While perusing the internet yesterday in search of socks and dining slippers, I happened upon developer Introversion's new Prison Architect update video. Alongside the fun stuff - it adds new staff features! - is a rather more downbeat segment in which Introversion's Mark Morris and Chris Delay ruminate (in admirably jocular fashion) on the fact that Prison Architect's follow-up, experimental spelunking adventure Scanner Sombre, has only sold "about five copies".
"We knew that it was gonna be niche," the pair explain, "but we didn't know it was going to be even more niche than Multiwinia. There's a disagreement between Chris and I about which is our biggest flop". Delay continues, "As the game that followed Prison Architect, which sold 2 million copies, I didn't think it was possible to sell as few copies as Scanner sold". "But you managed it mate," says Morris.
The somewhat good news is that, despite Morris' cantankerous assertions, Scanner Sombre didn't really sell five copies. As Delay confirms when I get in touch via email, "Of course Mark was exaggerating slightly...but the sales numbers are pretty dire - around 6,000 copies in the first month. It was a creative risk and it didn't really pay off, but Introversion exists to take risks! Otherwise we'd probably be making Uplink 5 by now and Darwinia, Defcon, and Prison Architect wouldn't exist."
As the team touch upon in the video, there was never any doubt that Scanner Sombre was going to be a game with niche appeal. "We really wanted to do something very different to Prison Architect," Delay explains during our email exchange, "and I think it's fair to say that we are very fortunate to have such a huge hit as Prison Architect in our back catalogue, because it means we can afford to take risks, and be as creative as we want to be, and not have to worry too much when it doesn't quite work out."
According to Morris back in the video, tackling a different type of project was practically a necessity for the team after so much time spent on Prison Architect: "If you're a creative person like a film director or a writer of music, you don't go from project to project without a break...but when you're a game studio like we are, burning through cash every month, there's this background pressure...there needs to be the next thing". But even so, he says, "you need to have something that's a bit different, the palette cleanser".
Despite Scanner Sombre's poor commercial performance, Introversion hasn't turned its back on the project, or the passionate community that continues to support it. As Delay tells me, "We are really happy with the response that our players have been having to the game - those that play it seem to love it, and 83% of the user reviews on Steam are positive. Some players clearly have wonderful experiences in this game we've made. I like to remind myself of that sometimes!"
To that end, Introversion is still forging ahead with its plans to release a free VR update for Scanner Sombre. "We still wanted to update the game with VR mode," says Delay, "because we love VR at Introversion and because the atmosphere and scale of the world is just wonderful when you are playing in VR. It's a very different experience. It's probably the most atmospheric thing we've ever done."
In fact, curious cave roamers can download Scanner Sombre's VR update right now on Steam, albeit in not-quite-finished beta form. Introversion has also released a new video to accompany the update (you can see it embedded above), which discuss the critical and commercial response to the game in more detail. "It's a difficult but honest conversation", says Delay, "and we like to be open with our community".
And should any of this ensnare your intrigue, Scanner Sombre is currently 50% off at £4.49 for the duration of the Steam Summer Sale, making this as good a time as any to check it out.