I’m here with Nicolaj Petersen, COO of Dirtybit, an indie mobile game development company based in Norway. Their game, Fun Run, got to the Top Grossing charts in the App Store and he’s here to tell us how they did it.
S: Who is Dirtybit?
N: We’re a team of 8, from Norway. Three years ago (one year before founding Dirtybit), I started as an iOS developer while I was still in school and taught myself Objective-C because I thought it was really exciting. My co-founder Erlend worked with Android development and we thought, “Hey! Why not work together to create some cross platform apps?” We thought games would be a good starting point and that’s how we started Dirtybit.
S: Was Fun Run the first game you created with Dirtybit?
N: No. Two years ago, we started off with a small physics puzzle game called Drop the Box. It was a good starting point and we learned a lot about developing games after going through the process of moving from idea to App Store release. We wanted to use this first experience to create even better games for the company.
S: So it was more of a learning experience than something you wanted to market?
N: After we released Drop The Box, we tested it on our friends and we didn’t get the same response as we later did with Fun Run. We did try to market it a little but we quickly understood that it wouldn’t take off. When Martin (CTO, co-founder) joined the team, we wanted to create something that we really wanted to play. Something really fun.
S: And then you created Fun Run! What was the idea behind it?
N: Yes, we looked back into our childhood and thought of things like MarioKart, where you have 4 friends playing together. We wanted to bring that competitive gameplay to mobile games. There weren’t that many synchronous games released at that time and we were one of the first ones released into the market. Our goal was to create something cross platform.
When you have a group of friends, not everyone has an iPhone or iPad. There’s a mix of operating systems and we wanted to create a game that everyone could play. We also wanted it be really accessible, so we used 2D graphics to really decrease loading times. We wanted users to be able to pick it up and play it immediately, whether they’re on the bus, waiting in line or taking a break at work, and just as easily finish the game and put it back in their pockets.
S: Fun Run has this weird, quirky element to it– It looks cute and it’s like Mario Kart… but with a bunch of blood and saws thrown in. You don’t see things like that on the App Store!
N: Our marketing strategy was to create these cute graphics, but with a surprise element that would help us get remembered. You enter the game and you expect it to be a cute game with cute creatures in the woods but there are a lot of surprises. It was inspired by Happy Tree Friends, a TV show from our childhood.
S: So the big question, how did Fun Run get to the top of the App Store charts?
N: [laughs] It’s an interesting story. We released Fun Run back in September last year and we had a couple thousand downloads everyday but it didn’t really take off because we didn’t do any marketing for the game.
In November, we had a small competition on Twitter where you could win a couple thousand points [to spend] in the game if you tweeted “#FunRun”. There was a sudden increase in downloads from that but what really helped us was when people started using #FunRun to recruit their friends and add existing users, saying things like “download #funrun, add me: <username>.” It all went viral from there and downloads have been increasing a lot everyday since then.
S: I also noticed that Fun Run has a different type of in-app purchase, how has that contributed to your success?
N: Our goal is to create a game we would want to play ourselves. We didn’t like the pay-to-win approach to in-app purchases. We wanted to make a game where every player is on the same level and will have the same opportunity to win, not a game where players with a lot of money will constantly win more.
S: Fun Run seems to be heavily based off your team’s idea of a “great game” and off things that users would want.
N: We looked at what we wanted in a game and applied that. We don’t like ads or games pushing us to buy content, or giving us a limited number of times to play, so there’s none of that in the game. We want to create a game that’s totally different that we’ll enjoy playing ourselves. We also took the feedback from Drop the Box and used that feedback to make Fun Run better. People liked being able to see where they ranked among friends and with the Top Players so we added a ranking system.
S: Did you spend any money on other distribution channels? Like, buying installs or impressions?
N: No, we didn’t do that and we didn’t have the money either. We think that games should be inherently good so that users would naturally want to recommend them and spread the game to their friends. That’s how it was with Fun Run and we want to continue creating games like that.
S: So, what’s next for Dirtybit?
N: We have more updates and features to add to Fun Run. We’re also currently in the brainstorming stage of our next game which we’re planning to release by the end of this year.
S: Awesome! Anything else you want to add?
N: We’ve been here for 3 weeks to learn about other startups to see how they grow and to see their experiments so we don’t go through the same pitfalls. We’re still a growing company and we have a lot to learn but we want to be the preferred game that users will want to play.