Break Out Success: Prison Architect Sells 250,000 In Alpha

Starve no more, little indie devs.

I don’t normally like business news, but I can write all day about indie designers done good. Prison Architect – the alpha-funded, Early Access, prison management game from Introversion Software – has sold 250,000 copies and made $8 million. That’s a lot for a team that only recently risked bankruptcy.

Prison Architect has been on sale since September last year, which means it’s not just selling a lot, it’s selling fast. It’s even sold more than all other Introversion games combined over their entire lifetime, including Uplink, Darwinia, DEFCON and Multiwinia.

When I last spoke to Prison Architect’s lead designer and programmer Chris Delay, he talked about how bad things had become by the end of 2010. They were worried they’d go to jail for trading in insolvency, and they’d put together a backup plan for establishing zombie Introversion, whereby the name would continue solely as a holding company for selling their back catalogue. Chris even applied for programming jobs at other UK developers. For which he was turned down.

Prison Architect was initially sold in alpha directly via its own site, and was later part of the first batch of Steam Early Access games. It’s become the very model of how to release a game in that manner while still respecting your audience, delivering monthly patches to add major new features and regular devblogs to update the community about what’s coming. The game itself remains a bit buggy at this stage, with a lot of features still to come, but I’ve sunk over a dozen hours into it and look forward to playing more.

It’s great to see them now doing so well. Probably they should release some Fort Knox DLC for ideas on how to design their own money-stashing vault. Or perhaps they could just look at Craig’s feature on the best Prison Architect jails. Or perhaps they could just keep it in a bank and use it to fund more interesting games like those they’ve been creating for the past twelve years. Yeah, that one.


  1. Slight0 says:

    I wonder if their sale numbers have anything to do with the fact that RPS features a story about this game at least once a week.

    The game looks amusing at a glance, but I’m waiting for it to be released. It seems like the fun would dry up pretty quickly in its current state in that you would just run out of things to do.

    • Bull0 says:

      Such is alpha funding. My weird on-again, off-again relationship with Minecraft, in which I lost interest long before the “release”, is testament to this.

    • AngoraFish says:

      I bought the game on the first day it was originally released. I’ve been happy to wait until it more meaty, but I’m starting to feel the time is getting close to give it a whirl.

      But yes, generally I think Steam Early Access is a mistake that will be looked back on in a few years time as a quaint and (hopefully) short-lived trend.

      • BrainFlush says:

        First: I also bought PA day one and got my name in the game as a prisoner. I too am waiting for the game to be fleshed out but even now it is still fun to goof off in.

        Second: I think Steam EA is genius. Lot’s of games out there that are being worked on but the devs are running out of money so EA helps them get testers and money to finish the game. Instead of the game never coming out, we get to see it go through the stages of development. I am all for EA and have numerous titles. Like KS but better because I get the game now, even if it isn’t finished.

      • Deadly Sinner says:

        So you don’t like Early Access, therefore no one should be able to use it? I can’t see how more options is a bad thing. Especially considering Early Access is clearly labeled, so no one is being tricked here.

  2. Uglycat says:

    I’m pleased for them, but their high price for the alpha (20 quid!) is far to high for me.

    • Kestrel says:

      $30 American Funny Money
      Yeah that’s just too steep for me. Compare to games like Hotline Miami ($10) and FTL ($10) which are much more reasonably priced for the production value.

      And Dwarf Fortress is still free!

      • Baines says:

        They said that they wanted to price high so that only people who would play the game would buy it.

        Then they got on Steam and put the game on sale.

        • Belsameth says:

          Also banners all over. I found that quite hard to swallow too, but its an ace game regardless and I an happy they’re doing well!

      • tasteful says:

        dwarf fortress too difficult for idiot like me

    • I Got Pineapples says:

      Yeah. I kinda wanted to get this but it so expensive for what it is that I can’t really justify it to myself.

    • 2lab says:

      I Thinked it wasn’t play ready but had money to throw. I Hurl cash and wait.

  3. Reapy says:

    Great to see them succeed. I love listening to chris delay talk about anything, he just has that ‘I’m a programmer’ air about him in the way he presents himself and the work he puts out, so it is always great for me to see someone like that succeeding.

    I haven’t gotten prison architect, yet, and am not sure if I will (unless its in a bundle), but am keeping an eye on it for sure.

  4. Didden says:

    I’m glad this hasn’t affected development from their new yacht :)

  5. BlackLabel says:

    as much as i like introversion…and having bought and played their games i cant help but pass on prison architect.

    Why ?

    Because designing a PRISON dosent seem too appealing for me. Why whould i want to….but enough people seem to want to build a fucking PRISON….gah. ah well…

    It good they get the the suffice funds now to beign kept afloat and i HOPE they continue on that premise they had set themselfs with the canned game “Subversion”.

    best of luck.

    • blobb says:

      A game like Theme Hospital works because you’re managing a hospital out of whatever managerial crisis the game puts in front of you, and when you’re done you move onto the next one.

      This just sort of… is. It’s inherently uninteresting and depthless. Why would anyone ever want to play it?

      • BlackLabel says:

        At least, in theme hospital, you dident design to confine… :(

      • mouton says:

        People have varied tastes, for some reason.

