Premature Evaluation: Software Inc.

Every Monday we send Brendan into a sweltering 1980s office block to sit down at a cubicle and file a report on an early access game. This week, he establishes his own videogame company in Software Inc [Steam page].

“Fail fast.” That’s what the tech magnates of Silicon Valley always say. Stanley Codeman must have taken this philosophy to heart, because the first two enterprises of this short-tempered misanthrope failed spectacularly, both within two years of starting. In hindsight, he probably shouldn’t have taken such high-interest loans and filled his offices with underpaid staff. It was also a bad idea to try and make two hyper-ambitious Operating Systems, back to back. Spending thousands of dollars on a “toilet forest” probably didn’t help.

But it’s Stanley’s third failure that we all remember.

Software Inc is a management game of creating a small software house and culturing it until it festers into a corporate blight upon the digital kingdom. You start by building a small room or two, staffed by a handful of programmers (or even just your company’s founder) and working on other people’s contracts. If you have the money or the courage, you can develop your own software.

There’s a decent amount of freedom in terms of how you achieve digital dominance. You can make editing tools for creators, business tools for offices, videogames for consoles and (given the time and expertise) even a whole operating system of your own. Selling these and moving onto the next big thing (command-line to GUI, 2D graphics to 3D graphics) will see you expand and grow, and all the while time advances, prompting panicked renovations as you install new computers to each of your employees’ desks in an effort to keep up with the competition.

Sadly, the products don’t appear as anything tangible – there’s no cardboard box to be proud of, or shots of how it looks on-screen. Instead your software appears as entries in the charts, or as reviews in the ‘Software Times’. Sometimes you’ll get a place in a Top 5 listicle and that’s always a good feeling. Then, next year, you’ll see your program’s position slip from 2nd place to 5th and you’ll be fuming. “What the hell is Lion X anyway?” you’ll scream.

Stanley Codeman, famous entrepreneur and failure, knows this feeling all too well. I created him in the game’s scenario and founder editor, giving him negative personality traits because it was funny. I didn’t understand what I was doing. In reality, these traits seemed to even him out, as each trait alters your founder’s mind on three levels: work ethic, aptitude, and sociality. Stanley came away from it quite well-balanced, if a little anti-social. At least, that’s what it looked like at the time.

After our first two bankruptcies, I decided that the high road of systems development would be best left until later. The failures of ‘Rock Paper Solutions’ and the ‘Death Stopper OS’ would not be repeated. The latter of these had left Stanley working in a giant office by himself, hollowed out because I had to fire everyone else and sell all the furniture to stay afloat. Despite these measures, the company still failed, as Stanley insisted on working on a cheap logistics program called ‘Street Carrot’.

This time would be different. I took a massive $500,000 “grant” from the game’s generous starter money slider and chose to take things much more slowly. It was time to name the new company. We called it “Unsinkable Codelabs”.

The best way to go about starting our new company was to start small. We hired one programmer who was fairly competent but instantly did not like Stanley. When you hire employees you can filter them by expected salary, skill and compatibility. Winifred was mediocre in terms of skill and “normal” in terms of compatibility. She was also very cheap to pay.

Together her and Stanley began work. We had decided that Unsinkable was going to work on what we knew best – videogames. Stanley began designing the thing that would eventually launch this humble half-a-million dollar company to stardom. It was a text-only adventure game called Kimberly Funes: Detective and it’s main character was about to revolutionise the world of gaming.

This was 1980, you see. Each “day” that passes in the game – each rising and setting of the sun – counts as a ‘month’ of time. We looked at the consoles which had the most active users and bought the licenses for those, then built the game in a matter of months. A little bar at the side of the screen fills up when developing software, going from design stage to alpha to delay (if applicable) to beta. You can click at any time during these phases to advance to the next stage, but doing so too early ensures a bug-filled or non-functioning product. Finally, when you’re happy with beta progress, you can click to release. The Software Times, a little newspaper with stories every month about what’s coming out, flashed green. Our game had been reviewed.

“Kimberly Funes: Detective is taking gaming to new heights!” it said. “The interface is a bit of a mess though. We expect people to get tired of it quickly.”

