Trust is a weakness. Definitely an appropriate theme for a game about hacking. That’s right, a game about hacking...possibly the first one to be released since Activision's Hacker 2 back in the early 80's. But that's not the only thing unique about this release. This is basically the first "zipper-bag" game to be released in several years. To explain that statement, I need to explain a little bit of ancient PC gaming history. Back in the '70s, when home PCs were in their infancy, and programs were released for such high-end systems as the Altair, and IMSAI, there wasn't any such thing as a software company. No one saw any money in writing software for these home computers. Once disk and tape storage devices were released, some of those who had written programs for their own use made a few copies, and typed some instructions. Then they placed them in clear plastic bags (Ziploc was the favorite, if I remember correctly) and asked store owners to carry them on their shelves.
From here, the lone programmer grew to two of them...then to a small circle of friends. Soon they started making boxes for the games, and things went on to the way they are today, with distributors and developers and PR departments, and a generally huge infrastructure for each company. So huge, in fact, those profit margins started getting smaller and smaller for games. So game publishers want to play it safer and safer, since there is so much to lose for a game that "tanks." And so the urge to innovate is moved aside in favor of playing it safe.
But back when games were born, there wasn't any such thing as "safe." Resources were scares, and enjoyment was the primary focus in games, rather than graphics. Introversion has tried to bring that spirit of innovation to the current game market. Instead of zipper bags and typed instructions, they use the logical successors, namely direct marketing through the Internet. And like all good "zipper-bag" games, they are dependent on word-of-mouth to spread the word about their games. I had the opportunity to sit down with some of the members of the Uplink development team and see what they had to say
hardCOREware: "Where did the idea for Uplink come from, and what do you perceive as its target audience?"
Introversion: "The idea from Uplink comes from the Hollywood vision of hacking. The idea is to take something that is basically rather dull and make an interesting game out of it. So far we've generally found that Uplink appeals to the geeky side of the web - people who are interested in hacking and computer security and games, and find Uplink intriguing."
HCW: "Introversion has made a unique decision in the gaming business world. Why did you decide to market the game yourselves, rater than selling advertising or using a publisher?"
IV: "We thought about this quite a lot, but we don't honestly believe that any publishers would have been interested in us. Uplink is quite a long way out of phase with the current games market. We would have ended up with a low budget quiet release in the bottom of a bargain bin or something. We decided we would have a better chance doing it ourselves."
In any case, the big name publishers of the games world aren't doing developers any favors right now. Developers frequently get less than a 10% royalty on their games - and that's assuming they actually stay funded and running during development - ie their publisher doesn't get scared and dump them. It's a sad state of affairs."
HCW: "Do you see other development houses taking this route in the future because of what you've talked about?"
IV: "I'm not sure really. It's not really the kind of move a "development house" would take - it’s the kind of thing a small group of people making games for fun would take. As soon as someone is paying you money to make a game your options become very limited - they control the shots and there isn't a lot you can say.
The Internet does offer a hope to people developing and publishing their own games - it is now possible to totally cut out the middle man. The difficulty comes in advertising and product placement - which is heavily controlled by the big publishers."
HCW: "How successful has this method of marketing been so far? Do you feel that so far your company could be considered a business success using it?"
IV: "It's worth remembering that 9 out of 10 games don't make any money at all - so by that measure we've already done better than most. We don't have any of the usual overheads associated with a 2 year development cycle, or shop space, magazine articles, publisher expenses etc. We were free to make the game we wanted to make without constant deadlines and interruptions.
Our method of marketing has only become possible with the Internet - word of mouth has sold almost every copy of our game so far. The worst case scenario - we make a little bit of money and learn a lot. But the best case - well who knows what could happen."
HCW: "The game CD contains both Linux and Windows versions. Which platform was this game written for FIRST?"
IV: "Windows originally, but one of our team members is big on Linux. We used a lot of cross platform stuff (like openGL) so it was pretty easy to support Linux. The Linux market is small compared to Windows - but Linux users tend to be very interested in the subject matter of the game, so it made sense to port it over."
HCW: "Do you see Linux becoming as strong a gaming platform as Windows, especially considering the development of technologies such as Transgaming's WineX?" (reviewed here)
IV: "I don't believe it will be as strong as Windows until some major changes start happening. Games companies have little incentive to develop for Linux - less than 20% of our sales go to Linux, and our game is very much in their area of interest. There is no real support for directX (which most games are written in), and the driver support is behind Windows as well. All of these things could change - but I’m not sure if Linux offers anything over Windows to make people want to change. Certainly projects like WineX are a step in the right direction."
HCW: "Is Introversion planning any expansions or upgrades (such as a multiplayer-online version) to Uplink?"
IV: "We are planning some patches with a few new features. We had plenty of ideas still lying around when we finished Uplink, and now we have time to actually put them in. A multiplayer version of Uplink would be our ultimate aim - but that would most likely be a full sequel rather than an expansion."
HCW: "Does Introversion feel that it can become a major player in the industry on the strength of a single game, or will you need additional game projects? What projects would you consider?"
IV: "I personally doubt we will be able to compete with the big developers in terms of budget and scope - we simply don't have the money or the man power. We will not be able to spend millions of dollars on a game for a long time. However, because we aren't tied down to a publisher and because we don't have serious amounts of money invested in our games, we are free to experiment and try out ideas that the bigger companies would shy away from. I seriously doubt any major developer would have been permitted to develop a game like Uplink - there simply would not be the financial support.
The movie industry has the big Hollywood studios making the big summer blockbusters, and that's great. Everyone enjoys a decent action movie. But the movie industry also has the art-house side - producing low budget experimental films. The games industry does not have this yet - you either publish with the big names or you don't get any attention. Hopefully we can try and change that."
Now that we know how Introversion feels about their game, and the gaming industry itself, let's move on to the result of their efforts.
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