[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.
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.
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