The Fun Run Formula
How we topped the US App Store charts twice with $0 marketing budget
This is the story about how a small indie team from Norway managed to go head to head with the big gaming studios for the top positions on the US Apple App Store charts, without marketing budgets. In this blog post, we will share all the steps we took to get there. Twice. We call this the Fun Run Formula.
Tips and tricks that indie developers should follow in order to build and market their games can be found everywhere — but surprisingly few of them can be checked off if I review our Fun Run marketing strategy. Apart from the concept (real-time multiplayer game with the shock effect of killing cute forest animals), there was no reason, in terms of the normal do’s, for Fun Run to amass a user base of over 50 million:
- Inviting friends into the game is difficult (no Facebook friends integration)
- The game offers no direct link to social media platforms
- Visuals clearly scream student/indie project
- Does not make use of push notifications
- The game was not marketed, we did not spend anything on paid user acquisition, nor was it featured or published
- We had no analytics infrastructure
First of all, it is important to appreciate the uniqueness of the game itself: Fun Run is a real-time multiplayer mobile racing game for smartphones and tablets. You can be anywhere in the world and play up to four players simultaneously. Play with friends or get matched with random players from around the world!
There were no big synchronous multiplayer games out on the mobile market when Fun Run launched. Fun Run was created when the Dirtybit founders tried to reinvent their fun childhood memories when playing Mario Kart together with their friends, combined with inspiration from Happy Three Friends and Sonic. Fun Run introduced both a different type of gameplay and a new technology for the mobile market. Fun Run was launched September 5th, 2012 and reached #1 on the Apple App Store three months later. Below is the launch trailer.
The game design is focused on simplicity: You only need two clicks to start a game. In order to make it easy for the user to make a decision, we limited the amount of information and number of buttons on the home screen.
It is important to choose a catchy name when creating a new game. Try to choose a relatively short name based on words that e.g. rhyme, form an alliteration or start with the same letters. Fun Run is both short, catchy and rhymes. There were other apps titled Fun Run at the time of launch, but none with an intimidating user base.
Social Media Channels
Early on, we created both a Twitter account and a Facebook page for Fun Run. We communicated all of our updates to our players using these channels from the very beginning. We also used them to remind fans to play the game and run contests. We believe that this was essential for growing the user base. It is also easier for players to reach out through social media when they have an issue.
There is a tip section within the game which we use to communicate with our players— as shown in the picture below.
November 25th — we started our Twitter campaign, where we asked our players to “Tweet about #funrun for a chance to win 10 000 coins!” This Twitter campaign was the true beginning for Fun Run’s viral growth. The competition resulted in 2x many downloads that day, and since it was hard to add new friends within the game, players started to recruit their friends using #funrun on social media platforms.
Eventually #funrun trended worldwide on Twitter!
We have tried utilized the effect of word of mouth by creating a gaming experience that is both shocking and engaging. People can be more likely to share something and create a word of mouth effect when they are either very excited or angry. Fun Run creates a feeling of both, as one user expressed in this tweet:
Most of our players prefer to enjoy a game of Fun Run with their friends. They scream and shout out loud when they win or lose. When players scream and shout out loud i.e. at school, they create a curious audience, which wants to try the game as well. Like in these videos which we have found on Vine.
Our recommendation is therefore to make your game public/visible to others. Create a game that your players can sell for you. Make your players recruit their friends in a non-intrusive way. We all know that we are more likely to adapt to what our friends praise than what an advertisement promotes.
A lot of experts are talking about timing. The strategy of launching the Twitter campaign and updates around high school exams and Christmas has been important to the viral growth that we experienced with Fun Run. Without the critical mass of about 7000 new downloads a day at the time of the Twitter campaign, it would probably not have had the same effect.
US High School Exams
US High Schools had their exams around the same time as we started to see significant growth in downloads. This was the perfect time to distract them. Who does not resonate with the urge to procrastinate when you are supposed to study? Tweets and Instagram photos, like expressed in the Instagram photo below, started to spread like wildfire.
