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Coming Clean

Coming Clean

Postby Mark » Fri Aug 20, 2010 6:09 pm

A wise man once told me that sometimes it’s better to seek forgiveness than ask for permission. That stuck with me and it characterises my approach when speaking with the press or being asked about Introversion. I tend to tell the truth and get shouted out afterwards for putting my foot in it. I’m not going to apologise though, because I believe that honesty is the best way to communicate important lessons about the reality of running a company. I also hate it when the big boys think they can throw their weight around and silence you if your experience is different to the glossy / shiny view they wish to project. So it was unusual when I found myself avoiding conferences and turning down interviews for the first half of 2010.

This came about because Introversion nearly closed it’s doors in March. Now I’ve probably just lost half my audience, because any one who knows anything about the history of Introversion know that in the past we have complained about running out of money pretty regularly, and the thought of another tale of financial woe leaves them cold. This time though it was very different. It wasn’t just the cash reserves that were depleted it was our will to continue.
To understand a company you have to understand it’s board and although we are a team of four, Chris and I have the strongest personalities, the loudest voices and are most stubborn when we don’t get our own way (interestingly Chris and I are both only children). Chris wants to make new games. Mark wants to grow a stable company that has the capability to bring Chris’ games to multiple platforms. Now when we got the opportunity to bring Darwinia to XBLA I saw a great opportunity to step forward. We started off trying to get into Microsoft’s good books by releasing a custom version of Darwinia for Vista. Then we decided that the Multiplayer component of Darwinia+ was worth a whole PC launch and we got tied up with Multiwinia. Than Darwinia+ spun out to about three years longer that our original estimate. Throughout this whole time, Chris had been trying to get back to Subversion. He was committed to working on the other projects, but his heart wasn’t in it and in the back of his mind was a burning desire to work on his next game idea. As we neared the D+ launch the future of Introversion looked really rosy. We were lining up for DEFCON PSN, but we’d learnt our lessons about console porting and knew what we were getting into. Chris new he would get a good chance to work on Subversion and I knew we had a great portfolio of products to get us through the next three – four years.

Internally we knew within about an hour of Darwinia+’s launch that it hadn’t done well enough. It took us about two weeks to really accept that and the awful realisation that we didn’t have enough to continue with the office or the staff. We had a bunch of creditors knocking at the door, but worse than all of that we were absolutely shattered. Darwinia+ had been really drawn out and I’d spent a lot of time selling the future to the team and when the rug was pulled away from my feet I really didn’t want to continue. Critically, neither did Chris. He’d had to spend a lot of time on Darwinia and decided that we had failed to live up to our original mission of making “Original Video Games”. Striking out on his own made most sense given IV’s failure: “We tried it your way, Mark – didn’t work”. So we started shutting things down. We reached out to our creditors and (amazingly) they accepted our payment plans. We closed the office and sold the tables and chairs. We let Gary, Leander and Martin go(another three that can be officially added to Nicholas Lovell’s redundancy tracker). They were amazingly stoical about it and I’m glad to say that they are all doing well. Then we closed the door on Introversion, rewrote our CVs from scratch, and started applying for jobs.
I guess this was rock bottom. We’d been through crises before, but we’d always wanted to solve the problem and find a solution, this time it was a bit like there was nothing left to save.

A couple of weeks rolled by and I found myself unable to accept the end. Chris too wasn’t actually ready to jack it in. We put together a rescue plan involving creating Steam achievements for DEFCON so we could convince Valve to run a promotion with it. We’ve flogged Darwinia to death over the years, but we thought that DEFCON would benefit from some spit and polish. Chris was working every afternoon on Subversion and every morning on DEFCON. It was as if that small amount of Subversion work was refuelling him. I didn’t need to keep justifying a project that I had been pushing for four years and could start being a lot more collaborative and analytical about the business decisions that we could make. It was like a weight was lifting.

Valve okayed the promotion and even though it didn’t focus on DEFCON we were happy that we had achieved our core objective. This was the game-changer. When we started Introversion we’d had a string of successes and believed we were undefeatable, but it was a long time since we’d had a victory and we really needed one. Right on cue, Valve delivered. The promo exceeded all of our expectations and when combined with our low burn rate (no office or staff now) we had gone from being fearful about paying our mortgages to having a year’s operating capital in the bank. This was good, but paled in comparison to the fact that we were working together as a team again. Just like the old days. Just me Chris, TJ and Johnny – laptops, bedrooms and plans for global domination. The difference this time was we have a lot more knowledge and experience about what works and what doesn’t. On the face of it we are less capable than we were six months ago, but personally I believe that we are ready to rebuild the company bigger and stronger in a different mould.
Subversion is our most ambitious and epic projects so far. It’s a complete return to our roots. It’s as immersive as Uplink with the production values of Darwinia+ and it’s affordable when I run my three year cashflow (you wont find Chris talking about that in his blogs anywhere!). We’re also really hoping to have the opportunity to release DEFCON on the PSN and we should know about that in a couple of months.

