From Pot to Profit – Six Years of Majic Jungle Software

Written by David Frampton @ 7:14 am, January 23, 2009

After six years, the fourth website overhaul has made me all reminiscent.

I’m not sure if it’s for your benefit or for mine, but regardless, I’d like to talk a bit about the progress of Majic Jungle Software, how an artist on the unemployment benefit managed to make a shit load of money and get to the fourth iteration of his website.

The Name

I was practicing as an artist when I first decided to program. My paintings were doing well, and I was heading towards making a living. For some reason, involving a late night conversation with my brother, I started programming.

I fell in love in an instant. Using various online resources I created my first game ‘Smiris’ (a Tetris clone) in roughly a month. What I learned from creating this worthless game was invaluable. It can still be downloaded here – with original ReadMe!

My next project was “Majic Jungle”. It was a game… a cannabis growing simulator. At the time, ‘Dope Wars’ was everywhere. I wanted a piece of the cake (so to speak), so started work on a grow simulation. I focused on the genetics of plant growing – yielding seeds that carried the genetic traits of the parents, aiming towards low-smell, high-yield, quick-turnaround etc.

And that is when I registered the domain majicjungle.co.nz – the name of my pot-growing game. The original game can be found here. It is unfinished, as my inability to code ended up digging me into a giant hole filled with spaghetti. Please don’t tell me what is broken in it, I never want to look at that code again! Just click Cancel on those odd ‘Searching for movie data’ dialogs.

From Pot to Profit

At this stage I had no idea where I was heading. It wasn’t Majic Jungle Software yet, it was just me with a couple of shitty games, and a new-found obsession with coding.

Luckily, a big part of the resources I had used to learn to code had been from the forums of iDevGames.com. A competition was just about to start at this time, and I was ripe for the challenge. So I started work on Chopper. In 2003 with a background in painting pictures, and a month of programming experience I entered a 3 month competition that would ultimately secure my future.

At this time I have my first screenshot of a Majic Jungle website. There were other websites before, but sadly they are now lost. In 2003, the Majic Jungle website looked like this.

Chopper had done well in the competition, and played a part in getting my first office job, which was at the MetService of New Zealand, working on a Mac doing OpenGL development for TV weather graphics. Keith Bauer (who now works for Apple) was, and still is, an active member of the iDevGames community, and pretty much got me the job. Keith has been my teacher and mentor for many years now. I can’t thank him enough.

In this job at the MetService, I was in pure bliss. For four years I couldn’t believe my luck – working with talented programmers, being at the forefront of many technologies, writing GLSL shaders to try to make clouds, rain, and sunsets look beautiful on TV in realtime, and the pay was better than I had ever had.

During this time I also worked at home on my own ideas. ‘Backyard Racing’ was one of my major home projects at the time, and may yet show up in one form or another. By 2005 the Majic Jungle website was looking pretty horrifically blue and reflectiony, as can be seen here.

At that point I wasn’t selling anything – all of my software was free. I still saw my game coding as a hobby. But then I started working on an interactive museum display. It sounded hard but achievable, so I took it on.

The Final Days of the Day Job

Coding for the Te Papa Museum ‘OurSpace’ exhibit was a simply amazing experience. I learned how to track dots in video feeds, how to best use accelerometer data to interact with objects, how to create unique user interfaces based on unique input devices, and perhaps the best thing was the Cocoa/Objective C and graphic design knowledge I learned. Thanks again, Keith! 

Working from scratch through many prototypes towards a final product with such a small and productive team in such a short time period was just awesome. And it was all Mac/OpenGL!

Early on in this project, before I even got to looking at camera feeds for OurSpace, I developed iSight Screensavers. This was the first shareware app I released, and so the first time I actually started earning money from my ’side projects’.

iSight Screensavers went pretty well. It was nowhere near an actual income, but was enough to make me realise the potential of shareware Mac apps. So soon after, I made a few upgrades to the Mac version of Chopper, and made it shareware. This is how the majicjungle website looked just before I made Chopper shareware.

I was scared of making a free game cost something, so initially made it a 30 day trial period. Sales went pretty well. Still not a livable income, but it made quitting my day job even more possible. This was my goal at the time – to work full time on my own stuff. So I had been saving every penny to try to have a year’s wages in the bank by the time the OurSpace project was complete.

Later, I changed the shareware version of Chopper to expire after 60 minutes (and then 30 minutes) of gameplay, along with an upgrade with extra features. Both times the sales increased hugely. I had money in the bank, a modest income, and was ready to go out on my own. But I had a few months left until the OurSpace project was complete.

iPhone FTW

In early May 2008, shortly after the iPhone SDK was made available, I decided it would be a good idea to create a version of Chopper for the iPhone. The development and success of the iPhone version of Chopper is perhaps another story. Long story short: if I play my cards right (or even not too poorly), I will never have to work for ‘the man’ again!

The day I left my day job, it was 10 days until the App Store was going live, and the iPhone version of Chopper was complete. I was ready to survive on lentils and porridge – just like when I was an artist, but hopeful I would soon be driving a Ferrari. As it turns out, it’s healthily somewhere in between.

I’m stoked.

The latest website before the version you are (probably) looking at now can be seen here.

It’s been an exciting journey so far, and I am of course very thankful to everyone who has given support along the way. I have a number of projects in the pipeline, as well as the plan to take on staff in the future. Hopefully these past six years are just the beginning!