What names does your mind jump to when asked to pick the titles that shaped our current indie gaming landscape? I suspect Minecraft and Braid will be joined by a few personal favourites for most of you, but in my case the association is strongest with Darwinia: a game so entirely beautiful despite being so daringly lo-fi, that promised amazing new ideas could come from small, left-field teams and rank among a list of the best things you played that year.
In fact, Darwinia actually has the distinction of being the first game I purchased on Steam – indeed, it was actually one of the first non-Valve games on the service. It was something of a turning point toward current publishing models, when Steam stopped being this annoyance bolted onto one of your favourite FPS series and started being the place where you went to play most of your PC releases.
Fast-forward eight years, and not only do I suddenly feel a lot older, but appropriately enough, Introversion Software have reached another distribution milestone with Prison Architect. Since independently crowdfunding an alpha release into being last September and subsequently being included in Steam’s Early Access program back in March, Prison Architect has now sold more than 250,000 copies.
A quarter of a million copies is plenty when you consider that the game hasn’t been released yet, (at least in the traditional sense) – and though Introversion admits that their own data for old titles is likely inaccurate, they believe that this easily exceeds the 100,000 copies that Uplink, Defcon and even Darwinia and Multiwinia are likely to have sold individually.
In their own words: “Our 250,000 units have generated almost $8 million worth of revenue which is a figure we would never have dreamed of achieving. This investment by our alpha customers is enabling us to turn Prison Architect into the game we envisioned without having to make any creative sacrifices or cut any corners – this is the very reason we’re proud to be independent.”
The sale of games in such an early state is an interesting trend – it certainly seems to be working to Introversion’s advantage, and for the audience itself: it’s exciting to see a game come together piece by piece, morphing into an ideal form that you can have a certain amount of influence on.
That said, the developer does seem to have hit on the right formula for releasing an Alpha as a commercial product: updates for Prison Architect arrive on a regular schedule and Introversion make an effort to keep the community informed of ongoing work. By comparison, the reaction that the Godus alpha received in coverage from Eurogamer and RPS recently, suggests that the reality of early access may be a lot more hit and miss for developers and players (Molyneux’s god game revival may spend the rest of its development life attempting to convince people it’s not just “a lot of clicking“)
The most recent release (2 October 2013) adds guard dogs, kennels and prison selling alongside the expected balance tweaks, performance optimisations and big fixes. Check out the latest update video here to find out more, as well as a little bonus toilet queue philosophy.