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2008 in Hindsight, part 3 of 3

2008 in Hindsight, part 3 of 3

Postby Chris » Wed Apr 29, 2009 2:48 pm

[Read part 1]
[Read part 2]

After working like crazy all year, it all came crashing down around us. We blamed the marketing, then they blamed the game. Then we blamed the magazines for not reviewing the game, then we blamed Microsoft, then eventually we came to our senses and started thinking about how to survive. Multiwinia came out with virtually no momentum, and a palpable lack of interest across the board. All of the print magazine reviews were at least a month late – entirely our fault – but that had knock-on effects, with online sites less interested in reviewing it as a result. Reviewers in many cases had already moved on to the next months set of games, and gamers weren’t downloading the demo. The demo itself did very well, with a very high conversion rate that continues, but getting people to play the demo was really tough. But we knew Multiwinia was not a hugely popular game – it wasn’t the reviewers fault, they were just experiencing the same apathy the gamers were. In the end, big price drops and promotions on steam brought a decent audience to Multiwinia, but not the cash we needed to make it to game five. We started trying whatever we could think of to drive people to the game, prompting some terrible ideas and some strong arguments. We were acting with desperation.

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We knew the money issue had to be addressed directly, and quickly. We were on track to be bust in just a few months. We made some hard choices, and seriously considered closing up for good. In the end we closed our office in London Bridge, and moved into somewhere a lot smaller and a lot less cool in Elephant&Castle, south London (where we are still based today). We tightened our belts across the board, bringing all our monthly expenses right down. This was probably the lowest point for me personally. For the first time since starting Introversion, I Googled for jobs around the Cambridge area, making it as far as actually clicking on some links before having to fight back tears. The company we’d founded together out of university was almost dead, the Directors took it in turns to lose the will to continue for a few days at a time, and it all looked pretty bleak for a while.

There were now just two possible ways to survive. Either we could complete the Xbox Darwinia+ project in time, or we could get the Chronometer project approved by C4. I didn’t want either. The Darwinia+ project was MORE DARWINIA, a game we’d been working on since 2002. It was also not an original game, which I believe is Introversion’s core purpose. The Chronometer project was a massive fulltime occupation for myself and Mark, probably involving a doubling of our team size, and under ultimate control of Channel 4. It was a good idea, but I wanted to do Chronometer under our own steam, on our own terms, and I didn’t want to be beholden to anyone when designing a game. But ultimately the decision was made for us, the world changed, the economy collapsed, and big risky funding programs at Channel 4 dried up. Their budget got halved, then halved again, and C4 turned down the whole project. By this point I had no idea what to feel about this. But it meant one thing – Subversion would (again) have to wait, Darwinia+ was and still is the most important project now, the only one that we have a chance of finishing before the minimal returns from Multiwinia run out completely.

At the same time, our long term friends at Pinnacle software told us the bad news – they were finished, declaring bankruptcy and closing up shop. We finally figured out why Multiwinia had never made it into the shops. We’ve a huge amount of respect for the guys at Pinnacle and they always did a great job with our games going all the way back to Uplink, and in the end we were very lucky – Pinnacle didn’t owe us a penny, because that really would have been the end for us if they’d owned us any significant sum.

It also meant the end of the Defcon DS project, at least temporarily. This was really sad news – the project was almost finished, we were a couple of weeks away from seeing a Gold Master build of Defcon DS, ready to go into the shops. But with Pinnacle gone, all work stopped, and the project went into a holding pattern while the lawyers fought over ownership rights. This particular story may still have a happy ending, as we’ve now resolved all the legal issues surrounding Pinnacle’s bankruptcy and Defcon DS is up for sale – for any publisher who is interested – a finished game ready to go, based on a very successful pc game. We’ve had a lot of interest since announcing that, so we’re crossing our fingers.

Our news story about Defcon DS

And that was our experience of 2008. It’s hard for me to look back, because I see Subversion on hold so much of the time, and I see my major time sinks (Chronometer, Defcon DS, Multiwinia) all as failures, not even projects I wanted to work on, and now have to live with them all going sour. To cap all of that off, 2008 was a truly incredible year in gaming and especially in Indie Gaming, with Braid, World of Goo and others rightfully grabbing the attention of the press that we used to command with ease. An Indie Game Revolution has been occurring while this was happening to us, with countless small teams of 2 or 3 guys putting together amazingly cool games and getting genuine commercial success out of it. Indie has become a viable genre of its own, with its own style and quirks. To not be a part of that revolution – to in fact realise that we were the ‘older’ indie, already too big and too slow to effectively compete, was a major slap in the face. This for me is still an unresolved issue – just what kind of company is Introversion, and what kind of games do we make? We’ve had around ten employees for a while now, which is a lot bigger than most Indie’s, and I still consider myself to be Indie Game Developer, but I’m not sure about Introversion itself – we’re something else, something half way in-between.

