How a Text-Based Rpg Got to No. 1 1st-Time Developer Painstakingly Worked to Make Ios Hit

By Cho, Hanah | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), June 8, 2014 | Go to article overview

How a Text-Based Rpg Got to No. 1 1st-Time Developer Painstakingly Worked to Make Ios Hit


Cho, Hanah, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


Amir Rajan quit his job last year to pursue his passion for coding.

He built an app called "A Dark Room" that became the No. 1- selling app in Apple's U.S. App Store last month.

But this is not a story of overnight success.

This is a story of how the first-time game developer painstakingly attracted customers -- almost one by one -- to get there.

"A Dark Room" is an iOS version of a Web-based game without fancy graphics, angry birds or candy. It's a text-based role-playing game that takes players on an adventure in a post-apocalyptic world. The game has no instructions, so players have to figure it out along the way.

Since the game's debut in November, Mr. Rajan has used social media, solicited reviews and tweets from influential game reviewers and communicated with fans to build a following.

There were mistakes along the way. But Mr. Rajan's hard work paid off.

"For one thing, 'if you build it, they will come' -- it's completely false," he said. "You have to build it, market it and you have to do everything."

Let's start at the beginning.

The 30-year-old Las Colinas, Texas, resident had been preparing to take a sabbatical for many years, saving and living under his means.

After consulting with his wife -- whose main request was that Mr. Rajan continue to pay rent -- Mr. Rajan left his software consulting job to pursue a mixture of self-improvement and professional goals.

To fund his risky endeavor for two years, Mr. Rajan also sold many of his belongings, and he and his wife moved from a two- bedroom into a one-bedroom apartment.

Three months into his sabbatical, Mr. Rajan saw a tweet about a Web-based game called "A Dark Room," created by Michael Townsend, a software developer in Canada.

Mr. Rajan played it and was instantly hooked by the game's unorthodox and minimalist approach. Almost on a whim, he emailed Mr. Townsend about creating an iOS version.

The two struck an agreement: Mr. Townsend would have veto power over creative decisions, and they would split revenue 50-50.

"Amir was superearnest and was just as interested in using the project as a learning experience as he was about creating a profitable product," Mr. Townsend said. "I'm pretty big on learning experiences and also making lots of money, so it just felt right."

Working from his apartment and co-working space Dallas Fort Work, Mr. Rajan created the game.

Mr. Rajan's iOS version isn't a direct translation of Mr. Townsend's "A Dark Room," though. Mr. Rajan added his own flavor and creative touches as well as additional story lines to the mobile version.

Mr. Townsend said he was happy to see Mr. Rajan take the game in a different direction.

"It makes the two experiences complementary rather than redundant," he said. "His additions have been received quite well by the iOS community."

The game app debuted in the Apple Store in November for $1.99.

Instead of waiting for users to come to him, Mr. Rajan created a Twitter account, @ADarkRoomiOS, and began tweeting in the game's persona.

He searched for and communicated with anyone who tweeted about the game's Web version.

Mr. Rajan also spent a lot of time on Reddit, where fans of "A Dark Room" 's Web version conversed. Such interactions with players on the site helped spread awareness of his mobile game.

In addition, he targeted influential gaming bloggers and reviewers, which garnered positive reviews. …

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