Interview: Meet Amir Rajan Who Took His Text-Based Game to No. 1 on App Store

The app success story of indie game developer Amir Rajan who got more than 3 million app downloads for his text-based RPG game that went on to hit #1 on the iOS App Store and #2 on Google Play Store making him over a million dollars in the process. 

Tell us about yourself and what are you working on?

Amir Rajan app success story with A Dark Room                 A Dark Room Game Icon

My name is Amir. I’m an indie game developer and a “gun for hire” (a code mercenary). Prior to this till 2013, I was working mostly as a contractor for hire (through consulting firms). I started with .NET development(C#) and later moved on to Node.js, Rails, and mobile.

I created a text-based RPG game, A Dark Room, for mobile. The game has hit the #1 on the iOS App Store and #2 spot on Google Play.

After that, I built 2 more games – The Ensign and A Noble Circle. My apps have received more than 3,000,000 app downloads since getting published in 2013.

How did you come up with your app idea?

I came across the web version of A Dark Room in March of 2013, the original creator being Michael Townsend. It was always on my bucket list to build a ‘production quality game’ and this seemed like a good opportunity.

I reached out to him and asked if I could port it over to iOS and share revenue on the off chance it made any money.

From there I re-envisioned the game for the mobile medium and created a pre-sequel called The Ensign shortly after.

Did you validate your idea? If yes, how?

Nope. I was on a “learning” sabbatical around that time and was simply looking for spiritual growth as opposed to monetary.

A Dark Room and game development, in general, was something that I always wanted to do. So I simply took a year off to do just that.

I have always lived a pretty frugal life. That lifestyle enabled me to save money and take some time off when I needed it.

From a business angle, there was some validation because the original web version received a lot of positive feedback on HackerNews and Reddit.

How did you go about developing your app? What was your Minimum Viable Product?

A Dark Room game app screenshots

I built the app by myself. It took four months to learn iOS and build the app using a product called RubyMotion.

I first thought about doing it in Objective-C/ XCode but it was too painful to work with.

For my current game – A Noble Circle, I have followed a completely different approach. I released a barely playable first version of the app in a month for free. Then I promised the users to release monthly updates taking in their feedback.

Users loved the iterative approach to game development. Within 3 months, I felt the game had reached a sufficient level to charge for. It has not started generating revenue even though still in the process of development.

Users get excited to see the new updates and continue to recommend the game to their friends and family. (You can read more about the progression and revenue here.)

You had a great strategy for marketing your app. Tell us more about it.

The marketing idea for my game actually came from a community called AppleVis. They are a group of blind iPhone users that found that A Dark Room was mostly playable with VoiceOver. They reached out to me to do a promo code giveaway.

The interesting thing they asked me to do was to provide “homework” to get a promo code. If you wanted a promo code, you had to read an article/blog entry I had written about building A Dark Room.

This “forced” people to get to know me on a personal level. In essence, I gave a free download A Dark Room in exchange for a person who now knew me by name.

I took this idea and did quite a few giveaways on Reddit communities like /r/gamedev and /r/apphookup. That resulted in forming a community that genuinely appreciated me as a person and game developer.

On r/gamedev I spent a lot of time talking about revenue and the inner mechanics of the app store. This helped me get a strong following and contributed to the success of my future titles.

You can view some of my Reddit posts here – quit my corporate job and built an iOS game and giving away redemption codes for my iOS app.

One thing that I base my strategy on is people knowing me as a person. As a consequence, they learn about how much I care about game development. Interacting genuinely with people that reach out to me has become an immensely important part of my ‘brand’.

How does your app make money? Can you talk more about growth in users and revenue?

I’m no longer keen on disclosing revenue. My revenue is not something you should shoot for. If you must know, my apps have amassed over three million downloads since 2013.

I priced the original Dark Room app at $1.99. It had one stupid screenshot (still does!) and a small app description.

Later I decreased the price to $0.99 which resulted in an increase in downloads. I left it there to get more people to play the game and thereby result in a higher word of mouth recommendations.

How do you measure analytics for your app? Which metrics do you focus upon?

Outside of downloads per day, I really didn’t track anything else.

I simply concentrated on making meaningful connections with people.

What’s next for you?

Currently, I am working on polishing up my app, A Noble Circle, until December 2017. I also have 3 other game ideas which are in pre-production phase currently.

I have recently ported my app Dark Room over to Google Play. It’s too soon to say if it was worth it as it is currently making only 5% of iOS’s revenue.

I’ve also got a few other ideas in the works, but I won’t be starting on them until Q2 of 2018. One of my ideas is about a bionic child you raise as your own.

What’s your advice for app disciples who are just starting out?

Don’t do it. You’ll be surprised at how much luck is involved in getting the success I’ve had.

Sixty-five percent of apps are never downloaded. Less than one percent make more than $5,000 annually. 1 in a million ever makes it to the #1 spot. Even that success is fleeting.

Only twelve apps in the history of the App Store have stayed in the top 10 for more than 60 days. I made it to day 48 before falling off.

If you still want to try to build an app after reading the metrics above, I’d simply try to get something to the App Store in less than two months.

You want to target hyper-niche verticals and build an app that is indispensable to a very very small group of people. Shoot for making $10 a month through premium purchases or free apps with in-app purchases.

Where can we go to learn more about you?

Twitter is the best place to see what I’m currently working on and where my interests lay (@amirrajan). You can also go visit my website where I have documented my entire journey as an indie game developer.

I also stream game development on Twitch during the weekends: http://twitch.tv/amirrajan

I am also getting a lot of speaking opportunities recently due to the success of A Dark Room. You can view my most recent presentation here:

What tools/books do you find indispensable for your app business?

None really. Get off your ass build something 😉

Final Words

Developer Name  Amir Rajan
App Name A Dark Room
App Niche Game
App Description Text-based RPG game
iOS/ Android Both
Country United States
Year Published 2013
Pricing Paid
Revenue per month $7,500
Total Revenue > $1,000,000+
Downloads 3,000,000+
No. of people 1
Reason for success Niche (text-based game) app, Great marketing hacks
Social Media @amirrajan

Did you like the app success story above? What is the one thing that will be your take away from reading the above? Is there any other question you would like me to ask? Let me know in the comments below.

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