Interview: No Direction Studios
I recently sat down with Adam Dunn and Theo Miranda – co-founders of Durham, Ontario-based game development team No Direction Studios – to chat about what it’s like being an indie studio, their latest iOS/Android game Don’t Feed the Dragon, and what’s next for the budding (and incredibly humble!) group.
Going way back to 2011, can you explain the formation of No Direction Studios?
Adam: We [Adam and Theo] were working together at a drafting company in Toronto, saw that there were apps made for the iPhone, and decided to make something. At that time, Blackberry had a promotion happening where if you made an app for their playbook, you would get one free – so that was our goal.
Theo: Yeah, it essentially started the way that that every other studio starts off – you get into a conversation with a bunch of guys at lunch, and someone says “why don’t we make an app?”. We just decided to follow through with it.
So was it at that point that you decided that you not only wanted to play games, but make them as well?
Adam: We were doing other non-gaming development with AutoCAD at the time, and thought “hey, we have that gaming mindset!” We had tons of ideas, but ideas are the easy part; getting them to work is the hard part.
Theo: I’m sure it can be said for any person in this business that we have been gamers our entire lives, and for many, the ultimate dream is to make your own game.
Adam: I actually tried it off and on over the years. I can remember coding back in 1982 on a Timex T1000 with my friends. We spent hours writing those codes – and it was really horrible – but it was the first thing we ever coded.
Well I can say with confidence that what you’re doing now is probably better than what you were doing back then! Now switching gears to present day, what’s the biggest hurdle for you as an indie studio?
Adam: Marketing, by far.
Theo: Yeah, the harsh reality is that you can create the greatest game in the world, but the problem is that if nobody knows about it, then it doesn’t matter.
Your newest game Don’t Feed the Dragon is definitely catching people’s attention. Where did the concept for that project come from?
Theo: My whole inspiration for that title came from a catch game at the fair. It has marbles that fall down like Plinko, where you have to collect them at the bottom with a net. I said to myself, “I can probably turn this into a game”, so I did. Its feedback has been positive, and we’ve taken a serious go at it.
Adam: Originally, we tried to put it in the Apple Store, but they rejected it. It wasn’t as polished as it is now, so they rejected it based on their design line criteria. They quoted something out of their manual, and basically said that we need a better menu system. We kind of left it for a while, and then came back to it.
You’re obviously determined to make this game the best it can be. Can you say if there will be any more changes made to it?
Adam: We’ve got updates for Dragon. We’re going to add more seasons to it, where each one has a different gameplay element to it. One of our key goals is to deliver unique experiences, while still remaining familiar.
One of my favourite parts abut the game is that it follows the free-to-play model, but the contextual advertisements don’t feel like a deterrent. That’s due to a conscience effort on your part, I assume.
Adam: We’re trying to make sure that if we’re releasing a game, it is fun to play, and if we are putting ads in, they aren’t too intrusive. There are enough of them that we can hopefully get some monetization out of them, but it’s not like, “here’s an ad, here’s an ad, here’s an ad”. I understand [some studios] are just trying to make money, but there has to be a balance.
Theo: It’s one of those conversations that we take seriously. If we’re playing our game, and have the ads in while we’re testing it, we sit down and ask ourselves, “is this too much? Do the ads get in the way?”.
Adam: We want to give value to the user. We don’t want them to feel like they are paying for everything little thing, because that’s not the point. The point is to have fun.
So what comes after all is said and done with Don’t Feed the Dragon?
Theo: In terms of brand new projects, we’ve decided we want to go down more of a puzzle route. We did somewhat of a test phase with concept art and such, so we’ve been releasing bits and pieces here and there. People seem to like what they saw, so we’re going to run with it. It’s run into a couple of issues, which is why we haven’t released it yet, but it’s pretty darn close.
HUGE thank you to Adam and Theo for sitting down with me. Super cool guys who are working on some super cool stuff. Make sure to download their latest game Don’t Feed the Dragon (and their other games!) on the Apple Ap Store, Google Play, Amazon, and Blackberry World now!