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Behind the App: Is there a “Secret Recipe” for Orchestrating an App’s Success?

| September 15, 2014

I’m pretty sure you all played or at least heard about Fun Run, the app which ranked No. 1 in the US App Store just a couple months after launch. We sat down with Aurora Klæboe Berg, the VP of Business and Marketing at Dirtybit Games, to learn how they orchestrated Fun Run’s success and about their plans for the future.

Dirtybit is known as the creator of the awesome game Fun Run, which topped the App Store with $0 marketing budget three months after its launch. Is there a “secret recipe” to achieving this?

It’s really hard to say that this is the secret recipe; I can only say what worked for us. There was no marketing campaign other than the social media initiatives. There were no articles, and nothing that could amount to anything when the app launched.

We started a Twitter campaign during the beginning of finals week for US high school students. In this period there is one thing you don’t want to do, and that is to study. So you are looking into ways to excuse yourself. It’s the best time to find a way to procrastinate and try not to feel guilty about it. With that, in addition to being either fun, engaging, and/or very frustrated, people started to share Fun Run, saying things like: “Who’s down for some Fun Run?” or “Oh! I beat you guys,” which altogether created a great opportunity for the word-of-mouth effect.

We sort of got to that momentum because the game was different – people would tell their friends about it, and we would get a few downloads, and that’s just because it was a different gaming experience that you could enjoy with your friends. And then, to maximize that momentum we had the Twitter campaign work, because enough people knew about it, so they would tweet about this contest, and there would be enough tweets in the right circle of people, which triggered action. People felt the need to try it out after hearing about it from so many people.

We announced the Twitter campaign within the app – we have a “Tips” section. People would see that, and we would write: “Tweet about #funrun for a chance to win 10 000 coins!”

You now have this game, which already has over 40 million downloads, have you been ranking high in the App Stores?

We hit the No. 1 spot in the US App Store in December 2012. And then again last fall we started to see rapid growth in Fun Run. There were a lot of new American users, so we actually got to no. 70 in the US App Store. That was happening a year after [reaching the #1 spot], because everyone was saying things like, “Hey! Remember that awesome game we played last year for finals? Let’s see what that’s up to now!” And “Wow! Look at all this awesome stuff they’ve added! Let’s play it again,” or “Bring Fun Run back.” So Fun Run went viral again. [Just a side note: there are 1.2 million apps in the App Store and 18% of them are games]. In total we’ve ranked #1 in the App Store in 10 countries and were also on the “Best of 2013” list by Apple in the same 10 countries.

What do you do to continue and maintain the success of Fun Run?

What we do is to continue to add new content and features to update the game. We had a big update in December of 2013; which we called Fun Run version 2.0. We added a winter theme, a new ranking system, and other stuff, and we are in a continuous process of deciding what should be included in Fun Run, because, of course, we have lots of requests about new content to add to the game.

When Fun Run became super-popular, people thought that it would fade after a while, but it didn’t – it is still growing – and that’s what is so great about it. In September, it will be two years old, and the lifespan of a regular mobile game isn’t usually that long. In addition to that, we know the success of Fun Run won’t last forever, so we need to diversify our portfolio and create great new games. We’ve been learning a lot from Fun Run, and we thought about what type of games we should create next. Many startups make the mistake of losing their focus and forgetting to continue what they know and what they are good at. And we are good at the real-time multiplayer gaming experience. This is the essence of Fun Run.

How about creating “Fun Run 2”?

We looked at everything people were requesting for Fun Run and saw a lot of big features that we didn’t think fitted in the core game of Fun Run. So we created a new game with a new universe, a different game with different game mechanics and different game modes. It’s more focused around progression. Here, you are progressing through a world where you can collect new Dinos by competing in elimination mode – we call it Egg Hunt – where only the one lasting until the end wins the race. That’s really fun. Also, to unlock the next zone, which brings new game mechanics, you have to compete in a Boss Fight.

Dino Dash is not Fun Run 2: it is a new game with a new universe and new gameplay that you can enjoy with friends.

I assume that you have learned a lot from your experience with Fun Run and incorporated feedback from your user base while developing Dino Dash.

Yeah, we talked with a few of the most active Fun Run users, and had them tested early and got their feedback. We’ve improved and continued.

A couple things we have done with Dino Dash to replicate success: we went for the name Dino Dash. It starts with the same letters, it’s easy to remember, it’s short to write, and it’s catchy. We have tried to create a fun, engaging, but also frustrating gaming experience, and we established it on all social media channels, as well. So when we are ready, we will push for momentum.

In addition to that, we have a pretty loyal user base for Fun Run, and our users are pretty active on social media. So we tried to engage with them and work closely with them, and have them tested and give us feedback.

That’s cool. You are doing some amazing things.

We are trying our best and but we’ve made some mistakes along the road. There is one thing we think we are particularly good at: we evaluate what we do. We sit down and we discuss. Is this what we wanted to achieve? Is there something we could have done differently to achieve a better outcome?

You launched Fun Run in September, while Dino Dash was launched in the App Store in June. However, a major update was pushed out recently. What I’m seeing is the same launch date pattern, or at least similar. Is this a coincidence, or is it part of a carefully prepared marketing plan? Is the August-September timeframe the best for launching a new game?

Yeah, Fun Run spread through high schools, as I mentioned earlier, and now during the summer people are hopefully outside and playing in the sun – less inside and playing games. What we are doing now is continuing to work hard on improving the gaming experience. We’ll push for more users when school starts, and then again right before Christmas (when Fun Run did really well).

What about monetization? How did you manage to monetize this app and this huge user base, and what are your plans for further apps?

With Fun Run, we have in-app purchases that allow users to buy packages of coins that can be spent on customizing their avatar or buying new avatars. You are never forced to buy anything, and by buying something your outcome isn’t improved in any way. So it’s purely your decision as a user to spend money. Users make a decent amount of money from every race, and they can spend that on anything within the game. We have continued with the same approach in the new game, Dino Dash, but in addition there are other things you can buy. For instance, you can buy Coin Boosts and other items that will expire. You can play in Egg Hunt mode, but you have to pay for that; however, there is no pressure on you to play it; it’s all up to you, and it doesn’t make you better player or give you any advantage.

You had a very busy year: Dirtybit won One to Watch and Norwegian Startup of the Year by Nordic Startup Awards. What does this mean for the team?

Winning both awards was huge for us. It’s nice to be recognized for the hard work we put in to create both fun games and an amazing team culture. We also hope to motivate others to go the startup route. When the founders first told people that they were going to make games, no one believed that it could result in this. Now they’ve proven them wrong.

Tips for indie developers: What’s the recipe for a successful app launch?

You asked me what’s the recipe for a successful app, and what I can tell you is that there is no bulletproof recipe. If there was everyone would use it. I think the most important thing is to create something that is different, new, and unique, and most importantly you have to have fun while doing it. You have to create something you will like working with. We want to encourage other indie developers to create a lot of small prototypes that they can test on friends and family to be sure that it’s not just them who love it, but other people as well.

For us, it’s important to get the games out there fast so we can get real feedback and then continue working on them, just as we are doing now with Dino Dash. In the future we’ll have regular game jams so we always have awesome, cool new ideas in our backlog, something we can continue working on when the time is right.

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