July 03 / 2024

How a husband-and-wife team built nDreams’ first VR publishing hit

Little Cities is on a big journey.

From its humble beginnings as a VR hobby project to an award-winning Meta Quest launch in 2022, followed by 18 months of major updates culminating in the 2024 release of Little Cities: Bigger! for PS VR2, the title has become an enduring and beloved presence for VR gamers over the past two years.

The product of a partnership between UK indie studio Purple Yonder and publisher nDreams, this is a story that’s far from over. To learn more about the origins of Little Cities, its development process and how the publishing collaboration worked, we sat down with Purple Yonder co-founder James Howard to reflect on the story so far.

James Howard was no stranger to the games industry before embarking on life as an indie. With stints at Electronic Arts and Rockstar, followed by a seven-year spell at Ninja Theory, he was an experienced game programmer with triple-A credits from his work at some of the world’s best-known studios.

While this would be an enviable position for many, James found himself becoming increasingly interested in the indie games scene – particularly the creative possibilities of virtual reality. “I’d made a game for Samsung Gear VR, and that was a side project in my spare time,” he tells us. “I quite enjoyed doing that, and I could kind of see that this was going to be a really interesting space, so I thought, ‘what can I do now that the Quest is coming out?’”

Why VR? “It’s still a very new technology to pursue and it feels like we’re breaking new ground,” considers James. “Each time there’s these new generations, there’s a leap…  that feeling of helping to shape ‘the new thing’ is what interests me.”

City planning

The game that James began work on, with the first-generation Quest in mind before Meta’s standalone headset even launched, was a city creation game with a laid-back, welcoming tone. It was worked on purely in his spare time, described as more of an “exploration” than anything with a commercial outlook, but that all changed when Kelly Howard saw the potential in this early version.

“Kelly, my wife, was looking at what I was making, and she thought there was something really interesting here,” recalls James. “She felt that this is something we should try and actually pursue.” This was the birth of Purple Yonder, the development studio co-founded and solely staffed by the pair, and the game that would become Little Cities.


Despite more formally running a games studio at this point, with the dedication to take the game beyond a side project, the pair had no funding and no publisher backing – only the seed of a promising VR game.

Kelly suggested that Purple Yonder pitch their project to the UK Games Fund, which was successful and gave the small team the funding to continue development with greater scope and ambition. Next, it was time to show the game to Meta. “They thought it looked really cool,” James tells us. “Their first suggestion was that we talk with nDreams, who they recommended for publishing and marketing support.”

Scaling up

Securing funding and embarking on a partnership with nDreams were key turning points for Purple Yonder, allowing James and Kelly to quit their day jobs and pursue VR game development full-time. 

James reflects on that transition: “Initially, I wasn’t really thinking about publishing and making it a full-time job, but Kelly had that vision. It enabled us to hire contractors to create artwork, music and more, and that’s when Little Cities really started to accelerate and actually become what it is today. It’s been a really enjoyable journey.”

So, where did that journey take them? While it didn’t yet have its name – it began life as ‘MicroCity’ –  Little Cities had the essence of cozy city creation from the very start. James summarises that the game “didn’t have its personality all worked out” early in development, “but we knew pretty early on that we wanted to have this relaxed vibe that feels almost like going on holiday somewhere. That’s something that was in our pitch right from the beginning.”

He continues: “We already had a core part of the game made when we approached nDreams, but we still had that time to work out what the rest of the game needed to be. And I think that when you’ve got that time, that’s when you can be the most creative.”


James lists playtesting, assistance with the tutorial and onboarding, and specialist game design consultation among nDreams’ most significant contributions to the Little Cities project. In addition, nDreams’ award-winning marketing team worked on developing a compelling brand worthy of the game’s aesthetic, with tailored campaigns to help it land with the VR gaming audience.

All this helped power the game to its rightful place as the most loved VR city creator, in terms of both critical and community response.

“It has been fantastic to work alongside nDreams and we’ve always felt they are closely aligned with our vision for the game,” says James. “As such a small team, the positive response to Little Cities means a lot to us. We’ve been really happy with it!”

A platform for success

nDreams also assisted with platform relations, with Little Cities enjoying launches across Meta Quest, Pico and PS VR2 platforms during its life so far.

“There have been a few times where it feels that the platforms have really been behind us in terms of promoting the game, and that’s a privileged position to be in because not everyone gets that much attention,” enthuses James. “For example, being featured at Meta Connect on multiple occasions.

“That felt particularly validating because it wasn’t only when the game had just come out. Months later, they’re still talking about it at the Connect conference to people watching all around the world! That felt amazing.”

This is a testament to the game’s longevity, with 18 months of post-launch support for the Quest version (including five major updates) leading to the launch of the complete Little Cities: Bigger! for PS VR2 in March 2024. The PlayStation release was another hit with critics, described as “relentlessly joyful” by PLAY Magazine.

The journey continues

Purple Yonder’s initial outreach to nDreams was the beginning of a years-long partnership between the developer and publisher, during which no stone has been left unturned in bringing Little Cities to the biggest audience possible.

As the first game signed under nDreams’ third-party publishing initiative, which has since grown into a fully-fledged team under the management of industry veteran Callum Godfrey, Little Cities was a perfect debut partnership for a publisher with growing ambitions.


It is yet another example that smaller developers can punch above their weight in VR, with the right support, in a way that is becoming increasingly difficult on other platforms. Indie teams have created a high proportion of the most successful VR games, and the work of studios like Purple Yonder suggests this is likely to continue.

“We’re proud that Purple Yonder chose us as a publishing partner,” says nDreams’ VP of Publishing David Corless.

“In Little Cities, they’ve created a beautiful little product that’s brilliant in every way and gets closer to perfection with each new update. The fact they are so dedicated, talented and an absolute joy to work with only strengthens my conviction that this is a studio going places.”

You can learn more about nDreams Publishing here, and follow Purple Yonder on  X.

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