Modernizing Sudoku With Sven's SudokuPad

Published Jan 23, 2024

Hi! Can you tell us who you are and about your work?

First of all, I’m glad to be here! I’m Sven Neumann, the sole developer of Sven Codes and the creator of the SudokuPad! Sven Codes is currently focused on game development and perfecting the features of SudokuPad—a Sudoku tool that is mainly featured in videos under the well-known puzzle-solving channel, Cracking The Cryptic

With SudokuPad, you can play your own and import Sudoku puzzles with ease and convenience. You also gain access to several brand new classic Sudokus created by Cracking The Cryptic hosts Simon Anthony and Mark Goodliffe specifically for the SudokuPad.

How did you get interested in gaming and development?

My father was a computer programmer, and he was involved in developing an oscilloscope. I was 14 at the time and had just moved to Malta. And back then, our home was just full of electronics and computers, so it just naturally caught on. When I was five years old, he taught me the basics of soldering, and other computer stuff as well. I fondly remember when I was around six, my brother got his first computer as a Christmas present, and I was fuming because I was stuck with a bike instead.

As for my passion for programming, as I was growing up, we mostly had PCs, not entertainment platforms like an Amiga or the Commodore systems. I never had any of the good gaming stuff, and most of the PCs we ended up having around the house weren’t good for gaming either. No sound, all display and stuff. Since I didn’t have anything to play games on, I just ended up tinkering with what we had. I think that’s also the root cause of why I ended up being more versed in the technical side of computers instead of gaming.

So for me, games were more relevant in the making process rather than the playing process. That’s why when I started playing a game, I was immediately filled with ideas on how the game could be different… improved. Remember the first games where when you died, you lost your weapons or your special abilities? I didn’t like that. So I ended up wanting to learn more about how to change that mechanic so that you wouldn’t lose your stuff when you died.

I became a gamer in a roundabout way I suppose. I tinkered and learned programming then I got into gaming. In fact, when I went to school here in Malta, there weren’t any specific courses for programming, so I had to learn everything by myself through experience and practice.

How did you get the idea to make your SudokuPad tool?

Around that time, I was working for a game studio doing work for small, casual games in JavaScript. At that point, I’d already been working with JavaScript for like twenty years, way back in the early '90s, so I had experience backing me up. So when the COVID-19 Pandemic hit, I did what everybody else ended up doing, watch things from inside my home. That’s when I discovered Cracking The Cryptic, or CTC for short.

I really, really enjoyed watching CTC, and everything they did was just right up my alley. They had a tool they were using, but it had a lot of things that were bugging them, keeping them from fully unleashing their ability onto the puzzles they were discussing. And they kept saying that they would work on it and improve it, and I waited, but their improvements were definitely not progressing.

So I took a look at the tool they were using, and I felt that I could fix things that were bugging them and make the tool right. So I got in touch with them through Twitter and told them that if they let me, I’d be able to make the tool work better and smoother for them. I forgot whether they opened up immediately or if I first provided a prototype… I can’t say for certain. But the fact was, the original creator of the tool had disappeared, as in that person just stopped replying to communications and was downright unresponsive.

When I started working on it, I still had a job, but well, everyone was working from home at that point, and the company I was in was winding down their engineering office. So I ended up making the first prototype over a weekend! Then as the pandemic went into full swing, I already knew I was made redundant, and I had a few more months on payroll but was free to do as I pleased, so I ended up working on the tool for CTC for about three to four months and finished it in that timeframe.

Initially, I replicated the existing tool, and then I added in the things that they needed. It got good enough to the point CTC was able to use it, and we started making plans to create the commercial product as well. I fixed it up and polished it some more, and started adding new things that the old tool didn’t have anymore. Time progresses and eventually, the SudokuPad becomes available!

What made you interested in working with CTC?

There are a lot of “Let’s Play” YouTubers in the sea of content, and what sets good channels apart from the bad ones is the personality. And CTC’s host, Simon, definitely had both the skill to crack these cryptic puzzles as well as the entertaining charisma needed to make things interesting and worth watching. It’s a skill and a talent to be able to hook in people to keep watching your videos and streams, just like how an actor or a singer needs something special to fully stand out.

How does the monetization between you and CTC work?

