Amir Rajan & Surviving The App Store

A Dark Room Indie Game

I spoke with Amir Rajan, creator of a #1 ranked game (A Dark Room) in 13 countries with over 2 and a half million downloads, about his journey and the book he is writing, Surving the App Store

I know you used to have a corporate job; What inspired you to become an indie game developer?

I’ve always loved game development. There was this hackathon called Node Knockout that I would participate in every year (it was a contest to build apps in Node JS). My leaving my corporate job was more to take a “learning” sabbatical (so building a game was only one of the goals I had). Bottom line was that I was burned out and just needed some time to reflect and do what I wanted to do (as opposed to getting paid to do what some else wanted me to do).

What were some of your obstacles in developing A Dark Room and how did you overcome them?

Too many to count! But the one that stuck out the most was “finishing”. As a game developer, the “drug” is creating something *new* and solving a problem. Once you’ve seen your “new” thing come to life (even in its most rudimentary state), the fix wears off and you get bored. So just having the grit to push through those boring moments is incredibly difficult. Play testing, bug fixing, polishing, pixel pushing, rinse and repeat. Holy crap that can get old quick. But I guess you just have to have the discipline to keep plugging at it.

How did your post-launch marketing (of A Dark Room) differ from your pre-launch marketing?

I didn’t do any marketing what so ever pre-launch. The web version of A Dark Room went viral and was the number one post on Hacker News, so I was hoping to hang on to the coat tails of that critical mass. But it took 4 months to build ADR iOS and a lot of they hype had died down by then. I did what I could on Twitter to drum up some anticipation for the iOS version, but it didn’t really help.

As for post marketing, Touch Arcade, Twitter, and Reddit were my go to places to tell people about the game. I gave away promo-codes to people who interacted with me and made sure they knew who I was as a person (as opposed to a faceless AAA company). I think that helped create deeper connections with everyone. The download numbers for ADR were small, but I think creating these strong connections helped in keeping ADR alive for a longer period of time (I’m sure the people who downloaded ADR recommended it to their friends and family because of the connection I built with them).

It is awesome that you are taking all of your experiences and creating a book. When can we expect this book to be finished?

It’s in a pretty good state right now. As with my games, I don’t like to put a completion date. But I do promise that the book will have a non trivial update at least monthly. I’m shocked that it’s already at 150 pages. Early adopters of the book will get the book dirt cheap and will receive updates for free (LeanPub allows my to do this easily). So you could wait until it’s 100% done, but it’ll cost more then.

Here is the link to the book: https://leanpub.com/survivingtheappstore

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