Subway Surfers Success Formula

In April 2022, Subway Surfers reached 2 billion unique downloads and became the most downloaded mobile game of all time (Data.ai).

How big is this?

You can think about it this way.

There are about 7.8 billion people on the planet right now. This means that, at some point, every fourth person on Earth has downloaded this game.

We know we have.

To make things even more fascinating, this 10-year-old mobile game doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. The game is topping the global charts, and living a second golden age of fame.

Subway Surfers success is no coincidence. SYBO Games and Kiloo have put in a lot of effort and resources to keep this game alive and thriving for such a long time.

Subway Surfers Success Statistics & Timeline

Before we get into how Subway Surfers became one of the most popular games in history, let us share just how successful it is.

Here are some of the game’s most notable achievements in history:

  • When the game was first released in May 2012, it hit a million downloads in just three days (Unity)
  • In March 2018, Subway Surfers became the first game that reached 1 billion downloads in the Google Play Store (Unity)

Now, let’s go over some of the most recent numbers that prove Subway Surfers success:

  • In February 2022, it was the most popular game in Google Play with 17,98 million downloads, followed by Merge Master – Dinosaur Fusion (Statista)
  • In May 2022, Subway Surfers was the most downloaded mobile game in the world with 30 million installs. This is an 86% increase from the same month the year before! (Sensor Tower)
  • In June 2022, the game generated about $ 700 thousand in worldwide revenues (Sensor Tower)
  • In June 2022, Subway Surfers held the # 1 place by daily active users (DAU) on Android, beating Clash of Clans and Candy Crush Saga (Statista)

What is the Secret Behind Subway Surfers Success?

The Subway Surfers success formula is not a simple one.

The game’s continuous growth is a result of a clever blend of different strategies. Over the years, developers have tested several approaches to increase the engagement and quality of the game. They’ve consolidated the best-performing ones while discarding the less effective approaches.

This process is still ongoing.

Let’s go over some of the main factors of the Subway Surfers success formula.

The Gameplay

Subway Surfers success gameplay

We assume a lot of you are already familiar with how this game works. If that’s the case, feel free to skip to the next part.

If you’re feeling a bit rusty, here’s a quick refresher.

The game’s protagonist (Jake) draws graffiti on a wall of a train station. A security officer spots this and starts an endless run on the railway. During the run, players control the character’s movement — left, right, up, and down. They need to be quick because the rail is filled with obstacles like moving trains, tunnel walls, poles, etc.

While on the run, players gain points, collect coins and other items. After the run, they can use the coins they collect to buy boosters, improve their characters and even buy new ones.

All to reach the final goal — beating their own high score.

Simple, yet fun experience.

This game was made after Temple Run, another hit endless runner with similar mechanics. Yet, over time, Temple Run became stale, while Subway Surfers remained relevant to this day.

Relatable Story

Without its story, Subway Surfers would be just another endless runner.

Subway Surfers pays homage to urban street culture and diversity. It also tackles a common youth activity — getting in trouble with authority.

As such, this game puts people into a rebellious state of mind. It offers them an escape from reality to the world where they can break the rules. This is especially exciting for kids who always crave more freedom. We call this escapism, and it’s one of the most common motivations for playing mobile games.

The game’s story is supported by a cartoonish art style. This colorful environment is important for escapism because it helps people relax and forget the outside world.

The Backstory Myth

subway surfers tragic story myth

There is a widespread tragic legend about this game’s creation.

The story says that the developer has made this game in memory of his son who passed away while skating down railway tracks.

Source?

Social media users.

When it first appeared, this story spread across social media like wildfire. Of course, it was completely fake. Since it got so much traction, the developers addressed the myth on Twitter by explaining why they created the game.

Even though this was just an invention, all publicity is considered good publicity. Therefore, we’re sure that this has brought additional attention to the game.

The Updates

You know how people say “nothing is ever really finished”?

Well, in mobile gaming, this saying cannot be more true.

Subway Surfers has set a standard for what mobile games can become if they are actively maintained.

This game’s wild popularity stems from recurring and thoughtful updates. This was something that was planned from the very beginning — the game was developed with frequent updates in mind.

World Tour

Subway Surfers success world tour
Source: Kiloo Games YouTube channel

You might have heard that Subway Surfers is on an ongoing World Tour. This is the game’s most famous update. Every three weeks, the developers update the setting of the game in a brand new city.

The World Tour started in 2013 when developers updated the game with a New York setting. Next thing they knew — players were getting curious about which city will be next. Some even started sending emails asking the developers to visit their towns.

Nine years later, it’s still up and going.

In fact, over the years, this idea has been adopted by numerous games from different studios. It has become known as one of the best strategies to attract, engage and retain players.

Here’s how the World Tour works.

Even though World Tour destinations change, the core always remains the same. With each new update, the developers just copy the game’s main mechanics to a fresh international setting. These settings are rooted in actual cultures, and players find this exciting.

What are the main advantages of this approach?

One of the strongest points of this formula is its pattern essence. By addressing a simple but universal theme such as world locations, the developers ensured content for hundreds, if not thousands of graphical updates

Finally, each of these destinations is someone’s home. Wouldn’t you be proud to see a homage to your city in a mobile game?

We were certainly proud to see Venice featured back in 2016.

Innovative Social Strategies

The World Tour is not only a great in-game concept but also effective social media material.

For example, on the game’s Facebook page, players can guess what the next World Tour destination will be. Also, when the next destination is uncovered, the company posts an official trailer set in the next environment, like the one for Iceland.

