$10 Million in 3 Months: the Crossy Road Phenomenon

A Marketing Case Study

Crossy Road, a cute and addicting endless hopper that takes you back to the good ol’ Frogger days, earned a whopping $10 million during its first 3 months since launch on November 2014.

Considering that the developers spent $0 on marketing, that’s impressive and is a testament to how virality, social media presence and proper execution can turn any small concept into a money-making machine. Viral marketing at times feels like the Dark Arts and can involve a lot of luck, but the Hipster Whale developers utilized some fundamental tactics that gave Crossy Road the explosive start it needed to achieve such high numbers.

After watching their talk at GDC 2015, here are my biggest takeaways that apply for all indie game developers.

Build a fully user-centric experience and that will lead to happy and loyal customers.

This seems obvious but it’s surprising how many developers miss the mark on this, especially when they’re blinded by financial struggles. If you’re building a game with a free-to-play (F2P) model, then your players are probably non-spending, casual gamers, which comprises of nearly 66% of the US online community. This highlights the importance of making your game as user-centric as possible: if your players are happy, they will give higher reviews, share the game more often with their friends, and visit your game more frequently, all of which will lead to more ad revenue and higher chances of players making in-app purchases.

A key variable in the user experience is the number of actions it takes to get to the call-to-action (CTA). In the case of endless scroller games like Crossy Road and Temple Run, this is how many times a player taps the screen to get to the “Play Again!” button after losing. If your game is forcing ads into the player’s face, that single additional action to close the ad immediately creates a negative emotional response that influences the player to put the game down for all the wrong reasons. I understand you need to pay the bills, but these are exactly the kind of things that lead to poor reviews and less frequent visits.

The following section describes how Crossy Road uses emotion-responsive CTAs as an effective alternative to getting ad revenue by building a more positive user experience.

Keep your users engaged with emotion-responsive calls to action (CTA).

As mentioned above, CTAs are instructions that get a user to take on an action of some sort, such as a button that says “Rate Me on the App Store” or “Play Again.” To make these buttons emotion-responsive means that they pop up accordingly with how the user feels. Crossy Road utilizes this strategy by revealing the “Rate Me on the App Store” and “Watch Ad for Coins” buttons only when the player has a new high score. It is during this euphoric state of triumph when the player is ready to put the game down that he or she is most likely to engage with a call to action button.

As a result, Crossy Road beat out all other endless scrollers with the most number of reviews on the App Store — over 26,000 current reviews — and earns more than 70% of its revenue from ads. With such a high number of positive reviews since its launch, Crossy Road will snowball endlessly.

Implement optional ads that offer incentives when watched.

Optional ads are an excellent way to earn revenue without interrupting the user experience. In fact, offering incentives for watching the ad enhances it and increases user engagement by making the player want to watch the ad. In terms of advertising marketing, that’s a really big deal!

Make social sharing readily accessible.

If your game has something worth sharing, then provide those options! Anything built for mobile should be designed to be social-heavy. At the end of a play-through, Crossy Road provides the option to share a screenshot of your new high score or of your character getting squashed by a car. Monument Valley, as another example, allows you to share a screenshot of a gorgeous level after you finish it. People on Facebook love to see that!

  • Gamasutra: “Video: Deconstructing the successful design of Crossy Road” (link)
  • Polygon: “They Wanted to Make a Video Game Phenomenon. They Made $10 Million. The Story of Crossy Road” (link)