When iOS was a younger platform three or four years ago, every few weeks a small studio out of some tiny corner of the world would emerge with a top-ranking hit.
There were games out of tiny towns in Northern Germany like Tiny Wings and then there were titles like Angry Birds, which some companies like Rovio parlayed into businesses that eventually became worth nine or ten figures.
These hits out of left field, unfortunately, are becoming rarer and rarer as both app stores become more expensive to compete in.
But they still exist.
One from last year was Fun Run, the work of a handful of college students in Trondheim, a city in central Norway. Produced under the studio name DirtyBit, The platformer title went on to pick up 30 million downloads and 10 million monthly active users.
The company’s COO Nicoaj Petersen said he and his co-founders looked back into their childhoods to see what games they enjoyed and what they could rekindle in a synchronous multi-player format. They quietly launched Fun Run as a cartoonish platformer and it didn’t get much attention until a few months in.
After they prodded users to compete in contests, the game suddenly shot up to the top of the charts and held onto a top 100 grossing spot in the U.S. for three months. Players were sharing their handles on Twitter, and asking others to join in.
Even the most of the company still has a year left at university, they’re looking to parlay their hit game into a proper studio with future titles in the wings. They’re serious about it with scrum meetings early every morning, and sessions every day where they play the game to see how to improve it.
By doing that, they’ll follow the well-trodden paths of other studios like Fruit Ninja-maker Halfbrick Studios, which is based out of Australia, and Russia’s Zeptolab, which is behind Cut The Rope. Some companies with early hits have chosen to go heavily down a merchandising path like Rovio, while other developers like Supercell have decided to focus purely on gaming. Some have chosen to take huge rounds of funding like Supercell, while others like Halfbrick have taken a decidedly indie approach without any external financing.
Petersen said that all eight of the studio’s employees have pretty much shifted to building the company, and that they’ll be launching another game by year-end. They’re undecided on taking investment.
It’s worth noting that Norway has yet to build a strong startup culture, unlike other Scandinavian markets like Sweden and Finland. While both of those countries have fostered companies like Spotify, Rovio and Supercell, Norway hasn’t had a big consumer-facing web or mobile hit startup in the last few years. Perhaps it’s time.