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Dino Patti is an annoyingly handsome man. He’s sitting across from me at Reboot Develop Blue, dressed in all black with a tailored shirt, his jet-black hair slicked back and glistening in the Croatian sun. The last time I saw him, he had it all buzzed off, but he’s the type of man who can get away with shaving his head and pulling it off. He’s not the kind of guy you imagine when you conjure a prominent indie game developer in your mind. He makes me feel like Shrek. His career is just as atypical.

Best known for being one of the people behind the indie games Inside and Limbo, he worked as an engineer for backend systems before he got into video games. Best known as a business mind, you might also be surprised to find out that his first job in this industry was as a programmer (according to his dad, he started at the age of six) before he jumped between a bunch of other roles, including game design. And then he left the industry because he “thought it was shit”, he tells me with a laugh.

“I really like programming,” he says. “I don't do it anymore. You can go really deep and there's no limit to what you can do. Games provide the ultimate playing field for programmers. But it was tough. There was a lot of work to do in the CD days. You're developing a game and the developer gets nothing. I can't remember the full math, but [it was] something like, if a game sells for $50 - and you have to make a lot of game to sell it for $50 - the developer gets $5. The store took a cut, the publisher took a cut, and distribution took a cut. So you ended up with 10% after tax and everything.”


And that 10% came in after the game recouped its costs. After realizing it was shit, Patti went back to consulting at his old job working on backend systems, and that’s where he met Arnt Jensen, his partner and co-founder at Playdead, the studio behind Limbo and Inside.

“He was just this crazy artist,” Patti says. “I think he lacked every skill, except for being really creative, being able to express himself through drawings. He's an extremely talented person, but he’s hyperfocused. He writes no emails, knows nothing about business, knows nothing about hiring, knows nothing about anything. I had self-confidence and I thought, ‘I can do everything and he can do all of the creative parts.’ And I think it was an amazing partnership because that’s actually what it was. I just do everything to a mediocre level, like a Swiss army knife. So that's one of my skills. I learned to see talent and put together teams.”

Playdead’s first game, Limbo, is an indie classic. A side-on puzzle platform game where you control a young boy in a terrifying black-and-white world full of deadly creatures, it landed at just the right time to get noticed. Last year, there were 34 games per day released on Steam. It’s much harder to get your games seen, never mind make them profitable, as an indie developer in 2023.

“I think what we did really well at that point was [going in] reverse against the current,” Patti explains. “Everything at that point – because it was CD at $50 – was more explosions, more colors. If you saw any Xbox press release, it was high-paced music and a lot of explosions. We were just trying to go against the current and do something completely different, and the ultimate is just to go black and white. Go really immersive, and quiet.


“It was crazy weird to show Limbo at E3. They asked us if we wanted to join it and we didn't know better. It was not the game for E3. We had a small stand and we tried to get good headphones, but there was a Just Dance stage right beside us with live dancers every half hour.”

When Limbo initially launched, it was among the first wave of Xbox Live Arcade games – a curated list of excellent indie titles – which helped boost its visibility. But it could have gone a different way. When Playdead was initially looking for a publisher, Sony showed interest. The only issue was, the contract would have signed over ownership of the IP, giving PlayStation full control over the future of Limbo. Patti refused.

“Then we were invited to a meeting with the CEO, Michael Denny. So we’re suddenly going from one producer to the top CEO of Sony Europe,” Patti remembers. “We were like, ‘Okay, we’ll get a good deal now.’ We had a lawyer there and we went into the room. [There was] five minutes of small talk and then he said, ‘We need the IP.’ And we said, ‘We can not give you the IP.’ And they stopped the meeting. We flew to the UK for that meeting. We just went quietly out of the room, and we went to the local cafe with our lawyer. We looked at each other like, ‘Yeah, okay.’ We spent 15 minutes in that room and then flew home again.”

Limbo would go on to sell over eight million copies on Xbox and the various platforms it was later ported to. But the success of Limbo made Playdead a household name, almost guaranteeing the success of its next title, Inside, which happened to be even better. When I ask Patti which of his games he thinks is the best, he doesn’t hesitate.


“Probably Inside,” he says. “Inside was building on top of everything we learned, giving ourselves new challenges, and also making some of the platforming just a bit easier because it was never about the platforming. It was more about the vibe.”

When people think back to their time with Inside, it’s that vibe that springs to the mind most prominently. An eerily quiet chase scene through the woods and turning into a horrific blob are two of the most iconic moments in video games.

After Inside, Patti left Playdead to set up a new company called Jumpship. Its first game, for better and worse, went on to be compared to Inside because of Patti’s involvement, even though it had an entirely different team of creatives behind it.

“It was annoying,” he says. “It's annoying that you cannot avoid that tie. And obviously, when I set up a new company, I tried to set up the same values and structures and have the same hiring principles. So if you feel [it’s similar], maybe that's why, but it's a totally new team. Nobody looked at Inside or Limbo.”

When it came to pitching the idea around, Patti and his team once again had to make a sacrifice to hold the game’s destiny in their own hands. This time from Google, which was working to promote its now-dead video game streaming platform, Google Stadia. Rest in peace.


“We had the craziest offer I've ever been offered from Google Stadia,” Patti says. “Low eight figures. And we ended up saying no because I didn't believe in streaming. I’m pretty happy about it now. Streaming will never take off.”

And so Patti and his new team ended up back with Microsoft, launching Somerville on its subscription service, Xbox Game Pass.

“We did a pretty good deal,” Patti says. “I also think it hurts sales. Because a lot of people just go in and try it and they don't invest. If they don't like the first 10 minutes? That’s it. Also, if you don't make the first 10 minutes amazing, maybe it's also a problem. I think [Game Pass] is okay. It's not my favorite. My favorite is the old premium model where I sell you on some video, on big images, and earn your $30. And then after that, I have to deliver. I don’t need to get money out of you later.”

As a player, Game Pass is incredible, but there’s no denying that services like it change your relationship with games. You’re much more likely to try things, but you’re also more likely to drop off if something doesn’t grab you straight away.

There’s a danger that subscription services could do to games what they did to music. Famously, Spotify changed how musicians implement their hooks, putting them closer to the start of the song to grab the listener – all to cater to a new, more impatient kind of customer. It wouldn’t be a huge leap to imagine something similar happening in games, which are often backed by data-driven business minds.

However the landscape changes, though, it seems like Patti and his team will continue to do things their own way – likely looking suave while doing it.