Five years ago, during the bottom of the recession, my brother and I voluntarily left our jobs to start a game studio. Everyone thought we were crazy since so many people were getting laid off, but we knew we had to do it.

We bootstrapped to the extreme and lived off couches for the first year but finally moved back in with the parents. There, we commandeered the dining table as the workbench and published our first game on Android. It briefly became a Top 10 best selling game on the Android market.

After many ups and downs with much uncertainties, we’re making a living creating games. Ask us anything.

My brother, /u/chrissha, will be chiming in on this thread answering questions as well.

This is what I think I do

My Proof:

Our latest work: RPG Clicker, a Cookie Clicker like game with RPG elements is free on Android.

Comments: 108 • Responses: 25  • Date: 

jonthemaud19 karma


rumpingpumping6 karma

I heard they sleep on the same couch.

nightambience8 karma

HAHA this was a real problem. I slept on the couch, my brother slept on the floor.

DeathChess16 karma

How much programming expertise do you think you really need to make an android game?

What's the most important thing?

nightambience13 karma

If you use a game engine, it'll handle a lot of the heavy lifting, though you won't get away with not doing any programming. A solid foundation of programming (data structures, object oriented programming, a little bit of algorithm) will go a long way.

If you want to make native android games, you'll need to pick up java, read up on the application lifecycle for android, and studying a small open source game will be very helpful. Most importantly, pace yourself and keep making progress, breakdown problems into smaller ones and have none zero days.

KiloOz16 karma

So how much money roughly did you make total and how long did it take to start actually making a profit?

nightambience11 karma

We started off bootstrapped to the extreme and lived a very frugal life, so we were profitable after our first game, which took a year. But it was just enough to live on, it wasn't till recently that we've met our goal of reaching our previous salary.

Over the past 5 years, we've made a few hundred thousands in total.

ehhhceee7 karma

  • How did the idea for the game come about? Did you use a brainstorming process?
  • If so, was it the idea that you thought was going to be the most successful, out of all the ideas you had?
  • Anything you would do differently, if you could start all over again?

nightambience6 karma

  • I love the brainstorming process but often times it becomes unruly and branches off too much. The ideas we stick with are ones we brew overnight and revisit in another time.

  • Definitely success is a big factor in choosing an idea and just sharing our games with the most people. We also pick ideas that's realistic with the scope of the resources a small team can provide.

  • Yes. We developed our own game engine for all our Android games and while it's pretty cool and gets you the street creds with other programmers, the time spent up keeping and fixing bugs on it sucks. If you want to make a game, leverage an existing game engine and concentrate more on making games.

amireallyreal5 karma

Man, you guys seem really down to earth and fun to work with. I sincerely wish you were hiring.

What was the first game to really drag you in and keep you invested for hours at a time?

nightambience3 karma

Thanks man. I hope you get a chance to make games, it's rewarding when people pick up your creation.

Super Mario for the NES was the first game that really dragged me in, jumping full speed to stop on a small sliver of platform alway got my hands sweaty.

But the most memorable has to be this obscure game for the PC call Daemonsgate in the 90s. It was an aimless top down RPG game that started you out in a giant city. A group of us would play it day and night and kind of report back on the things we found. Couple of weeks in, one of us found a way out of the city, and it just blew our minds the possibility of exploring other cities like it. Other than the open concept, the game was horrendous, the mechanisms were thrown together, graphics looked bad even for pixels, and exploration was walking vast expansions with nothing to interact with. Looking back on it, it was more torture than it was fun, but I obviously didn't know the difference at the time!

AC_Mobius5 karma

Did you two have any prior knowledge on making video games/apps? Were you self-taught, and if so, what resources did you use to learn?

nightambience4 karma

We both graduated with degrees in computer science. And I took a few graphics programming courses to prime myself. But no specific background in making games or Android programming. We learned a lot from looking at the source code for Replica Island, an early open source game by Chris Purett. If you're interested in making games, I would look into using a game engine, it's the fastest way of getting something out.

rawkuts2 karma


How could you forget about Atmosphere! (=

nightambience3 karma

Tamir (fellow alumnus)! I didn't want to scare away any new developers with classes that may not be available to them :)

But I'll elaborate, I also took a Software System Design class (pretty much a game class) in college where we got into small groups and worked intensely over 10 weeks to produce a 3D multi-playable demo. It was the highlight of my college career and basically tested all my CS knowledge. After that class, I was pretty sure I can finish a project if I started one. Anyone attending UCSD for computer science, make sure to take CSE125 with Geoff Voelker, whether you want to make a game or not. Just be prepared to live in the lab for 10 fun filled weeks.