Ultimately, the Directors and the staff got together and decided that this would not be the end of Introversion, and that we would push on until we could not push on anymore. Despite everything that happened to us during 2008, we are still running - the result of rapid cost cutting across the board, and careful planning in the wake of Multiwinia. A lot has happened since the beginning of 2009 – we’ve found alternative funding through grant schemes (more on that in the next Subversion blog), we’ve forged an excellent relationship with Microsoft and now finally feel like we’re on the finishing straight, and other opportunities have come to light which give us a much more hopeful outlook on the future. Every Tuesday I still go into London, and our busy office is now quite obviously too small to fit everyone in, and it will be time to upgrade soon. We’re back on the ascendancy, with a truly terrible year behind us, and a new sense of clarity and purpose. Darwinia+ still needs all my attention and Darwinia+ is the only project that can see us through right now – but I can see the route forward this year. One person is currently working fulltime on Subversion (not me - but i'm saving that story for the next Subversion blog), Gary will be starting a day or two a week on it soon, i'll be getting back onto it soon as well, and Leander will be following after Darwinia+ is done. Assuming Darwinia+ does ok there will be be four people working on Subversion including myself, and there will be a momentum behind it such that it can't be stopped again. This is not a situation we would ever deliberately put ourselves in – all eggs in one Microsoft shaped basket, but that’s where we are, and for the first time in a long while, I’m feeling confident.
Last edited by Chris on Wed Apr 29, 2009 4:27 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Xocrates » Wed Apr 29, 2009 3:03 pm

Not as good news as most of us would like to hear, but at least you guys seem to be holding.

It's sad to hear that Chronometer won't really go anywhere anytime soon, and that you are now dependent on your console incursions (something I really won't be able to help with as I have no interest in consoles at the current time.)

Let's hope for a successful 2009 then. And bring on Subversion!
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Postby xander » Wed Apr 29, 2009 3:23 pm

Breastwinians FTW!

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Postby jelco » Wed Apr 29, 2009 3:26 pm

Hmm, however sad it may all be, this does put a lot in perspective. I realized last night that the blog post about you guys losing the Multiwinia cover deal with PC Gamer conveniently didn't mention the whole review build delay business, for example, and yesterday's blog entry explained that in all honesty. I also thought you moved away from the Hamster because it was too small, but if the move was for the sake of money saving I really get the impression IV was in a rather desperate situation when you moved. I'm also starting to wonder how incredibly small the new office is if it's smaller than the Hamster. ;)

Anywho, while I get the feeling that some explanations from this post were a bit overdue, it's nice that you didn't withhold it entirely (because in all honesty I felt a little betrayed as an Introversion fan to not be told the entire story about the cover deal and similar things). I hope you won't find yourself in such situations again, both because you won't have to post sad stories again, but most importantly of course because seeing a great company on the edge of desperation is not a good thing.

Here's to the past 7 years of Introversion and many more to come! :)

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Postby multimania » Wed Apr 29, 2009 3:43 pm

It's a shame that 2008 was a poor year for introversion, and that things are going poorly. It's never a good thing to have all hope riding on a single title, particularly one that is primarily a port; and therefore targeting an unknown audience. Every cloud has a, however hidden and cliché, silver lining -- some of introversion's best work was done when money has been scarce. The most important thing is that introversion is still here -- on a journey to Subversion and -- as a community -- we're here to support you every step of the way.

I'd be hesitant to call Multiwinia a failure; the conversion rate of the demo proves that it's a very strong game. I think that many people here have seen people play multiwinia for the first time and be buying it immediately. Multiwinia's greatest failing -- in my eyes -- was timing; the released seemed a little rushed, and it seems evident why the word "dead" is found in "deadline".

The future is bright -- Darwinia+ will be a brilliant game. I hope that the world isn't too blind to see it. Subversion is the next big game; and it has me as giddy with excitement as I was for the announcements of defcon and darwinia.

For now, survival is key. Darwinia's sales were boosted by the second "launch" when it first hit steam. Darwinia+ is yet another boost for Darwinia and Multiwinia.

Most importantly -- Introversion has not failed!

-- Sulix

PS -- What exactly is a time sync?
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Postby ynbniar » Wed Apr 29, 2009 3:59 pm

While reading this I kept thinking about something Vic blogged the other day…she asked “when did it all get so serious” and I think this is an important question for Introversion themselves to answer. It doesn’t sound like you have been having much fun recently…

In the space of about 3 or 4 years at the end of the 80s I watched DMA Design go from the bedroom to the Technology Park on the back of huge commercial success with games such as Menace, Lemmings and GTA.

