Delay says he enjoys interacting with fans and getting their feedback, something he doesn't think a bigger developer would have the same chance to do. In 2006, for the launch of their third title, the nuclear-war strategy game Defcon, Introversion threw a party at an old civil service building in London. Currently a war museum, the building had served as a bunker for British heads of state during World War II. Delay and other Introversion staff came dressed in military uniforms, and to his surprise, many Introversion fans arrived in soldier attire, as well.

"I like the fact that there's a fan base that aren't necessarily into Uplink or Darwinia, but they're just into Introversion games. So each time we release a game, they'll give it just as much time as they would any other game."

In his next project, codenamed "Birdy," Sokal is branching out into an action-adventure, 3-D game for the PlayStation 3, but he says good storytelling remains his primary focus. "An author is always willing to have success. The kind of romantic appeal for 'misunderstood creation' has never been mine. But I am also 100 percent sure that you cannot build success. It happens if you are sincere or it doesn't. ... I don't want to think with 'mainstream appeal' in mind, otherwise I may just ruin the project.

"I would be very happy if one of my games entered into the top 50 as long as I created it with the idea of building something I could be proud of."

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With Dwarf Fortress, Adams says he likes being paid by donation because it tells him that people truly enjoy his game. Otherwise, they just wouldn't pay. Players often send him emails or forum posts, too, with stories they've written about the events that happen in the game. "It's really gratifying," he says, "because it's one of the things we set out to do is to get people to write these narratives about their game."

Adams admits to ignoring most of the games released in the last 10 years, explaining that the underlying mechanics just don't interest him. He is content to concentrate on producing the kind of projects he wants to create, rather than working within the game industry system where he says designers seem constrained by bureaucracy.

"From what I've seen from the transcripts from these conferences and stuff, [mainstream developers] really are trying to do all kinds of interesting things, but their most important thing always has to come back to the money. ... It's kind of depressing. I'm not going to sit here and toot my horn, but as far as design is concerned, I just think that I've happened to fall into a little sweet spot where I get a lot of freedom, but I guess the cost is my livelihood."

It may be a trade-off, but these three cult developers have decided the ability to make games on their own terms is worth the risk.

Chris LaVigne is a Canadian freelance writer with a passion for indie games and Slurpees.

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