A new smartphone game developed by two Britons, one an award-winning novelist, with funds raised by crowd-sourcing and no budget for marketing, has become the world's highest-grossing health and fitness app during its first fortnight of release, beating even such giants as Nike.
Released just weeks ago, Zombies, Run! describes itself as "an ultra-immersive running game for the iPhone, iPod Touch, and Android" with a narrative edge.
Instead of focusing on fitness, it casts the user as the struggling survivor of a zombie apocalypse. Players undertake sorties to gather supplies, with the drama playing out in fully scripted audio; success is measured in further segments of the unfolding story.
Sales are expected to top £100,000 ($194,000) soon, despite the full version costing more than £5, and media specialists say the game's success has many lessons for the industry.
The game is the brainchild of Adrian Hon, founder and head of London games studio Six to Start; and Naomi Alderman, Orange prize-winning novelist and game writer.
Alderman says their inspiration was a "learning how to run" course she took last year. "At the start of the course the instructors asked us why we wanted to learn to run. Most people talked about getting fitter, but one woman answered 'to escape the zombie horde'!"
The idea stuck and, when Hon told her about his ambition to develop a fitness app that "made the actual act of running itself fun", Zombies was born.
Crucially, the pair decided that rather than truing to raise funds from a conventional investor or games company, they would use the website Kickstarter to crowd source their budget. A three-minute video pitching the game was uploaded to the site last September and swiftly captured the internet's imagination. Pledged funding of US$73,000 ($89,000) from 3464 donors poured in - more than five times the initial target - as well as more than 30,000 "likes" on Facebook. They raised their money and ensured the project's viability.
The lesson seems to be: give people something fresh, gripping and alive to play to its audience's interests, and they'll not only pay a premium price, they'll pay up front for you to make it.
- ObserverBy Tom Chatfield