White___Velvet3 karma

Do you think there is a future for point and click adventure style games (in the same vein as King's Quest and Leisure Suit Larry) on mobile platforms? I love this style of game and I think it lends itself well to the touchscreen interface, but I haven't seen it explored very much at all.

chrissha3 karma

I personally love point and click adventure games! One of my favorite game that had a big impact on me is Maniac Mansion.

I don't see a bright future for adventure game on mobile. Most mobile game production is dictated by monetization and adventure games would be hard to monetize on mobile. It would probably have to be sold as a pay to download game or pay per episode type game.

And as an indie game developer it would be hard to get people to pay for an adventure game out right without any name recognition.

With that said, I have seen some promising point and click adventure games on mobile by indie game developer. If you haven't tried it yet The Silent Age by House on Fire is an awesome adventure game with a unique time traveling mechanism.

jpropaganda3 karma

Do you think you could make a 99-cent game that utilized the pedometer so people would actually have to wander around, if they want to wander around in that adventure game world?

Just a thought. That would be fun.

nightambience3 karma

I think it's a pretty neat novelty, but the average gamer would be too annoyed after the first try to really get into it. There is an app call Zombie Run that gamify running, I think they did a good job of targeting the right audience.

keircd2 karma

What is you favourite game?

nightambience11 karma

In recent memory, The Last of Us!

But I grew up on Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VI, Earthbound, a lot of JRPG.

fission0351 karma

I'm not an expert but I do know how to root android devices and block ads. Does that create a problem for developers who publish ad supported apps? How much do you earn from ads?

nightambience1 karma

For smaller indie developers, at least us, we make most of our revenue from ads. It's a necessary evil, but we use banner and interstitial ads. Our game design doesn't lend itself to high in app purchases. The bigger developers have spiffy ways keeping users engaged and can drive IAP much more effectively.

hurryhx1 karma

How do you retain the users? You know people are easy to get bored.

nightambience1 karma

All our game pretty much have a play time of about a week, at least that's our goal. We're extremely happy if majority of our players spend half that time. For our popular games, we create more content in hope that more users keep on playing. But at the end of the day, we rather put our time towards creating a new game that brings in the users. Once we have a popular game, we'll invest more in retention.

Hedgechotomy1 karma

As brothers are you guys on the same wavelength mentally? My cousins are brothers one is so immature and hilarious while the other is very smart and serious.

When brainstorming, do your ideas get out of control or they are structured?

Do you guys fight a lot over ideas and the business or it's smooth for the most part?


nightambience3 karma

We understand each other well and I can always get my ideas across easily. That being said, we argue a lot over details and our personalities pushes the other's buttons. We've managed to split ownerships of things and leave the final say to the owner, which has been working well.

Brainstorming is a lot of fun for me but they can be unruly, it usually takes a night for the ideas to digest to get anything good out of them. What's exciting during brainstorming can be lackluster the next morning.

powderblue171 karma

Do you still live with your parents?

nightambience1 karma

I still live at home, but Chris moved out with his girlfriend. The housing prices here in the bay area are ridiculous.

highassnegro1 karma

Could you make things that aren't games? Are you available?

nightambience1 karma

We mainly concentrate on just making games and not really looking to do contract work.

rofopp1 karma

What happens when you use up your parents' house?

nightambience2 karma

If my parents could have it their way, they'll never want me to leave.

riichardngo1 karma

Nick! This is Richard from Panda Express. That's insane!!! I never knew about this. You guys made your own game?

Well any who, what's some advice to give to someone who wants to do what you do?

nightambience1 karma

Richard! How's it going buddy? If you want to get into gaming, figure out how you'll want to contribute (design, dev, artist, marketing) and just start honing your skills. You don't have to do something big, actually start small.

I think the best advice I can give anyone is to keep making progress. Break down big problems into small ones and maybe small ones into tiny ones. Be persistent, commit to having non-zero days, and keep your goals in mind. If you get off track, no problem, just get back on.

Just msg me if you have questions :)

Satorindley1 karma

Have you considered developing for Windows Phone and Windows, soon to be Windows 10? Ps: Visual Studio is great :D

nightambience1 karma

We did port over a few games to the Windows Phone, but the numbers didn't make sense for us to continue on. But I do agree with you, Visual Studio and the documentations for it were great. Solid IDE and tight integration.

ehaykal1 karma

Thanks for creating this AMA. As programmers, have you ever needed to outsource your game art to freelancers and if so how did you find your freelancer (friend, web..etc) ?

nightambience1 karma

The art we did ourselves, but we may need to start finding an artist soon. My first bet would be to turn to friends who are artist or find an art school with potential talent that wants to do contract work. Haven't found a solution to this yet.

Farkingbrain1 karma

Do you only develop for Android? If you do cross platform development what tools do you use?

