But what’s the secret sauce behind this phenomenal success? And more importantly, how can you, as a mobile game developer or publisher, decipher its code to propel your own game to such heights?
Here’s everything you need to know.
Subway Surfers: Endlessly Fun
Subway Surfers was released in 2012, co-developed by SYBO and Kiloo, although SYBO has since taken over full operations and publishing. The game’s widespread success has now lasted for more than a decade, still boasting over 20 million daily active users (DAU) and 150 million monthly active users (MAU) on average.
It belongs to the arcade genre and endless runner subgenre. In fact, it’s one of the classic representations of this subgenre, along with other hit titles like Temple Run. Learn more about the differences between the two games in my Temple Run 2 analysis.
Subway Surfers’ tremendous success additionally stands out in terms of key metrics like downloads, so much so it broke several records.
Check out these stats:
- Subway Surfers was the most downloaded game of 2022, and the past decade.
- It has more than 4 billion lifetime downloads.
- It was the first game to reach 1 billion downloads on Android.
This is what makes Subway Surfers one of the most successful mobile games of all time.
We’ve talked with Sybo’s CMO Philip Hickey about Subway Surfer’s record-breaking success. He expressed that “2022 was a remarkable year for Subway Surfers, a year I like to call the ‘perfect storm’. We witnessed growth not just in the game’s metrics, but also in our social reach, fan base, and team. The real pride comes from sustaining this momentum well into 2023, a true testament to our dedicated team’s efforts.”
It is without a doubt that the past couple of years were triumphant for Sybo. Now, let’s analyze why players like it that much.
What Makes Subway Surfers’ Gameplay So Enjoyable?
To find out why Subway Surfers is so popular among mobile gamers, we need to examine its gameplay, game mechanics, and features.
Highly-Engaging Core Gameplay
At the core of Subway Surfers is simple, yet highly-engaging arcade gameplay.
The main goal of the game is to keep running on an endless path for as long as possible, get away from the guard, and reach the highest score. To achieve that, players run along subway tracks, collect coins and power-ups, and dodge obstacles.
Like most endless runner games, Subway Surfers features a third-person view.
Subway Surfers features simple and intuitive controls one would expect from a casual arcade game. The swiping mechanics allow players to turn left, right, duck, and jump.
Additionally, tapping is used to activate the hoverboard (protects from crashing for 30 seconds) or power-ups (give special abilities).
That makes the game accessible to all types of players. Subway Surfers perfected the endless runner category with satisfyingly smooth controls, intense action, immersive environments, and beautifully animated characters.
Unlike previous endless runner games, the path in Subway Surfers is straight and there are three tracks players need to move between, which significantly simplifies gameplay.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not challenging.
Subway Surfers is a good example of a game that’s easy to play, but difficult to master. As you play, it gets faster, which makes it more challenging. That, in turn, motivates players to keep playing and beat their high scores.
Power-Ups and Boosters
To achieve the goal of increasing their score in runs, players can use various power-ups and boosters. For example, the coin magnet attracts coins from all tracks, while the jetpack lets players fly through the sky.
Players can pick up these power-ups during runs. Some of them are purchasable in the game’s store. Upgrades permanently increase the duration of power-ups – players can purchase them with coins or get them for free by watching an ad.
That makes power-ups essential for the game’s monetization strategy, but more on that later on.
If Subway Surfers was just about running along tracks and the only goal was to beat your high score, it would get boring after constant repetition. No matter how fun and addicting the core gameplay is, players need new challenges as well as short-term and long-term goals to continue playing.
To achieve that, Subway Surfers features many progression systems that drive engagement and keep players busy. The main ones are based on completing various tasks and challenges.
Primarily there are missions, quests, and achievements. Each offers challenges of varying difficulty and different rewards. That way, there’s always something to do and players get rewarded often, which leads to a more enjoyable experience.
Missions are fun challenges players need to finish to increase score multipliers. For example, collect a certain amount of coins or use a certain amount of hoverboards. Each mission has three tasks and completing them gets players a point multiplier.
Quests are divided into two parts – daily and seasonal quests. The former provides players with short-term goals, while the latter requires more time and work to complete.
Some examples of quests are to spend 3 keys, claim 2 daily gifts, or win a gold medal.
But quests are not available right away – players need to reach a score multiplier 4 to unlock. It’s a great example of gradually introducing and unlocking additional features and progression systems. That way, players are not overwhelmed and have the chance of getting familiar with each game mechanic.
There are also various achievements players can work towards. They represent long-term goals, as they’re not as easy to achieve as missions and quests. However, the reward is also greater – players get keys, which are the game’s premium currency.
Subway Surfers incorporates social features to enhance player engagement and retention. These features include leaderboards, weekly challenges, AR content creation tools, social sharing, friend interaction, and events/tournaments.
- Leaderboards display the highest scores achieved by players, fostering competition and a sense of accomplishment.
- Weekly challenges provide objectives within a specific timeframe, offer rewards, and motivate players to return regularly.
- AR content creation tools are a new addition to the game, with the recent launch of Subway Studio in June 2023. The feature allows players to create photo and video content with the Subway Surfers crew in their real-world environments and share across social media.
- Social sharing enables players to showcase achievements and compete with friends on social media platforms. To incentivize players to connect their Facebook, the game rewards players.
- Friend interaction allows players to connect, compare scores, challenge each other, and exchange in-game gifts.
- Events and tournaments with limited-time rewards create excitement and encourage regular play.
