Patrick Moberg has wasted hours of your life, or of the life of someone next to you in a waiting room. His studio Dots created the beautiful and addictive mobile game Dots (the thinking person’s Candy Crush), and its sequels Two Dots and Dots & Co, all of which are on millions of phones. We talked to him about the game development process, his favorite games, and his children’s book.
Location: Live in Brooklyn, work in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District Current Gig: Co-founder and CEO of mobile gaming studio Dots One word that best describes how you work: Earnestly Current mobile device: iPhone X Current computer: MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2016)
First of all, tell us a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.
I’ve always oscillated between technology and visual arts, working on a variety of different projects in the New York startup world. I had the privilege to work at Vimeo as it was transforming from a side project into the behemoth it is today. In 2012 I was on a trip to Matsumoto, Japan and there was a retrospective of the artist Yayoi Kusama. The following year I co-founded Dots with Paul Murphy and it’s been a great opportunity to help grow a studio of technically and creatively inclined individuals. So far, we’ve launched three award winning games played by millions around the world.
What apps, gadgets, or tools can’t you live without?
There is an app, unfortunately named “LICEcap,” that we use a lot at the studio. It captures a specified area on your computer screen and turns it into an animated gif. We frequently send gifs of gameplay that is in development in order to get feedback. We also attach gifs onto code submissions in order to showcase the intended functionality so that someone can assess it properly.
What’s your workspace setup like?
We’ve got an amazing space that was designed by architecture AF and Sheep+Stone. It’s simple, clean and designed with the intent of thoughtful work to be done.
What’s your best shortcut or life hack (no matter how small or niche)?
When starting a new project, take your idea, cut it in half, and then cut it in half again. The bits you strip away can be revisited, but this process helps you understand what’s at the core of the idea while getting the momentum started in a manageable way.
Take us through an interesting or unusual process you have in place at work.
Every Thursday we have a show & tell session, and we encourage people to share work very early on in development. It can be uncomfortable, for either creative or technical work, to show ideas before they’re finished, but the hope is to develop a habit and vernacular around imagining what the outcome can be before it’s finished. This process helps people stay on the same page and anticipate needs in terms of scope or execution.
What are your gaming habits and favorite games?
I’ve always gravitated towards portable games, especially ones designed for jumping in and out of quickly, similar to what we make at Dots. I download a lot of both free and paid games to get a sense of what’s being released. I got hooked on Shenzhen Solitaire recently. Dissembler and supertype are really novel gameplay with great aesthetics. Desert Golfing is beautifully simple.
Who are the people who help you get things done, and how do you rely on them?
Oh jeez, honestly, everyone at Dots. When I transitioned into the CEO role, I underestimated how many more things I’d have to get a deep, nuanced understanding of in order to understand the entire picture of the business. Across all disciplines, the studio has been great at helping get me up to speed and being available to advise me on the tough decisions. My partner Erica, who has a deep understanding of creative work, generously cares and talks through projects or situations I’m working on.
How do you keep track of what you have to do?
Google Calendar and the native iOS Reminders app.
How do you recharge or take a break?
My friend Alexander swears by baths, so I’ve started to do that occasionally. The proximity to water is a helpful way to ensure you don’t get distracted by electronics.
What’s your favorite side project?
I wrote and illustrated a children’s book called Lessons From a Dog that was published by Penguin. Three of the pages make me almost cry when I think about them. I was lucky to channel something that, to me, feels deeply honest.
What are you currently reading, or what do you recommend?
Balancing the various disciplines at our studio. As a group, we try to allow people from any discipline to access a variety of information in order to understand the multi-faceted challenges we face. This approach is intended to facilitate us collectively understanding the nuance of difficult decisions, but it’s a difficult, ongoing challenge. I’ve found that our biggest success comes when there is a cohesion of thought between the various aspects of game development.
Updated: We’ve replaced an older staff photo with a more recent one.
The How I Work series asks heroes, experts, and flat-out productive people to share their shortcuts, workspaces, routines, and more. Have someone you want to see featured, or questions you think we should ask? Email Nick.