Okay, when you visit their website, it looks messy like, “Wait, there’s the CTC app and the SudokuPad?” And they introduced me as their developer or whatever, but we’re really not connected in that way at all. So the deal is that they’re basically using the online app for free, just like any other streamer does, and they’re advertising SudokuPad, which drives supporters of the app.

They have their own developers for their CTC apps, which is Studio Goya, and then there’s me with my SudokuPad. It might be very confusing, so to sum it up: CTC has its own stuff to create puzzles, and SudokuPad, which they promote and use, is more like a word processor for puzzles. I don’t create puzzles. I don’t generate them nor do I have the algorithms needed to make them.

And to be honest, a lot of other YouTubers that go beyond 100,000 subscribers and other websites are using SudokuPad and create puzzle sets off of it and others sell them as PDFs, which is kind of ridiculous in my opinion. People are basically subscribing to and buying screenshots of a puzzle.

Anyway, these puzzle setters and creators are part of a niche community, so the good stuff is in Discord servers and other forums hidden within the community. These guys end up using SudokuPad and attach links that contain the puzzle data itself. These links are super long and don’t work on some browsers, so they end up using TinyURL links to shorten them. It’s no joke when I say to you all that the puzzle community tends to die down for a while whenever TinyURL goes down, and there’s no other free link-shortening service they trust since GitHub already shut down theirs.

It’s really funny to think about, that this low-tech puzzle community that I work with can easily lose puzzles and access to old ones just because the old links in their PDFs used a GitHub shortened link or something.

So how do you keep earning from SudokuPad?

The thing is when games release, most of the bulk of their income comes from when they get released, right? Then sales start to peter out as interest in the game goes down as time goes by. But CTC has such a broad appeal and audience that when players who already got their fill of puzzles stop playing, new players and viewers who are interested in puzzles replace them instead. I too was surprised that I got a steady stream of sales with their advertisement of SudokuPad, and I have like around 25,000 daily active users on it.

Plus, with Sudoku, there’s also accessibility in mind. Crossword puzzles didn’t really hit it off with CTC because it’s primarily in English, and other languages don’t work as well with the format. Number puzzles, on the other hand, need no specific language, the language is within the numbers themselves! There’s also a broader range of difficulty as well, so it caters to both casual fun and hardcore players too.

Have you considered putting ads on the web app you made?

I’ve thought about it before, yes. Especially since SudokuPad sells for around $2.99 or less in some regions. But the truth is, I’m not a big fan of ads, and I’ve been in the advertising industry long enough to know that the reward, at least on my part, is small. Ads work when you’re clocking around hundreds of thousands or millions and billions of plays, and I don’t reach those kinds of numbers. So if I did implement it, I’d end up inconveniencing users and affecting their experience just for me to get pennies.

These are things that I tread upon lightly because I position myself as part of the community, and I’m not attached to other platforms that sponsor something. Big names tend to not react to what happens within the community, they’re just… there. So being part of the community gives me a sense of responsibility, and I don’t want to just turn things around on people, especially those who have supported and continue to support me to this day.

But I do have something in mind. Instead of advertising through Google Ads or whatever, I would advertise through the people within the community, like those who sell puzzle packs on Etsy for a couple of bucks or whatever, creating a give-and-give type of arrangement among us. Because SudokuPad doesn’t just limit itself to the hardcore Sudoku community, but also appeals to a wider audience thanks to CTC. While there are quite a lot in the hardcore community, there’s significantly more that are not embedded within it, like the casual players or those that are still testing the waters.

To be honest, some people have complained that I put a Patreon link on my puzzles. Like, when you finish a puzzle, there’s a bit that says: “Hey, want to support me? Here’s my YouTube link and Patreon.” But to not hamper their user experience, I also added a setting where they can disable that, and I even had an inbuilt ad blocker in the app.

Do you have any notable names in your niche?

There’s this guy in the community named “Chameleon”, and a year and a half ago, he wanted to try out something he had in mind. So he wrote something on his own using JavaScript, and made his own client to play this puzzle he had in mind. He ended up making a different variation of Sudoku. It was a Sudoku that had a fog of war, and placing digits uncovered clues under the fog.

He made a couple of puzzles like that with his own software and CTC ended up having a field day with it. Then I talked to him regarding his creation, and he told me that he would’ve done it in SudokuPad if he could. So I ended up trying to implement it on my side, and now it’s one of the most popular categories that people play because it’s very beginner-friendly as it guides you to where you have to look.