We rebelled. We evolved. We look and feel human. Chris is programmed to think he is human. There aren’t any copies. And we have a plan.
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Postby Ace Rimmer » Fri Aug 20, 2010 6:17 pm

We've (the community) has said for years that Defcon was like the bastard child of IV but with lots of potential value to offer (financially). Even at three+ years old, Defcon is still very much a viable game.

Support Defcon, and you support IV (i.e., yourselves). [/mini-soapbox]

Either way, it's refreshing to see that Subversion will (and hopefully ? would have continued). I personally think you two have lots of potential for success with the right vision. You have to decide what that vision ultimately, but it seems like creativity and stability are important.

Perhaps this time, when the money is right, you'll hire a part time/contractor/full time person to provide support to existing games (Defcon still has minor bugs, map editor for Multiwinia, patches, etc)? I believe that would go a long way towards keeping IV afloat in the future and is one if it's largest past weaknesses.

Edit: Moving thread was a bit cheeky. :P
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Postby kryptic » Fri Aug 20, 2010 6:27 pm

I for one am so excited about Subversion and I can't wait to see the final product. Chris' ability to make original game concepts that are truly fun and novel is something you guys should never take for granted. In the meantime I'll keep on buying all your games and rooting you on! Go bedroom programmers!
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Postby Flamekebab » Fri Aug 20, 2010 6:30 pm

A very interesting read. I've been out of the loop for so long and hadn't realised that IV was in dire straits. It makes me happy to know that in a small way I helped out when I bought the IV pack during the Steam sale (Chris answered me personally on Twitter..).

It's good to hear that work is continuing on Subversion and more importantly that you've got your work flow back up to speed. It's a great feeling after a while of languishing to get things moving again!
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Postby faemir » Fri Aug 20, 2010 7:00 pm

It's great to hear that my favourie indie developer hasn't died yet! I remember first hearing about Uplink years ago, and it would have been an awful shame.

Here's to sucess eh :)
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Postby estel » Fri Aug 20, 2010 7:11 pm

This ties in well with Mark's interview at gamesindustry.biz, for those of you that might not have seen it yet: http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2 ... -interview (free signup required).
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Postby ynbniar » Fri Aug 20, 2010 7:20 pm

Sounds like a tough time...glad you're through it...could be worse I suppose, you could be Dave Jones :!:
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Re: Coming Clean

Postby Xocrates » Fri Aug 20, 2010 8:44 pm

Mark wrote:We let Gary, Leander and Martin go

This truly saddens me :(

I'm glad to hear they are doing ok, but it's still a shock to see them go.
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Postby Orange Soda » Fri Aug 20, 2010 10:10 pm

You guys better figure things out, because if I never get to play Subversion, I will go insane.

I'll just have to convince more people to buy your games, I think. Good luck. We (the community) will be rooting for you.
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Postby aiusepsi » Sat Aug 21, 2010 12:20 pm

This must be the second or third time that Valve have saved your bacon. They better be on your Christmas card list! :D
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Postby darthkiwi » Sat Aug 21, 2010 1:15 pm

Wow, I knew Introversion always had money issues but I thought you said D+ would sort that out even if it did badly. Sorry to hear you ran into even more problems - it sounds like you scraped rock-bottom there.

But I'm overjoyed you're back and still working on Subversion - I'm certainly very intrigued in its progress and am more stoked about it than any other game out there right now.
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Re: Coming Clean

Postby Icepick » Sat Aug 21, 2010 1:54 pm

Xocrates wrote:
Mark wrote:We let Gary, Leander and Martin go

This truly saddens me :(

I'm glad to hear they are doing ok, but it's still a shock to see them go.


They'll never be entirely rid of me, no matter how hard they try! Mwahahaha!
Ahem.
Last edited by Icepick on Sun Aug 22, 2010 12:31 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Feud » Sat Aug 21, 2010 5:02 pm

DEFCON's a workhorse.

Glad to hear you guys are pulling through, times have been tough around here (both my household and region in general) so I can empathize. Hopefully, this can make for the deeply depressing chapter of the story that always comes right before the climax.
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Re: Coming Clean

Postby Xarlaxas » Sat Aug 21, 2010 11:52 pm

Xocrates wrote:
Mark wrote:We let Gary, Leander and Martin go

This truly saddens me :(

I'm glad to hear they are doing ok, but it's still a shock to see them go.


Quoted for truth! Hope everything goes well for them, though it looks like you need a cyber-exorcist for Icepick. :P
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Re: Coming Clean

Postby Radiobuzz » Sun Aug 22, 2010 2:27 am

Icepick wrote:
Xocrates wrote:
Mark wrote:We let Gary, Leander and Martin go

This truly saddens me :(

I'm glad to hear they are doing ok, but it's still a shock to see them go.


They've never be entirely rid of me, no matter how hard they try! Mwahahaha!
Ahem.


*Searching for the "like" button on this comment*
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