Ooof. Is this the sting that people feel when I review games? Never mind, I thought. Stanley, Winny and I will power on. Within months we had marketed our game so well that we had earned a million dollars in sales. This was it. The beginning of a new era.

In a blistering montage of the 1980s, Unsinkable Codelabs expanded and grew stronger. We fitted new desks, hired artists, programmers, designers and a much-needed cleaner to come and take care of the bathroom. You can also hire maintenance, IT and receptionists to make deals with other companies. We made some distribution deals with a handful of videogame retail stores and as a result, the sequel to our hit adventure game was a resounding success.

Kimberly Funes Goes To Ottawa became the best-selling videogame of all time, moving over 2 million copies worldwide by the end of 1982. It would take a year before it was pushed from this pedestal by none other than the final game in the trilogy – The Trial of Kimberly Funes, Murderer. It was a global sensation. It even had sound effects.

The next few years were a blur. Unsinkable Codelabs had made millions of dollars from these three hits. We built a new wing, and a staff room, hired more artists and programmers. The future was ours. Stanley had a vision. We began work on our own game engine – the Murder Engine™ – which would allow us to create games with 2D graphics. We couldn’t be stopped. That’s when I was looking idly at the list of all released software and discovered the true reason the world was so in love with Kimberly Funes.

All her games were $4.

The average game from our competitors was around $30, and some were as expensive as $40 or $50. Not only were the Kimberly Funes games critically acclaimed and distributed to every game shop in the country, they were also sold so cheap it would be stupid NOT to buy them. We had accidentally become the software world’s most legendary bargain bucket. I looked at the figures and decided not to tell Stanley.

It was around this time that Stanley had his Bright Idea. Now, you might think that Stanley Codeman is just a little character, and that he has no control over the management of this scenario. But, hear me out, because Stanley was a difficult man.

We relied on distributors to sell our games, but what if we cut them out, said Stanley, become our OWN distributor? He was thinking like Valve, like EA, like Ubisoft. I was terrified, and I definitely wasn’t in control of things, if that’s what you’re thinking. He set up a single server on a desk in our office and started the process. Apropos of nothing but a random thought, he had just invented “Gameswamp”. If you wanted to be forgiving, you could say it was ahead of it’s time.

If you wanted to be forgiving.

The server would enter suspended animation within the year, after being unable to cope with the paltry load from the few users who had internet access and wanted to use our shop. But that was not what did the damage. Following the release of our latest game – the critically acclaimed 2D RPG, Murder Kingdom – Stanley wanted to muster that energy into the next big thing. In his lust for an exclusive channel for our next project, he cut off all distribution deals except for Gameswamp, then built a huge server room packed with machines to cope with the foreseen demand of a digital shop that nobody wanted to use.

I didn’t understand. What were we doing? I approached Stanley about it, but he had already begun thinking about the next project.

“We’re going to make a console,” said Stanley (not me).

“A console!” I cried.

“And then we’re going to make the best game ever.”

And that is how the Hex Sphere was born.

We all know now, from our comfortable position in 2002, what a disaster this would turn out to be. Unsinkable Codelabs is still in business and a forty-year-old Stanley Codeman is still technically in charge. In fact, we’re doing better than ever and have just released our fresh IP – the 2D local multiplayer music sim, Krumpstep Megastar. But those were dangerous times.

In Software Inc, you can split your workers into multiple teams and assign them specific rooms and furniture. We had a two-team system – a design team, who had good coffee, and a development team, who had less good coffee. This meant that there were tensions between the teams, and not everyone on the same team always got along anyway, leading to decreased efficiency, which meant the little bars filled more slowly.

But in the early 1990s Stanley dissolved the two-team system entirely and created one “MegaCore” team. He also made it so that people could work in ‘any role’ instead of assigning them specialities, like designer or programmer or artist. Nobody had a title anymore. The effects were astounding. The team worked almost twice as fast and the Hex Sphere OS was soon finished. But it caused whole new problems. The stress was so great it made several people spontaneously stop working in the middle of the afternoon. And some people just didn’t know their own weaknesses. Debora Atkinson always had to be taken away from the art department because she was so dreadful at drawing that she risked ruining anything she worked on.

