Developer in Profile: Flat Earth Games on how it created iOS smash hit TownCraft


HEY, you! Yes, you there! Stop playing that crappy time management game that only gives you 12 moves, asks you to return in two hours and has the gall to then prompt you for your real-life hard-earned.

Instead, look up TownCraft on the App Store and enjoy a refreshing return to buying a FULL game that allows you to play as often or as little as you like, offers a wealth of content – and best of all, supports an independent developer with its heart in the right place.

That developer is Flat Earth Games, founded by New South Welshmen Leigh and Rohan Harris.  Below is Gamer Thumb’s interview with the brothers Harris, in which you’ll learn more about what makes this game so special.


Image of Flat Earth Games founders Leigh and Rohan Harris
Flat Earth Games founders, and TownCraft developers, Leigh and Rohan Harris

What gave you guys the idea to develop TownCraft? It’s surprisingly deep, and it’s amazing what you can create.

Rohan: Partly it was a discussion about whether or not Minecraft was truly creating a new genre, or whether it would simply spawn a bunch of direct “Minecraft clones” before dying out.

As an intellectual excuse I began to imagine games borrowing some themes and ideas from MineCraft, but bringing more ideas from other genres. It was this kind of “What if it were more like SimCity or The Settlers? But a pure management game – no survival or combat elements?” stuff that got me developing the idea more.

Leigh: Rohan then mentioned the idea to me and to a friend of his who ran a game development studio here in Sydney, Morgan Lean from Epiphany Games.

Morgan loved the idea and mistook the casual discussion of the concept as a pitch, so a meeting was planning at a Bavarian Bier Cafe for the next day and Rohan and I went down to discuss how realistic it was. With Morgan’s help and some office space, we founded Flat Earth Games together and started work on the design documents the next day.

Were there any games in particular that influenced your game design? What elements of the game’s design were most important to you during development?

Rohan: Once I had the basic idea of a little fella basically being dropped alone and without any tools into a sort of medieval valley, I found myself hooked and really badly wanting to play it.

What really stayed with us and drove most of our design decisions was this idea that it’d sort of be a cross between The Settlers, Minecraft and something like Transport Tycoon, set in a world which was a bit more absurd, like The Muppets or Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Tell us why you chose not to monetise the game, especially as it is played from that now Zynga-fied isometric view that the majority of mobile gamers would identify with?

Leigh: There were a couple of reasons. Partly it was because there wasn’t an easy way for us to implement in-game purchases without bastardising the existing economy, and partly because the kind of games we loved playing and wanted to pay homage to were all set in the 90s, when in-game monetisation wasn’t really a thing.

How is TownCraft going, sales wise? Are you happy with its success?

Leigh: We couldn’t be happier with the reception here in Australia so far. We launched locally at PAX Australia and managed to reach the #2 paid app spot for iPad in the country.

We’ve only just launched overseas, so we’re in full ‘getting the word out there’ mode right now. It’s too early to tell. But we were approved for Screen Australia funding to help us with out international push yesterday, so that’s going to help immensely.

How long did it take to develop? And how much time, in comparison, have you spent on maintenance since, including updates?

Rohan: Well, technically it took two years, give or take a few months. However, much of this early time was spent doing pure design work, choosing our tools and organising a team.

I suppose from the moment the first serious code was laid down for it to the initial Australian release? That was about a year and change. Most of the time that was me working about 4-5 full days per week, though 2 of those days were weekends – I still needed to earn enough cash to make the rent during development.

Since we released, I’ve had to cut back my hours quite a bit as the last few months of crunch time really did cost us a lot of money. The grant from Screen Australia we’ve just received, though, can finally give us the freedom to give TownCraft’s post-release updates all our attention.

Basically, I’ve had to weigh up the relative importance of any bugs we find – a nasty show-stopper I’ll drop everything to fix, but otherwise it’s a few days or evenings a week working on smaller aesthetic problems or little features I can’t help myself but add in.

What’s next for both TownCraft and Flat Earth Games?

Leigh: It really depends. Over the last couple of years, instead of a game idea popping into our heads and being automatically shelved as ‘a cool idea’ and nothing more, we’ve been actively talking about each one as a potential next project.

Bottom line though is that if TownCraft continues to do well, we’ll keep on doing TownCraft stuff (we’ve got another two or three TC games in mind already), or if sales stop dead tomorrow, we’ll re-use the tech to create another new IP instead.

On Flat Earth Games: what’s behind the name?

Leigh: That was a fun one. It took us ages to settle on a name. We wanted something which was tongue-in-cheek and harked back to our love of 90s isometric games. We almost landed on calling ourselves ‘Full Screen Games’, mostly because we could then use the tagline ‘Full Screen ahead since 2011’.

Flat Earth to us represented the mostly flat worlds of games we used to play and love, while at the same time saying something about us: we’re both passionate rationalists and there was nothing more humorous to us than the notion that some folks still don’t believe the Earth is round.

Before TownCraft, what were you doing?

Rohan: Well, I have been a software developer for most of my adult life, but has (outside of some hobby projects and mods when I was around 20) been mostly application and database development – you know, the kind of software that makes you die of boredom just hearing it described? I’ve always played a ton of games – especially games of a similar genre to TownCraft.

I guess I didn’t get back into game development after high school for a long while because it seemed daunting – so many big AAA games were the norm a decade ago, and the era of a single dude coding a game in his basement seemed to be passed.

Instead I focused my creative energies on indie filmmaking. My weekends were spent writing, directing and editing a bucketload of short films, a web series and even two feature films nobody ever saw.

The good news is that it turns out the combination of software development experience, playing lots of games and learning to do sound / video editing actually results in a useful skillset for doing game development!

That’s especially good news for me, as it’s actually fun to do – which is more than I can say about, say, writing helpdesk software.

Leigh: My background was in PR. I spent years working for Rockstar Games here in Australia, and when I left I decided an easy way to keep paying rent was to transition to games writing.

I picked up freelance work here and there to support myself before eventually landing a gig as the editor of MCV Pacific, which I’ve been doing part time for the last two years.

That kept me in booze and kept my rent paid while we set about working on building TownCraft in our spare time. Now, though, looking forward I can see only Flat Earth, which is in equal parts terrifying and exhilarating.

Anything else you’d like to add or say about TownCraft?

Leigh: Only that it’s very much a labour of love, and that that’s something we’d never want to compromise.

We’ve made sure to each be happy with our achievements at every step of the way. When we finished the game, we promised ourselves we’d be happy with having made it even if it totally tanked. When it got big in Australia, we made a similar promise if it tanked on the global stage.

It’s still sinking in though. After two years, it’s only been in the last two weeks I’ve been comfortable introducing myself to people as a game developer. Imposter syndrome weighs heavily until you’ve got proven work that’s out there for all to see.


TownCraft is a proper management sim. Rejoice!
TownCraft is a proper management sim. Rejoice!


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