Sean Mann and his company, Napland Games (which he runs with his wife, Shannon), create casual games for mobile devices, Windows, and Mac. They’re four games in, self-taught, and working to promote their latest venture, Sudoku In Space.
So a small company, indie games, own ambition? Time for us to sit and learn.
1) You founded your own company with your wife. I think many of us want to know how you two managed to decide on this risky course.
I’d been interested in making games for years but never had the time to do it until we moved to Florida couple of years ago and made big life changes. I had a few months off between leaving my old job and starting a business, so I took that opportunity to finally learn how to make games. I had a lot of fun with it, and my wife, Shannon, saw that and encouraged me to put other plans on hold and pursue this passion.
2) How did you two manage your financial challenges and commitments?
We’ve been together for over 10 years and during that time we worked hard and saved as much money as we could because we like to be frugal and be prepared for whatever life might throw at us. Thankfully we’ve been able to use our savings to support ourselves while we build our company.
3) How do you share duties and tasks?
I do most of the technical work involved with making games like coding, designing, etc. Shannon manages our marketing efforts, helps refine my ideas and designs, and tests the games. I think we work well together because we have different skill sets and bring different points of view.
4) It seems a lot of what you do comes from self-education. How did you and she train yourselves – and what resources can you point potential game designers to?
After studying various languages, I found AGK (App Game Kit, thegamecreators.com) to be the easiest one for me to grasp quickly. I learned AGK through a book called Hands On AGK by Alistair Stewart. I learn best by example so this book was good for me to dive in and start making my first game. AGK is a great intro level game development package that I’d recommend to new developers. It’s also good to learn how to use a 3D modeling package like Blender (blender.org) and develop skills in software such as Photoshop.
Shannon had some skills from previous jobs that she can use for game marketing, but a lot of it was new to her when she started. She learned by doing research online and just getting herself out there, contacting journalists, using social media, figuring things out by trial and error. She recommends developers check out dopresskit.com, promoterapp.com, and pixelprospector.com for marketing tools and information.
5) Tell us about each of your games quickly and what you learned from doing them.
dFenz was my first game, a retro space shooter. It allowed me to learn basic skills in video game development such as designing my own art and music, writing game code, and publishing on various platforms (Google Play, iTunes, etc.).
Wordspionage is like Scrabble but with a cool spy twist with moves like Surveillance where you can spy on your opponents and Double Agent where you can steal your opponent’s points. It taught me how to make a multi-player turn-based game, how to code scripts for server communication, and how to manage a server. It still keeps me busy with maintenance and management tasks as well as plans for feature updates.
Shape Time! was a simple arcade-style game I made after Wordspionage to take a break and recuperate. With it I learned the importance of art style and incorporating characters into games to increase their appeal.
Sudoku In Space is our best work to date. It takes a classic game of Sudoku and puts it in a unique, colorful setting with a fun adventure story of Allen the Alien. It proved to me that it’s possible to take a game that’s generally considered attractive to only a certain type of people and make it interesting for a broader audience.
6) How has the critical and financial response been for your games – and what are you doing to be more successful?
Critical response has been generally positive for most of our games, especially for Sudoku In Space. Financial response hasn’t been as great, and we struggle as a small company to get noticed because we don’t have a huge advertising budget and big media outlets have never heard of us. Shannon is constantly trying different ways to reach potential players and journalists, being persistent and making our outreach as personal as possible. I’m working on creating a better template for game production with Unity that will allow me to produce more games in a shorter timeframe.
7) How do you get your games to stand out in a crowd?
This is a big challenge for any game developer, especially indie developers like us who don’t have massive advertising budgets. There are so many similar and clone games in the market to compete with. We try to make our games as unique and special as possible, even when putting a new spin on existing games, and hope that our efforts pay off.
8) What more can you tell future “professional geeks” about what to do to make a stab at their dreams, like you?
Just do it. If you’re passionate about something, don’t let anything influence your decision to pursue your dream. Sure, be careful and make sure you can feed yourself somehow, but don’t give up on something you want to do just because it’s hard at first. You have to take a risk, and now is as good a time as any to do that.
Thanks Sean for the interview, the advice – and the games!
– Steven Savage
Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach. He blogs on careers at http://www.musehack.com/, publishes books on career and culture at http://www.informotron.com/, and does a site of creative tools at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/. He can be reached at https://www.stevensavage.com/.