Thankfully, you can also educate your workers by sending them off for a month or three to train them in a single field. We let Debora retire, because she was 63 and wanted the pension (you have to pay into an insurance pot to attract better workers, but retirees also get that money). But anybody else who tried to do something they weren’t good at, had to be immediately re-educated at the company’s cost.

That summer everyone took their usual July holiday. Every year this happens, and Stanley Codeman comes into the office and works alone. Just him and the cleaner. In 1991, the Hex Sphere was reaching the end of its design phase. By January 1993 it was finished. Two years of solid work had produced a machine that shocked the world. It sold just 18,000 consoles.

We couldn’t understand it. The OS was incredibly robust, ranked as ‘outstanding’ on the spreadsheet of releases. “A beautiful piece of engineering” said the Software Times. The most impressive console ever to be made. Far better than The Lion 5 and the Pen OS – the randomly generated names for consoles from two of Software Inc’s other popular companies. This was the worst sales record for our company since the botched 1989 ‘Tragic Bootcamp Adventure’, a text-based mess which the Software Times described as “broken, is anyone surprised?”

I tried to speak to Stanley, to get him to renegotiate our distribution deals, to forget about Gameswamp and the Hex Sphere. We needed to go back to developing traditional games for existing consoles like the Lion and the Pen. But you know Stanley, he’s not like me, Brendan Caldwell, and he certainly isn’t being injected with dramatic character in order to exonerate me from all blame, if that’s what you suspect.

I found him in the new staff canteen one summer, alone, and confronted him. He was furious.

“WE WILL FINISH WHAT WE STARTED,” he yelled, quickly wiping his nose.

And so it was. The plans for the next game went ahead. Our “killer app”, the one we would develop for the Hex Sphere and the Hex Sphere alone. By Stanley’s logic, it would drive sales of the machine. “This will be our Halo,” he often said to me, sweating. “Kimberly Funes Kills America will be the greatest FPS that was ever made.”

It was true, we had the design finely tuned – a 3D first-person-shooter with HD sound and local multiplayer. A game like that didn’t exist yet. It would take the Hex Sphere into the stratosphere. The programmers went over it like archaeologists with tiny brushes, sweeping away each bug, each flaw, until only the pristine game remained. I watched the green bar fill, slowly, until the beta report read ‘outstanding’. The game was finally released in the year 2000. Seven years after the Hex Sphere itself.

“Kimberly Funes Kills America is a masterpiece” read the headline in the Software Times. But the sales figures told a different story. We had sold just two copies of the game.


Critically, Kimberly’s latest misadventure was rated as a work of art, but its development had also been a total farce. Of the 18,000 people who bought a Hex Sphere way back in 1993 only 2 customers were loyal enough to buy the long-awaited return of desperate anti-hero Miss Funes in FPS form. We had even renegotiated to sell it in all shops, and sold it at our characteristically bargain bucket prices – a mere $14.99. And still, nobody bought it. Nobody bought a Hex Sphere either. It was not our Halo. Instead, it become the most critically acclaimed 1.4 million dollar loss in the history of videogames.

Stanley was dejected. He left the office without saying anything and came back the next day, quieter, and tired-looking. Thankfully, I had been making clandestine deals with dodgy anti-virus companies to host their data and downloads on the Gameswamp servers. We had accidentally become the fastest and most reliable server farm in the business, following my quiet closure of the Gameswamp digital shopfront.

Unsinkable Codelabs has made 60 million dollars in the last ten years via its hosting services for these software giants. We’re back to making games for other consoles now. And who knows, maybe Kimberly Funes will make a return. But I look at Stanley Codeman sitting in the canteen, on a lonely July day when everyone has gone on holiday, and I can’t help but think: how long until the real Stanley comes back? It took us seven years to make the world’s biggest flop.

That’s not what I’d call failing “fast.”

Software Inc is available on Steam for £10.59/$13.99. These impressions were based on build 1311279


  1. geldonyetich says:

    I love it when detailed simulations end up becoming story generators.

  2. INCSlayer says:

    i kept reading it in the narrator voice from stanley parapble

  3. TheAngriestHobo says:

    It makes a great story, and it sounds like a pretty good simulator, but I’m a little concerned about all these flops and failures you mention. Why did you only sell two copies of KFKA? It sounds like you did everything right, so did you just piss of the RNG gods, or what? Why didn’t the Hex Sphere sell more than 18,000 units? It’s not clear whether these were failures on the part of the player, or whether the game is just wonky in its market simulation.