SYBO TV

Subway Surfers sybo tv
Source: Sybo TV YouTube channel

Sybo puts in some serious effort to keep its community happy and engaged. For this reason, they’ve created SYBO TV.

This YouTube channel features game live streams, sneak peeks, videos from influencers and content creators, trailers, etc.

In other words, there is a lot of content for players to explore.

For example, we can see content creators playing different challenges like “the floor is lava” and “no coin challenge”. This kind of content resonates with the younger audience because it resembles TikTok content.

“Super Runner” Event

super runners
Source: Kiloo Games YouTube channel

In May 2022, the game celebrated its 10th anniversary.

For this occasion, SYBO went big on social media.

They’ve created a social media competition for its multimillion playerbase. The winner of this competition was crowned “Super Runner” and became immortalized as one of the game’s characters.

To join the contest, players needed to go on their favorite social media channel, and use the competition’s hashtags. To get picked out by the jury, players needed to tell SYBO what makes them a “Super Runner”.

They could do this through image, video, or text, and via three channels — TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter.

This was a clever move. The thing is, each one of these social media networks attracts a different audience. Plus, on every platform, they express themselves in different formats.

Thanks to all this, Subway Surfers successfully gained new players and re-engaged the “old” ones.

Top-Notch Monetization

Games with poor monetization may attract players, but soon enough — they’ll chase them away.

Obviously, Subway Surfers is not one of those games. Without proper monetization, this game would never be able to achieve such longevity.

Here’s a short overview of the game’s monetization strategy.

In-App Purchases

in-app purchases in subway surfers

Just like most casual games, Subway Surfers offers in-app purchases. Yet, unlike many of them, most players don’t consider it pay-to-win.

Why is that?

It’s quite straightforward — even though the game features in-app purchases, they don’t feel mandatory for players to buy.

Players can pay to get upgrades, boosters, characters, or something else. These offerings are available in the game’s store and as time-limited offers. By buying them, players can progress faster or customize the game to their liking.

Yet, in Subway Surfers, skill beats any microtransaction.

As long as players are skilled, they can progress through this game without spending a single penny.

In-App Ads

Subway Surfers success in-game ads

Subway Surfers is one of many games that embraced hybrid monetization — a mix of ads and IAPs.

According to Unity, every month, Subway Surfers serves over a billion ad impressions. Nevertheless, you won’t see a lot of bad reviews about ads in this game in the app stores.

The game displays two types of ads: rewarded video and interstitial ads.

The majority of ads in the game are different types of rewarded video ads. Some of them are:

  • End-of-game multipliers
  • Booster ads
  • Second chance ads

These ads usually pop up between runs, when players need them most. However, if players explore the game, they will find more of them.

On the other hand, interstitial ads don’t appear very often. Players can only see them if they are exploring the shop, their profile, and other options.

High Retention Rates

Subway Surfers is widely known for its best-in-class retention.

Attracting players is important, but it’s only half of the job. Retaining them is the next big challenge.

In order to retain your users, you need to know who they are. Not by their name or looks, but by their shared characteristics. You need to know which types of players play your game, and how much they are worth to you.

Understanding the Game’s Player Types

According to GameRefinery, there are eight player archetypes that appear in mobile games.

In Subway Surfers, we were able to identify the three most common types of players:

  1. Skill Masters
  2. Thrill Seekers
  3. Kings of the Hill

Skill Masters are players that are always looking for ways to improve. They enjoy challenges and obstacles because they help them sharpen their skills. Since Subway Surfers is all about beating your own high score, these players have a lot to enjoy.

Thrill Seekers are driven by excitement and tension. They prefer games where everything happens quickly, without much thought and strategizing. The tracks in Subway Surfers are filled with obstacles so every move matters. For this reason, the adrenaline rush is guaranteed.

Just like the name suggests, Kings of the Hill want to reach the top of the hill. In other words, these players enjoy competing with other players — whether it’s their friends or random players. To be able to retain these players, Subway Surfers provides plenty of competitive features.

Retention Strategies

Subway Surfers Retention Strategies

Okay, now you have an idea of which types of players Subway Surfers attracts and needs to retain.

This leads us straight to our next point.

A retention strategy that works for one type of player may not work for the others. For this reason, you need to approach different types of players differently.

Some of the main retention strategies used in Subway Surfers are:

  • Leaderboards
  • Tournaments
  • Missions
  • Achievements
  • Customization
  • Events
  • Surprise rewards

Most of these strategies are created with a certain type of player in mind.

For example, leaderboards and tournaments are ideal for Kings of the Hill. Skill Masters can get the recognition they crave through achievements and mission completion. On the other hand, surprise rewards on the track should be exciting enough to help retain the Thrill Seekers.

Finally, basic retention strategies like events can work for all sorts of players. We call these true-and-tried retention strategies. For this reason, almost every casual game uses them.

Wrapping up on Subway Surfers Success

That’s it — you’ve reached the very end of our Subway Surfers success analysis.

As you can see, Subway Surfers is not just a game. Over time, this game became a viral phenomenon. Hopefully, this article helped you understand how this happened, and why it’s still happening.

Want to read more in-depth game analyses like this one of Subway Surfers success? Well, then make sure to follow us, because we have much more to share!

Keep your mobile marketing and gaming knowledge on top

Subscribe to our Insighter Mailing List and never lose an article!

Subscribe

* indicates required