In the beginning – the first game
The main three guys behind Introversion all met at Imperial College London while they were studying; they are Chris Delay, Mark Morris and Thomas Arundel. Chris Delay is the main creative driving force behind Introversion and it was him who single-handedly designed Introversion’s first game Uplink. These 3 then entered a business competition in their final year, with their business being to market and sell Uplink. They didn’t win the competition, but having graduated and with a business plan already conceived for selling Uplink, they decided to give game developing a go before just trying to pursue a normal career.
They started selling Uplink from their own house, making all the CDs, CD labels and boxes themselves and then packaging them and posting them. Sales were steady but relatively slow, causing the 3 to find jobs for themselves. They then had their first big breakthrough when PC Gamer UK reviewed Uplink in 2002 and gave it a worthy 80%. This success was the catalyst for allowing Introversion Software (which was by then a registered limited company) to sign a distribution deal to get Uplink into UK shops. They continued to publish Uplink themselves and this has become a central tenet of Introversion’s philosophy: to keep full control over their games and to never sign any deals with publishers that they are not completely satisfied with, which has lead to them continuing to publish most of their titles themselves and forging along the independent route. Uplink is now available from Steam as well as directly from Introversion via their website. Uplink continues to be one of Introversion’s best selling title, years after it was first released.
Troubled times, better times
With Uplink being successful and Chris Delay finding that the life of a typically employed games developer can be devoid of any fun and innovation when working under the time and creative constraints imposed by a publisher, he was soon onto working on a new game for Introversion full-time. Tom Arundel also worked alongside him full-time while Mark Morris offered continued input despite still working at the Ministry of Defence at that time. There was a lot of creative experimentation initially, without having a firm concept, before Darwinia began to take shape. It was a stylistic diversion from the text-driven game of Uplink and many new lessons had to be learned, but Chris wanted to demonstrate that there was more to Introversion’s potential by being able to create a very different 3D game.
The team now concedes that it was a mistake to spend so long in the experimentation stage, since after a while their funds started to run short. They didn’t give up at this point because it seemed that they were only months away from finishing the game. However, the completion date kept being pushed back and back as it was realised more time was needed to complete it properly. It got to the point that the team were selling any unnecessary belongings on Ebay and Mark’s income was vital in keeping the company afloat.
Introversion completed Darwinia in March 2005 just in time before going completely bankrupt. Darwinia received huge critical acclaim and they won 3 IGF (Independent Games Festival) awards as a result, greatly increasing the profile of the company. The game sold steadily but not spectacularly but another important step was taken later that year when Introversion agreed a deal with Valve to put their games on its Steam digital-download service. They sold as many copies of Darwinia in the first 3 weeks of being on Steam as they had done in the preceding months since it had been launched.
With the greater financial security offered by the deal with Valve and now a portfolio of 2 games being sold continuously these were more prosperous times for Introversion. Chris was already well on the way with their next game DEFCON. Having often grown bored of working on Darwinia, he had been spending time working on this new project which he found more interesting. Defcon was to be an RTS multiplayer game centring around the idea of nuclear conflict, it’s primary inspiration coming from the cult film Wargames.
It was Introversion’s first foray into creating multiplayer games and was therefore another learning experience for them and expansion of their skill set. DEFCON was released a mere year after Darwinia and the team say many of their fans consider it to be their favourite game; it was their best-selling game thus far.
Almost going under (again) and back to the bedroom
Introversion was seeming (relatively) financially stable at this stage and it seemed a natural next step to the business minds in the company to try to expand their reach onto other platforms. Having had Microsoft reach out to them after their IGF win, the company set about bringing Darwinia to Microsoft’s Xbox 360 console. It is only with hindsight that Introversion has wondered if it was a mistake to move away from their originally stated aim of creating ground-breaking original games, but the forthcoming events would have been hard to predict from that vantage point. What eventually became known as Darwinia would take 3 more years before getting to market.
According to Microsoft's requirements for putting Darwinia onto XBLA, it was necessary to add a multiplayer element to Darwinia, but after getting half way through this project the team realised that they were just hashing something together without caring about the quality of the result. They therefore binned this progress and decided to work on creating their next full game Multiwinia around a more fully-formed multiplayer component, giving it their full attention. Upon release Multiwinia garnered positive reviews but sold poorly and left Introversion in some financial difficulty with belt-tightening measures reminiscent of the wait before Darwinia's release.
While downsizing from their famous 'flying hamster' property to more modest premises the team pushed ahead to see the full package of Darwinia and Multiwinia come out on the Xbox 360 as originally envisioned. Darwinia came out in Spring 2010 but it seems that despite the PR team's best efforts to communicate the nature and appeal of this unique game, it's originality and style of play failed to click with Xbox 360 owners and so received low sales. It quickly became apparent that the company could not continue in its current state and beleaguered by a few years of setbacks it was as much a question of whether the staff wanted to continue with Introversion as if they could. But after pruning Introversion's workforce back to the initial 4 directors and a profitable and vital Steam sale of DEFCON, Introversion look set to continue developing games for at least the next few years ... once again from their bedrooms.