    • Asokn says:

      Yes, I’d be interested to know this too. If it’s simply a matter of RNG then I’m not interested.

    • Derpkovsky says:

      I think it might be because Stanley cut off all the deals with every single distributor. It makes sense that you would need those to sell your stuff if your own storefront isn’t used.

    • piski says:

      He only sold 2 copies of KFKA, because he released the game 7 years after he released the console, meaning that the console already lost most of it’s users. He also released it only on Hex sphere that only 18,000 people bought, so the sales of the game would never go over 18,000. The market system is good, but it’s hard to do well on your first release and even if your product is better, longer standing companies will still sell more, at least until you get better market recognition for that product(a couple of good releases). If you like simulator games, I’d recommend software inc., the developer is very active and the game improved a lot in the past year and has continued to get better every month.

      • DuncUK says:

        This game sounds remarkably detailed in its simulation, but I do wonder if adding “release your own console” is a bit ambitious for a software house simulator. To release a console you need to sign up dozens of other developers to release games for your system and maintain a release schedule of upwards of 100 games throughout the year. Not to mention the complexities of hardware design that would not naturally exist in a workforce geared to software development.

        The scenario described here sounds like a company released a console which sold incredibly poorly, then took 7 years to release a single game on it. In real life there’s no chance you’d have got anywhere near 7 years without drowning in lawsuits. Creating and releasing a console is many orders of magnitude more complex than making a games console and is something that happens extremely rarely. It seems an unusual addition to way to big to have any chance of doing it justice in a sim game, even one that’s a fairly frivolous take on the actual simulation.

    • Ravenine says:

      He developed a game for a 7 year old console with 18k adopters. No playerbase, I would assume.

    • hungrycookpot says:

      One thing I really dislike about RPS is the insistence on playing games like a slow 10 year old hammering away on the keys, for a laugh. If you review the game as if you’re a semi-competent player, you’ll see a lot more of the systems and balance in action, and readers will see a much more realistic view of the game.

      I have followed this game since it launched on Steam, and I can tell you 100% this situation was caused by the reviewers actions. In order to launch a console, manage a distribution channel, and develop AAA games for it at the same time, you’d need to have a massive company and utilize the worker specialization features. You’d want to have a large library of finished products behind you and be able to hire skilled employees and organize them to release products in a timely fashion. The game is detailed, but not nearly as obtuse or confusing as this review makes it seem.

      • Poet says:


        • hungrycookpot says:

          It’s not whoosh. It’s more like “slap slap slap slap slap slap” as I’m repeatedly hit in the face with it, yes, I get it. You’re silly and fun. How droll. So what is the game like when you’re not purposefully playing it like an idiot?

      • Troubletcat says:

        I didn’t think the review made the game seem obtuse or confusing. I thought the review made the game (which I previously had no interest in) sound deep, compelling and fun. I also thought the review was pretty funny.

        Then again, I also play games primarily for the purposes of having fun with winning as a distant secondary, so I guess I’m also ‘a slow 10 year old’.

      • Capt. Bumchum McMerryweather says:

        Sorry you missed us, we knocked but you weren’t in. Will redeliver upon request.


        The Point

      • Pendragon says:

        You must be fun at parties.

        • SBLux says:

          Hello Arthur. I went to Tintagel yesterday and found a silver coin. Is it yours?

      • ThePuzzler says:

        So this game is less interesting when you’re good at it?
        That’s something I’ve experienced before. I read about other people’s games of Crusader Kings 2, and they tell stories about families. Most of mine involve me struggling a bit at the start, and then rapidly conquering vast amounts of territory, while keeping all my vassals happy by handing out captured provinces and duchies.

        • CartonofMilk says:

          Yes, i only had one really memorable game of CKII (which i shall probably forever rank in my top five best gaming experiences) and that was my first one. The second time around i knew how to do everything in the most efficient way and hence it was a little boring.

