Exploding Kittens gets a digital makeover

The most-funded game in Kickstarter history gets an app

Exploding Kittens blasted onto the scene when it made headlines for being the most-funded game in Kickstarter history. The simple yet hilarious card game created by Elan Lee (Xbox, ARGs), Matthew Inman (The Oatmeal), and Shane Small (Xbox, Marvel) ended its campaign with almost 220,000 backers contributing nearly $8.8 million to its funding.

When it came time to make it into an app, the creators approached us to turn their hit card game into an interactive, screw-your-friends-over party experience with new cards, sounds, and features. Because Exploding Kittens was so immensely popular already, we knew we had to make the app version extraordinary to please its creators and its fans. And we had to make it available for both iOS and Android.

From cards to app

Taking the lead, the Substantial team built concepts and presented to the Exploding Kittens crew for feedback. Part of our strategy was to simultaneously create the interface and build a prototype in Unity3d, playing and testing as we went along.

Some of the cards and rules of the game just didn’t fit in a digital space. We constantly challenged ourselves to create solutions that would improve upon the existing game. This led us to create a few workarounds and new cards that worked in the app.

These rapid iterations, hundreds of hours of play testing, and constant feedback sessions all tackled the complex challenge of creating the local, peer-to-peer party game that marked the initial release. Later updates expanded the app to include cross-platform online play, mini-messaging via emotes, and new content and game play modes via in-app purchases.

Substantial’s team of three developers and one designer transformed the card game to app in a year. In the end, the app wasn’t a replica of the card game, but a different version so successful that the gamemakers turned our digital cards into our cards to expansion packs for the physical game.

It’s a hit!

Upon release, the app quickly received a frenzy of media coverage. Leading tech sites, like Fast Company’s Co.Design, TechCrunch, Polygon, and VentureBeat, interviewed our product team and ran features on the project and our approach to translating this awesome card game to your phone.

“The App Store version of Exploding Kittens isn’t just a port. It’s a whole new experience,” wrote Fast Company Co.Design.

Exploding Kittens also became the top paid app in the App Store and Google Play Store within hours of launching. It was also a hit with Exploding Kittens fans looking for an online experience.

“Great original game with a fantastic translation into a mobile app,” wrote one player, Jannik, in December 2018 on Google Play. “Cute game with very funny cartoon design. It’s a lot of fun to play and definitely worth the price!”

Exploding Kittens remains one of the most popular gaming apps of all time, featured dozens of times by the App Store. Two years after launch, it still ranks among the top three card games on iOS, and is in the top 50 paid apps in the store. With a 4.7 rating and 4,200 reviews on the App Store, and also a 4.7 with over 32,000 reviews on Google Play, the Exploding Kittens app is a great example of how a card game can translate to the digital world.


Do you need a partner who can provide end-to-end digital products that make a lasting impact? See what we can do for you. Find us at substantial.com or reach out directly at newbusiness@substantial.com