Mobile Mavens

Can Subway Surfers' 1 billion downloads ever be repeated?

Mobile Mavens celebrate success

Can Subway Surfers' 1 billion downloads ever be repeated?

Recently, the industry celebrated the success of Danish developers Kiloo and Sybo Games who announced Subway Surfers has racked up 1 billion downloads

Released in 2012, it was perfect timing in terms of riding the massive global growth of smartphones.

But taking a contrarian approach, as the market has matured, the question we put to our Mobile Mavens was:

  • Do you think gaining this sort of mass appeal is something developers can still aim for?

Or were the games to hit high download numbers - Candy Crush, Cut the Rope, Fruit Ninja, Temple Run etc - products of the 2012-2014 mobile install base explosion and hence not something to be repeated in the coming years?


Dmitry Terekhin CEO Nekki

In 2002 Dmitry Terekhin founded Moscow-based Nekki with a focus on creating original, quality gaming content for mobile and social platforms.

The company has released the popular games Shadow Fight, Shadow Fight 2, Vector, and others, earning more than 160 million installs to date.

Dmitry graduated from the Moscow Engineering and Physics Institute with a degree in mathematics and systematic programming, and received his MBA from the Skolkovo School of Management in 2014.

One billion downloads is a great achievement, but I believe it will be repeated and surpassed many times in the future.

From our experience, the main reason for such growth is the young age of the audience (Subway Surfers targets younger gamers).

The audience of this age range is very huge and highly connected. People share the game through word of mouth in schools and this causes a big burst in downloads.

We see a similar effect with our games Vector and Shadow Fight 2.

The main reason for such growth is the young age of the audience.
Dmitry Terekhin

Our user base already is already larger than 250 million users and we achieved this without any paid user acquisition - just through virality. Even 1.5 years after the initial launch we see a very high number of daily downloads.

Just a few days ago after the latest Shadow Fight 2 update, we reached a peak of 650,000 daily new installs. But compared to games such as Subway Surfers or Temple Run, we are more midcore. They are casual, so their audience is much bigger.

But on the other hand, please don't forget that the other side of such a big popularity is the low monetization. Hardcore games with older players generate more revenue than casual games with children playing them.

Phil Larsen MD Prettygreat

I absolutely think mass appeal and install explosions are still possible, and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future.

That's just always possible when billions of players are still ready to check out the hottest new game.

Kiloo is unquestionably one of the hardest working developers.
Phil Larsen

While I never personally perceived Subway Surfers as one of the "household" names in mobile like all the aforementioned games are (though maybe I should have!).

Kiloo is unquestionably one of the hardest working developers out there and their one billion is a direct result of that.

Their commitment to support proves you don't need a single Flappy Bird-style explosion to make a product that goes down in history. Both approaches can result in success, but Kiloo wasn't hoping for one or the other.

They just made it happen. Those are the kinds of developers who can definitely get the next billion!

Oscar Clark Chief Strategy Officer Fundamentally Games

Oscar Clark has been a pioneer in online, mobile, and console social games services since 1998. He is also author of the book, Games As A Service – How Free To Play Design Can Make Better Games.

This is a fabulous achievement for those teams and I am so taken aback by how far they have come.

The introduction of new locations and events was a key aspect to sustaining retention.
Oscar Clark

It's a testament not just to a great game but also a smart team managing and sustaining an ongoing experience for their players.

The introduction of new locations and events was a key aspect to sustaining retention. And I remember Simon Moller shouting about how they had become the 4th (I think) most downloaded game over last Xmas and that was at least 2 years after the initial release.

Sure it's possible to do this again, but it's a huge challenge and more like winning the lottery (except the ticket price is an astounding disruptive mass appeal game)

Congratz to those teams and may they continue to be downloaded.

Ricardo Flores Executive Producer/Co-Founder B5 Studios

Sports and Action Sports games related with Brands have been his mantra, having worked at Biodroid for 7 years he had the opportunity to develop Skate, BMX, Surf, Olympics and football games.

Early in 2015, he started his own Studio, B5 Studios, a real mix approach to game dev from truly indie games to physical/hardware interaction experiences that combine mobile with external interfaces because games are made to make people happy.

I do think that massive install numbers are still possible in the future - players are there and there's definitely an opportunity for newcomers.

As mentioned in the question, big numbers are coming from 2012 games era, new hits have appeared since and the question should be what's a hit by today's standards ? Downloads, Audience or grossing numbers?

The market matured, it's more difficult to put your game in the top charts and even more tricky to keep it there. You have to plan your live operations for more than a year keeping your eye on daily active users.

The Subway team is a great example of a company that invested and re-invested on the product.
Ricardo Flores

Besides your effort as a developer also goes to the branding side, how do you keep yourself relevant to current and new players?

It's a game, it's mobile, mobile players consume much less media that PC or console ones. Social is important but not everything; it's players and players are people that only play because they have fun and can share that fun with others.

The Subway team is a great example of a company that invested and re-invested on the product. If you still remember the first version of the game, many of the engagement mechanics were not there, they evolved with the game.

The team pushed and pushed on every version; they understood their players and gave them not just what they wanted but also what they may have wanted.

So, yes there's still hope for new titles. Now that some have succeed, you can look back and understand why they did. But don't count on a formula.

William D. Volk Chief Futurist Forward Reality

This is a testimony to just how far mobile gaming has come in the last decade as well as a great fun game with excellent support.

What was a little side pocket of gaming is now the largest market in terms of the number of players.

I wonder if Shigeru Miyamoto will take up the challenge here and bring his magic to mobile now?

Vladimir Funtikov Co-Founder Creative Mobile

I don't see any fundamental reasons why it can't happen in the future - humanity is getting more connected, more digital-social, it's easier for viral content to spread.

People are playful by nature, and nothing can change that. There's some space for growth before all markets get saturated too.

We're still getting as many organic downloads as in 2012.

I don't see anything standing in the way of new billion player games, except a seriously disruptive event (e.g. destruction of the planet by alien species).

Kevin Corti Principal Spidershed Media

I love that we're all throwing the phrase "1 billion users" around like in an Austin Powers movie. I can just hear Oscar saying it in a Dr. Evil accent :)

Every influential vector is going in the right direction.
Kevin Corti

Is it possible again? Absolutely.

Sure, it is harder to sustain app store chart positions but every influential vector is going in the right direction including mobile device growth, device affordability, compute power, internet connectivity and bandwidth, attitudinal change and acceptance of mobile purchases.

Companies in the space have worked out what they need to do to run a game as a service. They understand live ops. They have worked out how to use paid UA, how to leverage virality and how to foster organic growth. Most of all they understand the audience needs and how to meet them.

1 billion downloads!

I just think this industry deserves a massive pat on the back for achieving something as amazeballs as to get a billion people to engage with a single product.

Screw you TV, cinema and music!

Christopher Kassulke CEO HandyGames

First of all big congrats!

Are one billion downloads possible in the future?

Damn question - yes!

But you said it already - titles that are older are achieving that milestone.

Quite simply you don’t do a billion downloads overnight. It takes time to reach that audience and a strong commitment from the developer to keep a title alive and reinvest into it. We will see many more titles reaching that milestone in the coming months and years.

The hardest challenge for everyone is can they do another 1 billion download game?

Contributing Editor

A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon is Contributing Editor at which means he acts like a slightly confused uncle who's forgotten where he's left his glasses. As well as letters and cameras, he likes imaginary numbers and legumes.