Introversion Software: An indie success story

November 24, 2009, Author: Neil Hughes

I love playing Call of Duty and Forza 3 as much as the next man, but sometimes, just like after eating at a certain fast food restaurant, you are left with a slightly empty, unfulfilled feeling. Gaming has been accused of becoming too corporate and I can see where people are coming from so I decided to have a look at the independent games market and the logical place to start for me was the award winning developers of the game Darwinia. Introversion Software remind me in many ways of my cult heroes Sensible Software from the nineties.

Introversion Software is a UK based independent games developer and publisher. Founded in 2001 by three university students who are now often referred to as “Last of the bedroom programmers”, they started out with just £600 and only had the power of “word of mouth” to promote themselves. They went onto produce Uplink in 2002; a game that was literally handmade all the way down. Everything from the CDs, labels and even the boxes were crafted in house. It was all even packaged and posted to customers by hand by the guys themselves. The much loved and critically-acclaimed hacking sim went onto sell 40,000 copies against all the odds.

Like any rock star struggles with the notoriously difficult 2nd album, Introversion’s second title Darwinia took three years to make, 18 months longer than initially planned. Each of the directors was forced to sell all their possessions down to the last CD on E-Bay to make ends meet as they watched Introversion’s cash flow plummet and flirt with bankruptcy. It was a huge gamble that paid off when the long-awaited Darwinia was finally released in 2005, to a flurry of stunning media reviews averaging 90% I might add.

Introversion’s success was heralded at the IGF awards held in San Francisco in March 2006, when Darwinia was awarded three prizes for Technical Excellence, Innovation in Visual Art and the Seumas McNally Grand Prize.

The indie developer’s third title, DEFCON, was released in 2006 and like all of Introversion’s titles had a unique and interesting development history. Inspired by the 1980’s classic, War Games, DEFCON was initially an experiment to see if you could write a game in 24 hours. 365 days later, DEFCON was released to the public and has been Introversion’s most commercially successful game to-date.

Introversion have always remained true to their independent values, and have said all that typical deals they have been offered by publishers have involved them signing away much control of their games. They want to maintain the integrity of their games and the freedom of their development process. The exciting future that digital distribution can bring to an independent developer, which allows them to retain freedom and artistic integrity, is not as smooth as it first appears.

They must have thought that bringing their hit game Darwinia, to the Xbox Live Arcade would have been quite an easy affair, but it wasn’t until Microsoft insisted that the game needed have multiplayer to succeed on their format that the all too familiar problems of working with somebody else’s rules came to light.

Multiwinia is the latest stand-alone title from Introversion and has been some time in the making. Plans for a multiplayer component to Darwinia were originally dropped when delayed development schedules and spiralling cash flow problems forced the team to conceive Darwinia as a single player only. Multiwinia gradually became a title in its own right after the decision was made to create a entire new background story and dynamic gameplay style. Multiwinia has been a labour of love, at times frustrating and temperamental, but once again was praised for its innovative style and absorbing gameplay.

Introversion have never let their Indie ideals and principles leave them and being able to keep full control over their games and to never sign any deals with publishers that they are not completely satisfied with will always remain paramount to them.

Now ten men strong, Introversion were also pretty excited to learn that PC Gamer UK voted it as among its “Top 50 Most Influential Games Companies in the World” list. Gaming may have gone a little too corporate for some but Introversion are living proof that independent developers cannot only survive in a commercial world but digital distribution may have given them a whole new lease of life.

Check back tomorrow for our exclusive interview with Chris Delay from Introversion!