Critical Success, Commercial FlopFor the Love of the GameCritical Success, Commercial Flop - RSS 2.0
Dwarf Fortress is available for free download, with a PayPal donation link on his website serving as Adams' primary means of income. Before Dwarf Fortress, the offerings merely covered his website's monthly $20 hosting costs. Now, monthly donations sometimes reach four figures. "I'm just kind of hanging on by the skin of my teeth," Adams says. "Barely in the black one month, a little in the red another month. ... It's a risk I'm willing to take, and really I couldn't have it any other way."
Thanks to a long career as a successful comic illustrator and writer in Belgium, Benoit Sokal isn't in the same financial situation as Delay and Adams, but in his second career as a videogame designer, he shares their dedication to artistry and creativity. "Money is probably the worst 'fuel' for an author," Sokal says in an email interview, adding that he knows he could be making more money as an "image mercenary" illustrating for other companies.
Working in the oft-maligned adventure genre, Sokal's games have a cult following. Fans and genre-friendly critics praised his Syberia games in particular for their beautiful pre-rendered graphics and emotionally involving story. Outside of Europe, however, Sokal's games are little known.
Antagonistic reviewers make it hard for Sokal's games to break through to the mainstream from the adventure niche. "Gaming media is very often made by 'core gamers,'" Sokal says. "They like games that are far from the one I am doing. So, this created conflict situations many times, with reviewers that are just completely upset with what they see as not being a 'real' game. Frankly, I have learned lessons from the past and am avoiding some gaming media now."
Delay and Adams, on the other hand, have had important support for their games from some journalists and reviewers. Having had no budget for publicity or advertising, Delay credits British writer Kieron Gillen's reviews of Uplink and Darwinia in the U.K.'s PC Gamer magazine with attracting many of Introversion's most loyal fans. Games for Windows recently featured Dwarf Fortress in a three-page spread, and Gillen also wrote about it for PC Gamer, calling it an "instant indie classic."
Adams says he's very appreciative of the support from journalists, reviewers and bloggers who try to spread the word about his game. "You work your ass off for a bunch of years and people say, 'Hey, this is really original, really neat, really deep, got a lot of things going on and I like where this guy's going. And hey, that's cool."
For Introversion, Delay says the good reviews are nice, but mainstream success has never been a goal. "We all have our secret desire to drive Ferraris and be mega-rich, but it was never the primary aim of the company," he says. "And there are certainly things that we could have done differently to increase our chances of driving Ferraris and so on that we haven't done because the primary aim of the company is really to make new games."