‘Don’t do it for money’: Oakland Gardens business owner dabbles in video game development as passion project

video game development
Photo courtesy of Johnny Sullivan

Stroll down Bell Boulevard in Oakland Gardens, and you’ll pass an unassuming storefront with a humble green awning. The business services, rates, and hours are posted plainly in the windows. It is, at a glance, perfectly in place among the row of stores lining the block.

This is Windsor Park Cleaners, a fixture in the community for over a decade, offering dry cleaning and alteration services. Running the show here are Dan Lo, 36, and his wife, Christine, who, in his estimation, is “the best salesperson I’ve ever seen, at least among people without a sales background. She’s got a natural gift for it.”

Lo has earned a reputation among his clients for diligence and courtesy. In 2022, between cleaning and tailoring, Lo received an average of 440 orders (and nearly 2,000 articles of clothing in total) a week — numbers that took a hit from the pandemic and were higher beforehand. The considerable workload seems not to affect his quality of service; Windsor Park Cleaners currently boasts a sterling 4.5-star rating on Yelp. 

Several intriguing philosophical ideas govern Lo’s personal and professional achievement. Lo believes in what he calls “self-programming,” or the idea that one may acquire positive habits and personality traits by pretending as though one already has. He credits this concept with helping him improve his work ethic — and his smile. The latter is perhaps his trademark; whether behind the counter or engaging customers who recognize him in casual conversation on his walk to and from work, Lo is known around the neighborhood for his warm smile.

“It never came naturally to me,” Lo admits. “I constantly reminded myself to smile and told myself I was a smiler until, eventually, I no longer had to.” He beams.

Common sense would suggest that the average cleaner probably isn’t dabbling in video game development. But then Dan Lo isn’t most cleaners. Bunnies Vs. Zombies, Lo’s first foray into “game dev,” is a novel take on the popular “tower defense” genre of games. The tower defense game he envisions includes features like multiplayer compatibility and rich, interactive storylines, which have long been foreign to the genre.

“For me, this isn’t just a passion project,” Lo explains. “I’m making the game I always wanted to play but couldn’t.” 

What advice would Lo impart to an aspiring developer? He doesn’t have to think about his answer.

“Don’t do it for money,” he quips through his genuine, self-programmed smile, “because in game dev, there isn’t much to be had. Think of it like writing a book. One in a million books might be Harry Potter. So it is with games. Except with books, you only need pen and paper; games require far more resources to make.”

If Lo doubles as a game developer, he triples as a real estate agent. Windsor Park Cleaners might be the only dry cleaners in Queens or anywhere else with a real estate desk in the waiting area. It’s not uncommon to see Lo seated in his corner, Bluetooth in ear, taking calls and closing deals as Christine does business behind the counter. He calls the work he does as a mortgage loan officer “super rewarding and humbling,” especially when helping families buy their first homes.

In spite of all the work he puts into his cleaning business and his various side projects, Lo doesn’t feel the least bit in over his head. To the contrary, he has taken great pains to establish a healthy work-life balance.

“Studying business,” Lo relates, “I was presented with the question: ‘Would you rather pace yourself for 40 years or work yourself to the bone for five to 10?’ I prefer to get things over with; the answer for me was always the latter.”

It’s a token of wisdom which has been apparent to Lo since his days in Hong Kong grade school. Always bookish, Lo realized early on in life that devoting too much time to academics would deprive him of the chance to “be a kid”; the sooner he attended to and completed his schoolwork, Lo reasoned, the sooner he could indulge in the kind of social life he’s always valued. Lo took this lesson with him back to Stony Brook University, then to London, where he met Christine, and finally to Oakland Gardens, to the storefront which no one would suspect is home to someone like him.

Lo believes the sense of community and trust he fosters between himself and his customers is reward enough for the effort he and Christine put into their work, especially in an age of isolation.

“The saying used to be, ‘It takes a village.’ Nowadays, you’re lucky if your village is your immediate family,” Lo observes.  “People have turned so inward. I try to cultivate a village of my own here.”

The Bunnies Vs. Zombies website, where merchandise and news about the game’s development progress can be found here. Real estate inquiries may be directed to Lo here.