Introversion's sixth release, Subversion, has been inspired by various heist movies and the original Mission Impossible TV series. For a long time it was only known that it would feature detailed cities created via procedural generation but these will merely provide the setting for players to exercise their espionage skills within this created world. It's biggest selling point will probably be based around the depth to which the in-game systems are modelled, providing a huge range of ways in which the player can go about completing their mission aims that will only be limited by their creativity and cunning.
Subversion was first worked on after Uplink was finished and has been the second game in development ever since. Now they have committed themselves to it being their next title, which is set to be their most ambitious project. The company has announced that they wish to be more open about their development process and therefore Chris Delay will be keeping a developer’s blog charting the progression of the development process behind the game. This mirror’s similar actions taken by a number of game developers recently, in keeping regularly updated development blogs. In Introversion’s case they feel, among other reasons, that releasing more information about the game at frequent intervals will prevents fans’ expectations from becoming out of line with what the game is about and then ending up disappointed. It also ends the typical practice of having to keep details of what the company is working on secret for large stretches of time until details get announced when the game’s concept is fully matured, and the game moves towards completion.
The only other original project that Introversion have been connected with is something called Chronometer which is currently shelved. The project would seemingly require 3D environments and a larger team than Introversion has ever had, but it seemed to be a possibility after Channel 4 showed interest in financing it. However, they declined to go through with it after an initial 3 month pre-production phase in summer 2008. Whether this exciting sounding project will ever see the light of day again is uncertain and with little immediate hope, but it may be unearthed in the future if Introversion grows again.
In the meantime it is known that Introversion are looking to port versions of DEFCON to the DS and PSN store but haven't announced the necessary partnerships as yet.
Roles within the company
As already eluded to, the creative artistic and design direction of Introversion can be primarily attributed to Chris Delay. Tom Arundel concentrates on the financial, business and marketing side of the company, while Mark Morris often provides the primary voice for the company to the outside world and has oversight of everything that goes on within the company. He apparently often acts as the middle ground between Chris and Tom and tries to find the balance between their differing creative and business tendencies. John Knottenbelt rounds out the list of Introversion's directors (and therefore all of their current full-time employees) and has worked with other 3 from the beginning as a programmer specialising in porting Introversion's projects to other platforms. There are others who have assisted in Introversion from its conception, and after becoming more profitable after the release of Darwinia on Steam the company grew to a maximum team size of 9 or 10 regular employees before the recent lay-offs.
Introversion staff decided on their core purpose as being: 'To challenge perceptions, push boundaries, through the release of outstanding video games - to be free to explore.'
They’ve described their long term goals as:
• To be the Kubrick / Tarantino of the games industry.
• To show people what video games could be.
• To become one of the greatest games companies that has ever existed & to trigger a video games renaissance.
Their general philosophies seem to be the following:
- Digital distribution: After their experience with Valve and Steam, Introversion now firmly believe that their future lies in primarily selling their products via digital distribution. They feel in general that this is the best way for a small independent developer like themselves to distribute a game, given their more limited resources.
- Independence from publishers: Introversion have said all typical deals they have been offered by publishers have involved them signing away too much control of their game and insist that the services offered by a publisher are more expensive than they need to be. They want to maintain the integrity of their games and the freedom of their development process.
- Creative design and gameplay over graphics: Introversion have shown that gameplay matters to them rather than striving for outstanding realistic graphics. For them as a smaller team it is far more time-effective to adopt a more stylised graphical style and to concentrate on creating innovative gameplay, which should be the main attraction of the game.
- Quality games – Introversion are not unique on this basis, and this is now more often the case with companies than in the past, but Introversion don’t ever wish to release a half-baked game. This is demonstrated by them ditching their initial attempt at including multiplayer into Darwinia.
- Small team with gradual organic growth – To never grow quickly as a team, but rather just add one or two people where they are needed. Advantages of feeling like an informal family rather than an impersonal corporation.
- Good PR rather than advertising – This is partly for financial reasons since advertising is expensive, but Introversion have relied on getting press attention and therefore wider recognition by trading off of their almost romantic image as a small independent developer among the bigger boys of the computer games industry. Perhaps this evolved as a side-effect of their position, rather than being a conscious strategy they employed from the beginning.
- High performance dynamic team – Yeah, that’s some meaningless business lingo right there but it seems to be something Introversion take seriously. The general idea is to empower each individual by providing support, encouragement and being open, so that even in the tough times Introversion’s team is strong enough to ride the storm and adapt as necessary while using their full potential.
No longer 'last of the bedroom programmers'
There has undeniably been a big change in the gaming landscape over the last 5 years or so, particularly with the rise of digital distribution and the birth of new platforms such as Steam on PCs and app stores for the iPhone and other mobile devices. There are now many very small groups of game developers creating games for these platforms and so Introversion decided to ditch their now well-recognised moniker in late 2008 since it no longer seemed reflective of the gaming landscape around them. At the time their slogan harked back to the 80s when there had regularly only been individuals or groups of 2 or 3 creating games for the first home computers and consoles. By the early 00s the barrier of entry had risen to the point where this was almost unheard of but is it sign that we have now come full circle that this is now fairly common and that barrier of entry has become lower once again for tiny developers.