your nation, there’s hundreds of other people playing the game managing their own nations too, in real time. You have the ability to interact with these other players — you can trade with other nations, wage wars, and cooperate to form treaties and other agreements. No nation can really survive on its own; it’s up to you to decide how you want to interact with the other players and portray yourself as the leader of your nation.”

The Games Cabin: “How many people play Politics and War? In terms of activity is it growing?”

Alex: “Politics & War has grown immensely over the past two months that it has been officially live. We started out on August 5th with 0 nations, everyone was wiped from the game so things could start fresh. As of today, October 1st, we have 1,555 nations that exist in the game currently, with about 850 players logging in per week and almost 600 players per day. This activity rate has been increasing at a steady pace since the game was released.”

The Games Cabin: “What is unique about Politics and War that separates it from other nation simulators such as Civilization V, Nation States, and Cyber Nations?”

Alex: “Politics & War is certainly not the only game in its genre, and incorporates a lot of elements that can be found in other games. For a game like Civilization 5, however, there is quite a bit of difference. Politics & War is entirely online and playable from your browser. You can essentially play it on any device, regardless of OS so long as you have an internet browser. The game is also in real time and massively multiplayer, unlike Civilization 5 which is turn based and with a set number of players in any given match.

Games like Nation States and Cyber Nations are a lot closer to Politics & War’s roots. When I was younger I was an avid player of Cyber Nations, and I quite enjoyed how the game worked — but I always felt that the design could be improved upon. Cyber Nations was a pioneer game for this genres of games, but Politics & War is really the next generation. Politics & War has far more features than Cyber Nations, such as an in-game economy where you have small undeveloped nations producing raw resources which are exported to bigger nations that turn those raw resources into manufactured goods for large, wealthy nations. I think this sort of gameplay offers more strategy, more entertainment, and more realism to the gameplay. This is only one of a handful of features that Politics & War has incorporated that Cyber Nations does not.”

The Games Cabin: “Where did you learn how to program and create a game that has managed to bring in thousands of players?”

Alex: “This is a really great question, and you’ll likely be surprised by the answer. I was really just starting high school when I first started learning some basic coding, HTML, CSS, and some server side languages and how databases work. I live in a very rural area of the United States, and so I didn’t (and don’t) have access to any sort of local teacher or resources to learn about coding. Luckily, the internet is full of information about web design, programming, database applications, etc. and I was really just able to google the things I wanted to learn how to do, look at examples of other people’s code, and manipulate it into something that I could use. I had a lot of coding projects before Politics & War that were the foundation for my knowledge of web development today, and essentially I just had to figure it all out myself with the abundance of information available on the web.”

The Games Cabin:What influenced you to make it? Was there another game, or a certain person that inspired you to create Politics and War?”

Alex: “This is another good question, and I’ll tell you the story of how I ever decided I wanted to learn web development and programming in the first place. As I mentioned earlier, years and years ago I used to play Cyber Nations a lot. It was really one of my favorite games due to the community and the neat mechanics of the game that really let you roleplay the politics of being a nation leader. At some point during my gameplay, I managed to get myself banned from the game. I always kind of look back at that and think Cyber Nations signed its own death warrant when they banned me. I was a stubborn, young kid who was upset that he couldn’t play his favorite game anymore, and I vowed that I would “create my own Cyber Nations”. It was probably 5 years or so from that point that I even started working on Politics & War, but inbetween I had attempted (and failed) many times at creating my own online nation simulation game. Of course, I persevered and have found a lot of success with Politics & War, which I would regard as more advanced and far better than “my own Cyber Nations”.”

The Games Cabin: “Where do you see the game going, do you think its player base will reach immense numbers, or it will host a smaller community?”

Alex: “I don’t think that Politics & War will ever have millions of players or anything like that, it’s not the type of game that appeals to everyone, but it definitely has its own niche gaming community that I think is still growing. Politics & War is still very new in the grand scheme of these online nation simulation games, and there are a lot of players from other games that I think could become active P&W members but have simply not heard about Politics & War or haven’t signed up yet. We do get quite a few new players simply from search engines as well, which tells me that there are new people seeking out and finding games like Politics & War.”

The Games Cabin:Is Politics and War the only game that you have made? Are you planning on making any others?”

Alex: “As I mentioned before, I’ve attempted to create many differents games before, and I have seen some success with a few. I’d really only say I ever succeeding in completing 2 other games, and those really pale in comparison to where Politics & War is at today. My first real game that ever garnered any attention was Pixel Nations, it was something like a waypoint between Cyber Nations and Politics & War. Gameplay wise, it was definitely lacking compared to Politics & War but it was at least as advanced or slightly more than Cyber Nations. I was pretty novice still when I programmed that game, however, and there were a lot of gamebreaking bugs and glitches. I ended up selling the game to a player and cut my losses, so to speak, as I felt I wouldn’t really get anywhere with that game and wanted to start over. After I sold the game I went on hiatus for quite a few months before I returned to the online nation simulation game scene.
My next game was called Martian Empires. It was really more of a good learning experience than anything – the game was never popular and thus never developed any sort of community which is necessary for this genre of game. Martian Empires is a fully functioning game, and I’ve held onto it as a keepsake more than anything.

Am I planning on making any other new games? In short: no. Creating and working on these games is pretty draining for just one person to do — there’s a lot of work involved. Even though Politics & War is essentially done in terms of coding, the management of the game and community is still quite a chore for me. Have I thought about making new games? Sure, I’ve had a few appealing ideas before. Creating a sequel to Politics and War, “Politics and War: Worlds” where you’d simulate being the leader of your own planet, with even more advanced game mechanics and in-game interaction certainly sounds appealing to me, but I know that I’m not ready to take on any sort of workload like that.”

The Games Cabin: “What has been the biggest challenge you have faced while raising this game to what it has become today? How did you deal with that obstacle?”

Alex: “When I first started making Politics & War, and I maybe had the game’s registration, login, and a basic nation page created I showed some players of other games (Pixel Nations and Cyber Nations). There were a lot of mixed responses, I was known as the guy who sold out on Pixel Nations and who was always starting new projects never to finish. Most distinctly I remember one response to my announcement of a new project, from a guy who is actually a very prominent member of the game and has essentially been a Politics & War player from the start. He sent me a direct message and told me that the game looked like garbage, it was just another copy of the same old game and that it would never get anywhere. He said I should just save myself the time and give up.

That one, particular instance might have been the most challenging time to persevere and keep going with the game. As I wasn’t very far along with the game, it would have been easy to quit then and there. I didn’t quit though, I told him that while I respected his opinion, I was going to make Politics & War different, it was going to be the game. I’ve invested countless hours into developing it, testing it, addressing technical issues and complaints and taking in feedback from the community, and in the end I think it’s all been worth it. The journey isn’t over yet, as the game will always be constantly changing and need my attention, but the satisfaction I’ve gotten from making it this far has made all the tough times where I’ve wanted to quit worth it.”

Politics and War can be found here if you want to go and take a look around the game. Definitely go check it out and let us know what you think in the comments section.

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