This company grew quickly and it wanted to grow quickly. Today things are a bit different… Indie developers are small teams/1 man bands and few of them even want to grow into something big as far as I can see.

Introversion seems to me to be torn between growing into a real games company and being “indie”. This appears to be affecting the creative process and I’m not sure what you can do about it.

Maybe the future for Introversion as a creative entity is you all getting other day jobs? :shock:

EDIT
...or could your day job be Introversion the "real" serious games company that pays the bills, while at night you morph into the last of the bedroom programmers and code what you want to be coding?
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Postby Rkiver » Wed Apr 29, 2009 5:13 pm

Yipes, all very serious indeed. At least things are back on track to a degree, and I look forward to more Subversion and Chronometer news as time progresses.

And perhaps Defcon on my DS could be fun.
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Postby darthkiwi » Wed Apr 29, 2009 5:22 pm

Wow - I had no idea that Introversion was in such dire straits. I don't post on here often (if at all) but I'm a big Introversion fan and would be devastated if you went under.

I think you're on the right track, though. You seemed to be asking the question in these 3 blog posts, "What did we do wrong?" It sounds like primarily it was that Multiwinia didn't do as well as hoped, and, after that, you were just plain unlucky. You also ask "just what kind of company is Introversion" - well, I have always seen you guys as people who make fun, inspired games which can rise above the rigmarole of "zombie shooter/alien shooter/WW2 shooter" because you don't want to make cookie-cutter games. To that end, your new policy (seen in previous blog posts) of letting people develop their own various game ideas sounds like a winner: alright, so perhaps they might not all do as well as Half Life, but if you keep making things which are interesting and unique and inspired, then (okay, I'm really going into teary-eyed territory here, sorry) Introversion will keep that "spark" which made it stand out in the first place.

/end soul searching, sorry. Too serious for a moment. :lol:
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Postby estel » Wed Apr 29, 2009 6:01 pm

ynbniar wrote:Maybe the future for Introversion as a creative entity is you all getting other day jobs? :shock:


:lol:
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Postby RagingLion » Wed Apr 29, 2009 6:41 pm

Wow. You guys really were close to the brink and at the very least are now still sidling around it.

I hope Darwinia+ does really well. They are both experiences I have already had and really enjoyed - both Darwinina and Multiwinia, so I'm purely looking to them to just get you through financially for the future, though I think they are good enough to succeed and get acclaim with a wider audience. Ultimately I am just really looking forward to Subversion getting made so that I can play that and also future creative ideas like Chronometer which sound really interesting.

I am glad you were able to end that last sentence on a note of positivity. You have all refocused as a team and I hope that puts you in good stead for the future. I know all aspects of the company will have the drive to make Darwinia+ succeed to as great an extent as possible. Also pleased to hear the undimmed excitement you have for getting Subversion done whenever you have found the opportunity in the last little while - I'm glad it's still fresh for you. I wait with great anticipation for the next Subversion blog after all those teasers.

Good luck for your future, Introversion.
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Postby Aegryan » Wed Apr 29, 2009 7:16 pm

If you read this, Introversion staff, I would just like to say the following:

1.) Thank you for Darwinia, which is still my favourite game of all time (no exaggeration, I love it and bought it as a download from you at launch, then again on Steam and again in the Multiwinia special tin and look forward to buying it again on the Xbox 360). Multiwinia is a deserving sequel, be proud.

2.) I'm very excited (as are countless others) about Subversion, so don't give up!

3.) Believe it or not, I've been using this avatar since the late 1990s, so don't think you've cornered the market in stickmen =)
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Postby faemir » Wed Apr 29, 2009 7:19 pm

I remember first finding out about uplink all those years ago, if you did have to shutdown I would be pretty devastated, not to mention how you guys must feel. All I can add is that I will buy darwinia+ the day it is put on XBLA and get all my friends to too! (Oh and I will buy defcon DS too if it is ever put out)
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Postby Phelanpt » Wed Apr 29, 2009 7:24 pm

Wow. I didn't realize things had gotten that bad... :(
I was very curious about what Chronometer actually was, pity it doesn't seem likely to go forward.

I hope Darwinia+ goes through very well, and gives you momentum to finally do what you wanted: work on Subversion.

To many more Introversion years!
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Postby Weatherproof » Wed Apr 29, 2009 7:49 pm

Ended on a happy note :)
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Postby elDiablo » Wed Apr 29, 2009 8:20 pm

jelco wrote:...I'm also starting to wonder how incredibly small the new office is if it's smaller than the Hamster. ;)...


You're joking, right? It got to the point where it was me, Mark and Vic in the Hamster regularly (when I first started at IV), and we'd all be in different rooms on different floors. The best thing was when the internet died, and Vic and Mark had to come upstairs so that we could all network off Mark's mac with his 3G card. We actually saw each other!
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