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Commercial success for computer game

A still from Dear Esther

A computer game created by a University lecturer has recouped its initial budget within 6 hours of its commercial release.

Two years in the making, Dear Esther went on sale last week and recouped its $55k financial backing in just five and a half hours, soaring to the top of sales charts in the process.

The game is the brainchild of Dr Dan Pinchbeck of the School of Creative Technologies. The full independent release of the game was based on his experimental and award-winning design. The concept was part of a project funded by the AHRC designed to break new ground in gaming by showing that games can be art too.
It’s the first time that a game that started life as an academic research project to explore new opportunities for design and storytelling in first-person gaming has been realised as a full commercial product.

Dr Pinchbeck said: “The success of Dear Esther has been amazing – it’s been hugely well received critically and by players. It really shows that the research we were doing into new forms of gameplay and story was absolutely on the right track and we’re very excited that we seem to be exploring a new area for gaming.

“It also shows how powerful development-led research can be. Our new game, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, which is also supported by the AHRC and the University of Portsmouth, will follow on from this line of research as well and we really hope to see other institutions start to explore this as a result.”

Originally released in 2008, Dear Esther is a ghost story told using first-person gaming technologies and it quickly developed a cult following as well as winning a number of international awards thanks to the way it fuses its beautiful landscapes with a breathtaking soundtrack to tell a powerful story of love, loss, guilt and redemption. Rather than traditional game-play, the focus is on exploration, and each player’s experience is determined by the choices they make. The re-make features a new environment, a re-orchestrated soundtrack by composer Jessica Curry, new areas to explore and an expanded story.

The original version was embraced by the mod gaming community from the off and the success of the commercial re-launch has been exceptional with overwhelmingly positive reviews on all the major games print and online sites, and with sales exceeding 25,000 copies in the first few days.

“And the success of the launch shows that using game development as a means of undertaking research into game content does not have to be prohibitively expensive and complicated,” said Dr Pinchbeck.

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