Alumnus Finds Bright Side of Success with ‘Dark Room’ Game App

Amir Rajan

Amir Rajan BS’06, who graduated with a degree in software engineering, is not sure how or why his app for “A Dark Room” became so popular.

After working full time since he was a student, Amir Rajan BS’06 needed a break.

He decided to quit his job and convinced his wife that they should downsize to a one-bedroom apartment. Rajan wanted to “do my own thing and learn some new skills,” he said.

But little did the software engineering graduate know that his one-year sabbatical would lead him to create one of the top-selling apps on iTunes.

Rajan came across a video game called “A Dark Room” that had gone viral on the Web. The role-playing game, created by programmer Michael Townsend in 2013, takes place in a post-apocalyptic world in which the player must rebuild society. It’s text-based, leaving the images to the player’s imagination.

After reaching a deal with Townsend, Rajan quickly learned the iOS app platform and created a version of “A Dark Room” for iOS devices that was released at the end of last year.

Despite the original game’s success and praise for the app from critics in Forbes and online magazine Paste, download figures remained small. Even when it was listed as one of the Top 10 Games of 2013 by video game website Giant Bomb, there were only 80 downloads that day.

But five months after the app’s release, Rajan noticed a spike in downloads in the U.K. Soon, downloads hit 20,000 in one day, pushing it to No. 1 in the U.K. App Store.

That success quickly spread to the U.S., where it also reached No. 1 across the App Stores charts, and it received a celebrity Twitter shout-out from Grammy-nominated singer Josh Groban.

A Dark Room logo

Game with Thrones

The app for "A Dark Room" has topped the charts in the U.S., U.K., Australia, Singapore and Canada. It also has ranked as one of the top 10 games in 17 countries. 

Rajan, who also is working on an Android version, is still not sure how or why the app suddenly rose to the top, especially given how few text-based role-playing games have succeeded in the App Store. But for those who love the game, his blog chronicles his work on the project.

While this is Rajan’s first successful app, he is no stranger to breaking out on his own.

Living on a diet of “ramen and four-cheese Hot Pockets,” he worked his way through his undergraduate years at UT Dallas without a cent of debt, thanks to a paid internship and strong work ethic.

After transferring to the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science, he took a semester off to save money, sometimes only taking classes part time and living at home until his junior year to pay his way through school.

Because he was able to graduate debt-free and take a sabbatical using his savings, he has a few words of advice for students.

“Fiscal responsibility pays off. Avoid buying a brand-new car straight out of college. Avoid debt by extending your college lifestyle for a couple of years. Life’s too long — you have plenty of time to do everything else.”

For students and alumni hoping to replicate the breakout success of his first iOS app, Rajan said: “If you hate what you’re doing, stop. Don’t chase the money because you’re just going to end up unhappy. In this day and age, it’s a lot easier to do what you want. Technology has given us the option to make a living off what you want to do.”

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

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