I'm about to take a mobile app development class, any good books you can recommend on mobile development, or mobile game development specifically.

nightambience1 karma

We've ported some of our games onto Windows phone and iOS by hand (coding in c# and objective-c). We didn't use any cross platform tools, I wish we did, but we made our own engine to start off with and its not cross platform.

I would recommend any new developer to use a game engine with baked in cross platform tools. It'll save you a lot of time and headache.

When we started, we didn't go the book route, we went more towards tutorial and open source to learn. If you're comfortable with how games work behind the scene, I would recommend tutorials and open source. Otherwise, a class will be a great resource.

Bulk_Biceps1 karma

Cool man! Sounds awesome to develop games, think you will ever move on to console games one day?

nightambience2 karma

Console takes a lot of investments in terms of dev systems, technical know how, requirements from publishers, and a bigger commitment to time and polish we currently don't have. I continue to see mobile in our future.

Frank_Castle19801 karma

What games influenced both of you growing up? What gaming systems do you guys start out playing first?

nightambience6 karma

Our first introduction to games was on Donkey Kong Jr., one of those fixed graphics handheld game. I played the heck out of that that thing! It's not till much later, after we immigrated to the states that we got our first console, Nintendo Entertainment System. It was glorious 8-bit fun!

We've enjoyed a lot of the JRPG on SNES growing up. FFVI, Chrono Trigger, Earthbound. I was also into PC games: Mech Warrior (where I first learned greek alphabet with their waypoints), wing commander prophecy, Civ, Wolfenstein... anything I can get my hands on.

icantremebermyname1 karma

  • What marketing do you do when you release a app?
  • Do you find it's gotten harder to get downloads on new apps?
  • What kind of apps are you going to focus on in the future?

nightambience3 karma

  • Honestly... we use reddit, twitter, review sites for our marketing. But marketing is something we haven't cracked. Looking at the industry, the big players just out right pay for installs but their games bring in enough revenue per player to justify it. Most indie game just don't make enough to buy installs. We also cross promote between our other games.

  • I think the landscape for mobile gaming is much more saturated than when we first started. Games requires a lot more polish and the bar has been raised for developers. The once amateur garage developer is going to have a very hard time.

  • Games is our passion and it's what drives us. We'll keep making small games until we can't.

ApplesBananasRhinoc1 karma

I have a background in animation on the artsy side of things, but I have ideas for using programming for art pieces and mobile games. And weirdly sometimes I just feel the desire to go program something but i only know a little about programming. What would be the best way to learn how to program and what programs would you recommend I start out on?

nightambience2 karma

If you're interested producing work, I would recommend something like Unity to express your visions quickly (there will be a learning curve and programing). But if you want to learn programming, I'd recommend programming for Android using Java. Couple of advantage of Android is that you don't need to invest in a Mac, Android devices are relatively cheaper than Apple devices, and much easier to publish on the Play store.

Code Academy is a great place to start for programming, and there are a lot of tutorials to get started on Android.

ReadMeDoc1 karma

My brother and I have talked about doing this. We both have played video games since we were 7 and have such a strong passion for games and how they work. I'm currently in college studying IT and programming. Is there any suggestions or advice you can give us if we wanted to start our own venture, casually or otherwise? Is there any kind of classes I should take that would give me necessary skills to attempt creating a quality game? What about the programs and software you use? How do you divide the workload between you two?

chrissha1 karma

The great thing about creating a mobile game is how easy it is to start. It takes no money if you already have a computer and even minimal programming to follow a tutorial. So my advice would be just to start by creating a simple game.

I would suggest using a game engine like Unity and following a tutorial at first, then modifying the code to tweak the game to get a feel for what you can do with it. Once you have an idea of how the engine works, you can start creating a very simple game and keep building on top of it to add more and more features.

As for classes, some school provides courses on building games, otherwise Graphics would be the way to go.

For software, we created our own native game engine for android so we just use Eclipse and java. But if we were to do things over, we definitely would go with a premade game engine.

As brothers with similar skill sets, splitting up work and ownership was difficult at first. But pretty much we take turns owning different roles on a game by game basis. I replied to another comment about how we split up work more in depth here.

ReadMeDoc1 karma

Thanks for the reply and this AMA. It's pretty cool to know that with proper determination and like mind sets, my brother and I can make a mobile game, maybe even a successful one. We've only talked about it at this point but I'm going to save this AMA and show it to him so we can have an idea where to start!

nightambience1 karma

All the best to you and your brother!

plasticcrab1 karma

Congratulations! I just started a month ago as a self employed game developer and I am releasing my first android game hopefully next week. Any tips for a beginner like me? :)

nightambience1 karma

Congratulations to you too! It's good that you're already using a game engine, you're saving a lot of time not fixing bugs in the engine. Also, not sure how big your team is, but it has helped me a lot to have another person to bounce ideas or just pull some weight. I highly recommend finding a partner-in-crime.