Many people get a new device for Christmas and are likely to fill it with whichever apps are top ranking at the time. Due to this, Christmas is a particularly good time to rank high on the charts. It is also common to see downloads spike over the holidays.
Maintaining momentum after reaching the top
After reaching the top position, we did mainly three things to keep the momentum and community interested between the launch of Fun Run and Fun Run 2:
Even now, almost 3 years later, we are trying to add new content, features and bug fixes on 3–5-week cycles. The user gets reminders whenever there is a new update through social media, which increase retention.
Secondly, we incentivized players spending a lot of time in the game to play even more by introducing two new characters that are only possible to win, and that are not available to buy in-game. This was the Golden Fox and the Diamond Doe. We first gave the Golden Fox to our top player Millwall in 2013, who was originally retiring from the game after becoming the first player to reach the score of 300,000. As shown in the screenshot below, every player can see what the top player looks like through the Ranking list. Players started to tweet about the #GoldenFox, trying to figure out how to get it.
We eventually started having “#GoldenFox weeks” where players can participate in different types of week-long contests in order to win it. We now we do about 5 #GoldenFox weeks a year.
In addition to #GoldenFox weeks, we added a weekly tournament feature to the game in which the best player of the week would be awarded the Golden Fox. Today there are about 200 Golden Foxes in our community, and it is still in surprisingly high demand.
We introduced #DiamondDoe a year later in the fall of 2014 in order to give another goal to highly engaged players who already had the #GoldenFox.
New timing — The cycle
Fun Run had momentum in the US from November 2012 through March 2013. In October 2013, Fun Run started to climb up the chart again, as people were “Bringing back” Fun Run on twitter. Like expressed by a user in the tweet below. We managed to peak organically at #70. The momentum lasted from October 2013 through March 2014.
In June 2014, we launched a game called Dino Dash. An important thing to note is that it did not follow the formula, and nor did it meet our traction goals. Expecting the Fun Run trend to re-emerge in October 2014, we decided to create Fun Run 2 in September 2014. It needed to launch before Christmas to hit the same momentum as Fun Run had.
Fun Run 2 — Multiplayer Race
We worked really hard, and by combining the knowledge from the Dino Dash failure with the Fun Run formula, we managed to launch Fun Run 2 December 4th, 2014. We had planned out a lot of different marketing activities for the launch, but luckily enough, all we had time to do was turn on Cross Promotion in Fun Run.
Suddenly Twitter was flooded with tweets about Fun Run 2, and we did not have time to do the other initiatives planned. We had to monitor the servers and be “all hands on deck” for support. Within the first 24 hours, we saw many tweets like expressed by the players below, and was featured in Venture Beat. We climbed up to #2 on the US Apple App Store ranking lists, all without paid user acquisition and US Apple App Store featuring! We kept the #2 position for 12 days. “Fun Run 2” also trended world wide on Twitter for the following week.
Today, Fun Run 2 has passed 15 million downloads, which gives us a total of 65 million downloads across both games. We update Fun Run 2 on a 3–4-week cycle, and recently added league system as a feature to give players more long-term goals within the game.
Here is what worked for us. Hopefully some of these tips can be helpful for you as well:
- Try to create something unique to stand out in the crowd
- Have simple and intuitive interface
- Choose a name that is intuitive and easy to communicate.
- Create social media channels.
- Teach your players how to best communicate your brand: #funrun.
- Find a way to enable the word of mouth effect.
- Find the right time to distract your target user base.
- Have regular updates to keep engagement high.
- Introduce scarce content for highly engaged players.
A version of this blog post originally appeared as a guest post at Mobile Dev Memo December 2013. This blog post is based on part of a presentation we gave at Casual Connect in Amsterdam earlier this year:
And if you are already hooked on Fun Run, you might appreciate this video:
Or if you have never heard of it, but hopefully eager to try, these are the download links:
Have a Fun (Run) day!