Can you give us a summary of your work ethic?

I’ll be honest with you, I’m a serious sufferer of ADHD, so it can be difficult to finish things especially since I work from home and have no one telling me what to do. This freedom also comes with its cons, especially since I can’t just start on a project and expect the community to love it. I need to know what I can do and I have to do it well. And when I make it, it has to be easy to use, it has to be drag and drop, it has to work and work well. When I make something, you have to be able to just sit down and start using it right away.

What advice can you give to budding developers?

I’ve had decades of experience, and there are a few things that I’d like to share.

1. Trust the community to find a use for the thing you’re building

A lot of popular games are all about emergent behavior, so it’s important to let the community of players and users decide what to do with your creation rather than try to enforce what it was originally designed for. This sparks creativity, innovation and most of all, interest and collaboration within the community.

2. Learn the needs of the community

SudokuPad wouldn’t be a thing if I didn’t pay attention to what CTC was lacking or having trouble with. In my opinion, diving into the community and learning about what real users want to have can help you create something that would sell and be something worthwhile in their eyes.

3. Emphasize quality and ease of use

Creating something just for the heck of it will just result in shoddy work that can negatively affect your reputation and skills. So when it comes to things that have a dedicated community like Sudoku, it’s best to make something that they’ll appreciate and easily use.

What games are you playing right now?

As much as I want to play games right now, I tend to avoid playing games myself these days. I get addicted fast and hard, and it’s guaranteed that I won’t get anything done once I start playing something. So right now, no gaming for me, but to scratch that itch to play, I watch videos and streams of other people playing games instead! I watch StarCraft 2 gameplay and other certain streamers. Though I play League of Legends every lunchtime. But I play it not because I’m into it, but rather, I know how long it’ll take me to play and I know that I’ll stop playing after that session. What appeals to me is not the gameplay of League of Legends itself, but rather the fact that I can’t and don’t want to play it continuously.

What’s your plan for the future?

I always have a plan for the future, and currently, I want to create more things that are animated and appeal to a younger generation of players. You remember that guy Chameleon right? He also made another version of Sokoban where there’s an actual character pushing digits around, or parking cars that had rules attached to them, you know? I want to do that too, see more about the technical aspects of these puzzles and make them more interesting and fun!

I also thought of another feature of SudokuPad, which would allow it to scan puzzles through a camera. You’d just hold it up to a newspaper, scan it, then you’d be able to play it through the app. That function was originally part of my first plans for SudokuPad, but the quality wasn’t up to par for what I think would count as sellable. But I do want to implement something like that in the future as well.

Multiplayer functions are also something that I’ll eventually tackle. I want to make use of this technology to further enhance the Sudoku experience, where people can do puzzles together, race each other, or even get to a point where it can be used in a school setting, where everyone can cooperate and solve puzzles.

Another thing I want to work on is to create an archive of puzzle sets, especially those made by members of the community. I find it a great shame that a lot of new players or even experienced players don’t get to find the gems made by setters just because the things they made are hard to find and all.

I also want to talk about the community about planning to create a SudokuPad 2.0. I want to talk to them first to see if there’s even a need for it, especially since even my iOS app hasn’t been updated in, like, two years now. I say planning because I’m not entirely sure there’s a need for a SudokuPad 2.0, that’s why I’m going to reach out to the community and learn more about what they feel and what they need in it or things from SudokuPad 1.0 that need to be improved. 

But if ever I go through with it, the biggest item on the list would be a social platform, where people can log in, interact and have a history in it. They would be able to review puzzles and provide insightful feedback that further improves everyone involved. Not those flimsy thumbs up or thumbs down kinds of things, but real feedback that can be used in important details. Among other things, I’d also put in an algorithm that determines player actions and info, like which puzzles suit this player, which puzzles are of high quality or great difficulty and all that.

Where can we learn more about you and your work?

The easiest way I can point you to is to visit my website to learn more about me and the work I do. And if you’re interested in seeing me stream my work, you can check out my YouTube channel as well as my Twitch channel. Many thanks to all the Patrons who continue to support me even now, and especially to Cracking The Cryptic and its dedicated community!

Have a game to sell?

Let’s find out if we play well together.