Mobile Game Design: How Evil Monkeys Chased Temple Run To App Store #1

This is the story of how a husband and wife team designed a game with more daily active users than anything by Zynga. Now the #1 free iOS game, Imangi Studios reveals its Temple Run has hit 20 million downloads and 7 million DAU. Co-founder Natalia Luckyanova tells me how by designing Temple Run to be fun without having to pay, it became the top grossing iOS game despite only 1% of users monetizing.

The first step was making a game that resonated with users emotionally. You play as an explorer running through an ancient temple, constantly chased by a pack of skull-faced monkeys. This seems to trigger the latter half of the human fight or flight response. Luckyanova tells me tweets and word of mouth about how terrifying the monkeys are have helped Temple Run go viral.

“We wanted to make Temple Run feel like it was designed for iOS rather than ported from a console, where you’re using virtual joysticks” Luckyanova¬†says. Temple Run can be played using just one hand, with swipes and tilts controlling the player. A single run through the temple takes 30 seconds to a few minutes. This makes it easy to dip in and try to beat your high score and run past the scores of friends, creating an addictive experience.

The key to Temple Run’s success is that it’s free and doesn’t hinge on in-app purchases. “There’s no barrier to downloading it, and it can be fully played without having to buy anything”. Users collect the in-game currency by picking up coins as they run, meaning they can earn any power-up or character in the store if they don’t want to purchase currency.

Many games make it extremely difficult to complete the later levels or competing directly against other players if you haven’t paid. In contrast, Temple Run focuses on an accessible user experience that boosts retention and sharing, with just 1% choosing to pay. This allowed it to become the top grossing iOS game through massive traction, instead of topping out around 1 million DAU with 4% monetizing like other games.

Founded in 2008,¬†Imangi Studios was one of the first developers in the App Store. It’s since released 10 games including the small hit Harbor Master, and hired an artist bringing the team to 3. Temple Run has been out for just 5 months, but now receives 500,000 downloads a day.

Luckyanova says “It’s a very hit driven business, and a hit like this really funds your studio for years. We’re trying to keep it going by updating the game on a regular basis with new power-ups and characters to keep people engaged.”

Rather than bring complication in-house, Imangi has partnered with another developer to build out Temple Run for Android. After all, evil monkeys are platform agnostic, so Temple Run should be too.

[Image Credits: SegmentNext]