        • BlackLabel says:

          indeed. If enough people like to build a PRISON.( oh and they LOVE it..walls..confinment..prison..control ) Thats fine and dandy with me. But it feels…backwards…

          • Bull0 says:

            You know, people also like games where you shoot other people in the head, etc. Crazy, right? Who’d want to do that

      • Bull0 says:

        Well, it is only an alpha. At the beginning of development, at least, they hinted strongly at more campaign-alike stuff coming later. I haven’t looked at their roadmap since, I don’t know how forthcoming they’ve been with that stuff, but it feels like we’ll see more in the way of directed challenges later. Remember the whole thing with the death row guy etc?

      • Graves says:

        As a law school intern, I’ve worked closely with prisons and inmates alike in several different capacities. To me, they are fascinating, in a horrible sort of way. You cannot spend time around them without considering how they are run, and wondering if there are better ways, or at least different ways. And I don’t want to comment any further about specifics, because politics and boring and this site is about games so shut up.

        The reason I find Prison Architect, well, I won’t say fun, but engaging, is because of the above. Prisons are terrible and compelling institutions. Even their very architectural design is consumed with an idea that is anathema to our usual standards as human beings, that of restricting the freedom of our fellow humans. Their management is full of weighty compromises. Do you refuse to commit random searches, knowing that the prisoners won’t like it and find it a violation of their rights? Or do you do so, knowing that if you don’t you may find a murder on your conscience?

        Prison Architect allows you to explore these issues in a safe manner, and in the best way I can think of. Remember the writers axiom, show, don’t tell? This is the policy version of that. Don’t tell me the american prison system is morally objectionable- Let me come to my own conclusion, first hand. To me, there is no better way to form an opinion about a practice than to get down in the weeds and do it yourself. Spend a day as a Warden, making the hard decisions. Consider the realities of running a private, for profit prison, and analyse what those realities made you do. This isn’t a game- it’s an experience, a simulation, a thought experiment. It is a rumination on incarceration. You may not enjoy it, but it has value to some people, like me.

        Of course, it is also a game. To some, it’s just another game where you manage some numbers to keep them above a certain amount to keep some other numbers going up. But it is so much more. And, aren’t’ prisons like that in real life, especially private ones? That’s what this game tells us.

        Anyway, long story short, I like it cuz it makes me think. And those sprites are so darn cute. Have you seen those little guard dogs? So cute.

  6. wodin says:

    Really pleased for them..shame they have difficulties with the game aspect of their games..great with systems and mechanics but not to clever on heme and dare I say fun. I presume thats why they had to stop work on that other game..prob cos there was no game and what their was wasn’t that fun. When you think of all the great ideas and settings he could have gone with this game, and yet he went with a Prison.

    • BlackLabel says:

      You can design penis shaped prisons i guess…

    • Nenjin says:

      Or I guess make his own game since he seems to know how these things should be done…

      • wodin says:

        You may aswell say that to everyone who has an opinion on a game.

        I just feel he is a superb programmer and develops some great “systems” as he calls them…but I think the gets so obsessed with developing new routines and systems he loses track of the bigger picture and whether he is making a good, fun game. The reason the game everyone was looking forward to was scrapped was due to this (can’t remember it’s name now)..It sounded great and had some great tech\programming but no real game at the end of it. I think of all the settings he could have used for this sort of game and feel a prison was going to confine it, now transfer it to an Alien World and have it so your building a base\community you suddenly have endless opportunities to expand, you could even end up needing a small prison!

        • Nenjin says:

          Subversion was a collection of ideas. PA is an actual game. One he chose to make a hands-off sim. You can disagree that it was the right choice to make for his skills, but dumping on PA because it’s not the format you wanted is ridiculous. It’s like saying “I hate American football because it’s not soccer.” Leaving American football fans puzzled as to why the hell you’re talking to them about soccer.

  7. BrainFlush says:

    I am in this game. Bought the name your own prisoner bundle. :D Still haven’t found me.

    • Bull0 says:

      I found Tom Francis the other day, that was fun. I’m yet to find myself either but have to confess I’ve only actually played for an hour or two.

      • BrainFlush says:

        I want to find me to kill me. Or lock me up without food and water to see how long I can last. No bed, no toilet. You see where I am going with this. :D Still a great game and I am glad they made as much as they did.

  8. RagingLion says:

    Develop Chronometer.

    Please. Assuming it still seems a great and special idea.

  9. airmikee99 says:

    You bought into early release, and expected a finished game?

    I always thought people like you were like the yeti, or Sasquatch. I didn’t think you’d come out in public and actually admit you don’t know how to read.

  10. Shadowcat says:

    Dear Introversion,

    Is this your big success to date? I’m not sure, but congratulations are clearly in order. I realise that even $8M won’t last forever, and that you’ve probably effectively spent a good chunk of it already; however it’s still a lot of money, so I have one request:

    Don’t lose it all.

    I do not, repeat DO NOT, want to read yet another article about how it was all going great for Introversion and now it’s all turned to custard and you’re screwed.

    If you invest it all in the next big thing and it doesn’t work out, I don’t want to hear a peep out of you.

    sincerely yours, etc, etc.

  11. racccoon says:

    AMAZING VIDEO on there website! its so honest it kills you with laughter.
    Good on them!!
    These guys know how to win! Awesome stuff.