Antichamber, indie developer Alexander Bruce's first-person puzzle game which launched on Steam in January, has sold over 100,000 copies on the platform, Bruce told Polygon today.
Bruce told Polygon in a recent interview that the game's success on Steam was evident shortly after its launch.
"It only recently hit 100K, but I knew how it was going, because in the first week alone, it did pretty phenomenal," Bruce said. "I think even the first 24 hours blew some people's expectations out of the water for what this game was going to sell, which is why I was always so cautious of setting any sales expectations for it."
Antichamber's complex corridors and less-than-straightforward puzzles made it a difficult game to market, Bruce explained, and therefore a difficult game to predict sales figures for. While you may think an indie developer who's worked on a game for over three years would hang their hopes on that game being a smash hit, Bruce didn't want to get his hopes up.
"One of the reasons is, I've been burned by expectations before," Bruce said. "I did that to myself with all of the competitions I was entering in. Several times, I entered competitions, I had all my hopes and dreams pinned on them, I thought it was a sure shot, and then I missed them. And that ... sucked. And as I went through later competitions, I made sure I didn't do that. I said back in 2010: Sales are just another competition to me. And if I can win all these other ones, I'm testing the waters for how it sells."
"I think even the first 24 hours blew some people's expectations out of the water..."
Bruce said the development of Antichamber was a deeply introspective process which was, in a way, rewarding enough. In the years he worked on the project, he was learning about game development, and learning about himself. That inward look was reflected in the game itself; in the taunting lessons etched all over Antichamber's walls.
"Even if it doesn't come across to the player," Bruce said, "the reason all the challenges and all the messages are in there are because there was some anecdote somewhere, some analogy somewhere for me, and the things I was going through, that I had to reason about."
Antichamber found its success thanks to Bruce's eagerness to put it in front of other people in the industry. He attended 15-20 shows, he estimates, with the game in tow, eager to show it off to his colleagues and "tastemakers" who could distill its message for their followers. His fellow independent developers lent advice on dealing with the personal stresses of associated with their craft, on finishing projects and making sure that people play them.
"It's absolutely collaborative," Bruce said. "This is part of my issue with people who look at the indie scene and say, 'Oh, it's just a friends club.' My view of that was, even very early on, that if I take these things at face value and say, 'It is a friends club,' clearly the answer is to become friends with these people in this friends club! But when you do that, you realize, there are a lot of people who are willing to be very open, and very willing to help you, if you're doing your part in trying to succeed and making something that has some chance of success."
"I don't want to jump back into another independent thing, and spend the next seven years obsessing about something..."
Bruce said that — following a well-deserved sabbatical — he quickly realized that support for Antichamber had become his full-time job. After squashing the last few bugs and finishing the Mac port for the game, his dance card will be relatively empty. At the moment, he's considering applying to work in the industry at a larger studio, to increase his own proficiency and learn new skills.
"I don't want to jump back into another independent thing, and spend the next seven years obsessing about something, because I've been doing that for so long, and I kind of feel like doing something else," Bruce said.
"When I was developing Antichamber, I feel like I got into a bubble where everything I was learning was only applicable to Antichamber, and that I'd be screwed if I tried to make any other game. When I worked in the industry in 2008, on infrastructure and tools ... I learned a hell of a lot there, because people could tell me what jobs there were to be done, and if I fucked up and made a mistake, they could step in and help me. I wasn't just flailing around all the time, having to learn everything myself."