A Day After Launch, “Exploding Kittens” Tops The App Store

Exploding Kittens,” the hugely successful Kickstarter-funded card game from ex-Microsofties Elan Lee and Shane Small along with The Oatmeal’s creator Matthew Inman, has now been translated into a mobile game. And that game is now exploding onto the App Store, too, having scored the #1 Paid App slot only a day after launching.

The game, as you may recall, became one of Kickstarter’s most-funded projects ever, pulling in nearly $8.8 million in pledges from over 219,000 contributors. It also broke a record for the project with the most individual donors, at the time.

Bursting onto the scene a year ago, where it was touted as the new “Cards Against Humanity,” the game’s concept was to deliver a “kitty-powered version of Russian Roulette.” That is, players take turn drawing cards until someone pulls an exploding kitten and loses the game. Of course, there’s more to it than that – players can also use various cards to defuse the kitten (with belly rubs or catnip sandwiches, e.g.), or skip their turns, attack other players, relocate kittens and more.

In part, the card game’s launch was so successful because of Inman’s involvement, and his ability to leverage The Oatmeal’s sizable fan base to invest, as well as Lee’s reputation in the gaming world.

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To bring the game to mobile, Lee and Small partnered with the Seattle-based digital product studio Substantial, as well as Inman, in order to translate the table game into a local, peer-to-peer party game you play on your phone.

Substantial, though not a name consumers may be familiar with themselves, does client work for a number of big names, including The WSJ, News Corp, Google, Amazon, Universal, IDEO, Getty Images, Starbucks, Citi, Genetech, ESPN, Lexus, and others. The company says goal was not just to clone the original, but make an evolved, improved and mobile-friendly version that would appeal to both fans of the card game and new users.

The end result is that the app version of “Exploding Kittens” is a bit different from the original card game. It has pulled some cards and added others, introduced new game mechanics, and has introduced new art from The Oatmeal’s Inman, as well as sounds and voices.

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In addition, what’s interesting about the mobile game is that it climbed to the top of the App Store, despite the fact that you can’t play it by yourself, as you can with most mobile games today.

You can’t even play with strangers over the internet for the time being. Instead, as the game’s website explains, “Exploding Kittens” is “very much a party game” – meaning, a “multiplayer game you play with people who are actually sitting near you.”

To enable this functionality, the game uses a combination of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth to allow players to communicate with others around them, instead of relying on the Internet or Game Center. The creators warn that this technology is new and may have some kinks to work out, and bugs.

The technology is similar to what you’ll find in apps like FireChat, the off-the-grid mobile messenger that’s been used at protests, and Occupy Wall Street, as well as in the teen-focused messaging app Jott that can work without a data plan or Wi-Fi connection.

Adding the same sort of offline capability to a mobile game meant to be played in groups, then, is a fairly clever trick. That eliminates the potential problems users could face when their signal isn’t as strong as their competitors, where Wi-Fi isn’t accessible, or even when you’re lacking cellular/data connectivity altogether.

The $1.99 game has now soared to the top of the App Store, again leveraging its prior viral buzz. And it won’t just be raking in revenues by downloads, the app also offers in-app purchases for “Avatar Packs’ that let users personalize their experience. The question for now is how long “Exploding Kittens” can retain its top spot.

According to Substantial’s, Adam Pearson, the Lead Developer on “Exploding Kittens,” the metrics show that a lot of people are playing the game simultaneously, but he declined to provide download numbers.

The product, described as a “version 1.0” release, doesn’t yet include the full feature set. For example, for now it doesn’t offer the “Nope” cards nor is there an Android version available. But the developers say these and more features are in the works for the future.

“We focused on doing the best possible job of adapting the physical card game to the mobile platform by sticking to a face-to-face, party game style of gameplay that still felt natural on a smartphone,” says Pearson, when asked about the company’s plans from this point forward. “Players can expect any future developments to open the game to a broader user-base.”