          Right now i’m having loads of fun with rimworld, but i also realise the most fun i had was in the very beginning when i had no idea what i was doing and everyone was ighting one another and we had to resort to cannibalism to survive through the winter. I know what im doing now, and if i started over, probably would find it a lot less thrilling. On th eother hand, Rimworld has a lot fo parameters you can adjust to make the experience less forgiving 9and ehnce probably more fun). whereas in CKII, i coudl start a game as a count with everythign set at hardest ands probably still get a kingdom within 60 years

          This review had me heading over to steam in a hurry to check out the game. I don’t know about most people, but when i start a new strategy game i’m usually pretty much like a “slow ten years old hammering away at the keys” and i don’t touch wikis and guides unless i feel it’s absolutely necessary and usually it will only be for one or two things. And if it’s a good strategy game i’m playing, it’s where the fun will be. I mean in CKII or Rimworld i was putting myself in very difficult positions from not really knowing how to do things optimally, and trying to fix those beginner mistakes made the game really fun. I get the same impression from Software Inc reading this review. I expect i’m gonna have a lot of fun with it. At least in the first 30 to 40 hours. We’ll see after this.

      • noodlecake says:

        That’s the nature of the site. There’s an emphasis on articles being entertaining reads more than cold, analytical deconstructions of video game mechanics, particularly when it comes to previews. Wot I Think articles are generally a little bit more in depth and the writers spend a lot more time with the game they are talking about.

        I like it! I can get cold analytical explanations of game mechanics from other sites.

        • hungrycookpot says:

          I don’t disagree, I like the RPS sense of humor. But you can be silly and fun without playing like you ride the short bus. This article is funny because the writer characterizes the bad decisions he made as actions the CEO took on his own, and writes a witty pseudo-back and forth about it. It could have been funny in so many other ways using the same gimmick, without purposefully trying to lose the game.

          And then the comment I responded to was essentially “this game sounds cool, but I’m worried it’s not balanced and too hard”. That right there is indicative of a problem with the way the game was reviewed, wouldn’t you say? We’ve all played games with someone who takes games too seriously, but its just as bad playing with someone who doesn’t take anything seriously and just plays to see how bad they can fuck up, I find them both kind of annoying.

          • Nogo says:

            Purposefully trying to lose? His company was successful in the end, just not in the ambitious, ‘I control all, mwahaha’ way that Stanley wanted. And the series is called Premature Evaluation…

            I think you’re coming at this from a skewed angle.

          • Nogo says:

            Like, there’s a reason our greatest stories aren’t about that time everything was super great and everyone had an awesome time.

          • AwfulFalafelWaffle says:

            This is why people are giving you a hard time. The game is in Early access, and still in it’s alpha stages. The article isn’t a review…and judging a game on its balance at this point in it’s development seems a bit daft.

            Also, your comments about “slow 10 year olds” and “riding the short bus” aren’t exactly the height of wit and charm.

  4. Sp4rkR4t says:

    Read this, brought the game and started working through the tutorial about setting up my game settings and character, but then it ends and I’m probably blind but where is the start game button?

    • Sp4rkR4t says:

      Ugh, button is bottom middle of screen and my mind simply blanked it. Going to blame that one on new monitor being too big.

  5. StevieW says:

    Great write up – starts to sound a bit like a Valve sim in the middle :)

  6. dahools says:

    Pic 2

    “This room is boring to look at”

    However the money we are making from this # farm is keeping our business afloat and our staff stress free during the working day!

  7. InfamousPotato says:

    Fantastic article. Thanks for making me laugh, Brendan Caldwell.

  8. Twitchity says:

    Brendan, you have a great future ahead of you in strategic technology consulting. If you’d like to contact me offline I’d be happy to refer you to any of my competitors.

  9. wallybreen says:

    As usual, this was very funny and i very much enjoyed reading it

  10. Legion1183 says:

    I’ve had this in my Steam wishlist for some time now, after this article I think its time to finally purchase the game.

    And thanks for the funny article.

  11. Railway Rifle says:

    I can imagine articles in the gaming press this whole saga that end with Stanley Codeman adrift in his own company, now successful despite him, his position reduced to being a figurehead and his name a byword for hubris and throwing good money after bad.

  12. Kefren says:

    It sounds like a more complex version of Game Dev Tycoon, are they related? Didn’t see a mention of that anywhere.

  13. Gothnak says:

    Just popped on here to say i moan about coverage on RPS now and then, but i also give creidt where credit is due and that was a good read. :).

    Especially as i’m in the process of starting up a games company, i’ll learn from your mistakes and only make text adventures with Kimberley Funes in them.

  14. Birky says:

    Wait, isn’t this pretty much the history of Sega? (I’d buy Sonic The Hedgehog Kills America)

  15. Zankman says:

    I’ll just say this: I tried this game and I was quite confused and overwhelmed, to the point where I, after a while, ragequit.

    So it is DEFINITELY much more complex (and thankfully also much deeper) than something like Game Dev Tycoon or even Mad Games Tycoon – both in terms of Management and Software Development.

    It is a far more serious game, but, it does seem to be designed well.

  16. Solidstate89 says:

    This sounds great. Games like Game Dev Tycoon piqued my interest at first, but after reading reviews and watching some LPs I realized just how shallow the gameplay is. And not very interesting at that.

    This looks like it has some great depth to the game and a lot of adaptability being able to go from game developer, to console maker to ending up as a server hosting company due to a failed digital distribution model. It sounds really good, I’m gonna have to keep my eye on it.

  17. Technotica says:

    The game is fun, I am currently rocking the early 1980s with my office software Office Perfect, good thing I created a 2d graphics software Picture Perfect a year earlier because I was able to integrate that into the office. My software only has about 800 users but I am rolling inc ash with 2 employees and my founder.

    Next something with audio…then the world!

    • Solidstate89 says:

      Wait, you can integrate previous software releases with new ones? Does it work with games too, like releasing an expansion pack to an existing game instead of just making a new one?

      What about pricing, can you charge a subscription rate for the software instead of just a one-time purchase price?

      • Technotica says:

        Sorry I barely scratched the surface this so I have no idea. As for integrating, for an office software you can select the stuff you want it to do, like word processing, spreadsheets etc. so for every software/game etc. you pick the pieces you want it to be able to do, but if you want to do something with image processing or clipart you need to ad a 2d Editor for images as a component of your development plan, you can either use one developed by someone else or your own if you have one.

        From what I have seen you can do sequels and iterations of a product, I haven’t gotten far enough to see if there are expansions.

        • Technotica says:

          Woo I just had my killer app, audio tool, 6 million and change in profits, 150k users!

  18. Rince says:

    I loved the article! Really a fun read!

    Gonna need to keep an eye on this game. Seems interesting!

  19. Rituro says:

    Well, based on this preview, I jumped into the early access and gave it a shot on stream Tuesday night. My initial take: it’s Game Dev Tycoon, Fiddly Extra Options Edition. Take that as you will.

    If you wanted a bit more depth to Game Dev Tycoon, here it is, fiddly bits and all. If, on the other hand, you think the GDT formula was fine in its simplicity, you’re not going to like the extra complications in Software, Inc.

    Considering I spent almost five(!) hours playing it after purchase, managing to (barely) survive to 1981 with a game engine and a text-based adventure game running on said engine saving the company’s bacon. (Turns you can’t live off contract work and word processor profits alone.)

    • Rituro says:

      …I’d say I liked it.

      (I knew that sentence looked weird. Turns out it was missing a few words. Oh, for an Edit button!)

    • Legion1183 says:

      (Turns you can’t live off contract work and word processor profits alone.)

      Not sure I understand but do you mean you’re not making enough each month by doing contracts? I’m into 1982 and am making a comfortable monthly profit with 3 employees doing multiple contracts at a time. Just waiting until we have enough cash stowed away before I spend months developing my own 2D engine.

      • Rituro says:

        Sheesh, I stink at typing. “Turns OUT you can’t…” is how that should’ve read.

        Anyhoo, yeah, I expanded really fast and paid deeply for it. In the early going, gontracts could just barely keep me afloat if I also has a decent product out there on the market.

        Now, thanks to the ZorkCAD 2D engine having revolutionized the world, I am swimming in cash and have hired a dedicated eight-person team to crank out contracts and support work while my nine-person core team does the heavy lifting and my founder schmoozes with the media.