Subway Surfers Characters
More and more casual games have started utilizing character collection. It’s a huge trend among games of all genres, even though it was traditionally utilized by core games.
In most games, it’s incorporated as a meta-layer and doesn’t affect core gameplay, but rather adds another layer of content.
Subway Surfers has been one of the early adopters of this trend. So much so that game characters are one of the most popular and recognizable aspects of this game.
In 2012, Subway Surfers started off with only 17 characters. Do you know how many Subway Surfer characters are there now?
More than 160 characters!
All of these characters are playable and have different outfits, but collecting all of them is not an easy task. While some are available all the time, many of them are limited characters, meaning players have a limited time to buy them.
Players can buy characters with coins, event coins, character tokens, and keys.
But why would players invest so much time, and oftentimes real money, to collect virtual mobile game characters? It’s not like these characters give them a significant advantage in the game, so what is it then?
Why do People Collect Things?
According to the Journal of Consumer Marketing, as much as 40% of households in the US engage in collecting behaviors. Oftentimes, the items people collect are not even physical, so it’s not always about acquiring material possessions.
Collecting is more of an intellectual and emotional process. Different people have different motivations for it – some people signal their wealth and power, while others have a sentimental attachment to objects. Whatever it may be, it gives people joy and satisfaction to own these things – they feel excited about it.
The motivations behind it are the same as for any type of collecting, including items like characters or skins in a mobile game.
Some players like to show off to other players. Others derive satisfaction from owning exclusive characters and completing their collections. Many of them develop emotional attachments to characters because each of them has a unique personality and style.
For some players, it’s about representing their unique personalities and interests through the characters and outfits they collect. This is one of the reasons why characters in this game are so diverse.
According to Philip Hickey, Sybo’s CMO, “Character collection is a key driver of player engagement and retention. Depending on the update’s location, players can unlock and collect new characters, which fosters a deeper connection and encourages continued play. Of course, different players are motivated by various aspects like progression and mastery, but character collection remains a significant factor.”
Diversity and Inclusivity
Subway Surfers demonstrates a commitment to character diversity and inclusivity. It features a diverse cast of playable characters from various cultural backgrounds, representing different ethnicities, nationalities, and even fictional personas.
This diverse representation contributes to a more inclusive gaming experience and promotes a sense of relatability and representation for players from various backgrounds.
Furthermore, Subway Surfers often releases special editions and updates tied to
real-world events and locations. These updates incorporate characters specific to those regions, celebrating the cultural diversity of different cities and countries.
By doing so, the game embraces a global audience and highlights the richness and variety of cultures worldwide. It also keeps game content fresh and exciting, which helps developers avoid low engagement and churn.
Sybo’s CMO Philip Hickey confirms that diversity and inclusivity are core values at Sybo – “Embracing diversity is a cornerstone of our company’s values. We’re committed to celebrating and representing people from all walks of life, both within our team and among our fan base. This commitment extends to Subway Surfers, where we strive to represent a diverse range of characters to promote global understanding and respect.”
Subway Surfers Marketing Strategy
Subway Surfers’ marketing strategy hinges on its understanding of its audience and their needs, its constant gameplay updates, and its clever utilization of social media and collaborations.
This potent combination has propelled the game to achieve a record-breaking number of downloads.
Subway Surfers employs a variety of ad formats to ensure a broad reach across different platforms. These include banner ads, interstitials, and other types of video ads. By using a mix of formats, the game caters to different user preferences and consumption trends, increasing its chances of attracting potential players.
The game’s ad creatives are as dynamic and vibrant as the game itself. They often feature short gameplay clips or animations showcasing the game’s main characters and theme. This serves to give potential players a taste of the exciting, fast-paced gameplay they can expect.
They also highlight key features of the game, like various characters, power-ups, and the ever-changing World Tour locations.
The ads also emphasize the competitive element of the game by featuring high scores and player achievements to spark potential players’ competitive spirit. This approach not only shows what the game is about but also entices new users to challenge themselves within the game.
Subway Surfers also capitalizes on its limited-time events and collaborations for its advertising strategy. By featuring these unique aspects in their ads, the game creates a sense of urgency and exclusivity, which compels users to download the game to not miss out on the fun.
TikTok is another piece of the game’s user acquisition puzzle.
Subway Surfers has managed to harness the power of TikTok and user-generated content (UGC) to reach new heights in user acquisition.
By doing so, the game taps into a demographic that aligns perfectly with its target audience. TikTok’s format of short, catchy videos perfectly suits the fast-paced, vibrant aesthetic of Subway Surfers. It’s a match made in marketing heaven.
Subway Surfers’ TikTok account features a variety of content, including gameplay clips, updates about World Tour locations, in-game challenges, and, most importantly, user-generated content. By creating a dedicated space for Subway Surfers on TikTok, the developers can engage with potential users in an environment they’re familiar with and enjoy.
User Generated Content
User-generated content plays a pivotal role in Subway Surfers’ user acquisition strategy. Encouraging players to create and share their content, like high-score videos or fan art, generates a sense of community. This engagement fosters a connection between players and the game, enhancing user retention.
Moreover, user-generated content acts as an organic marketing tool. When Subway Surfers players share their experiences and achievements on their personal social media platforms, they expose their followers to the game. This word-of-mouth marketing has a high trust factor, which drives downloads.
Also, by featuring user-generated content on their official TikTok account, which boasts over 7.8 million followers, the game showcases real players’ experiences. Potential users get to see authentic, relatable gameplay, which significantly boosts the chances of user acquisition.
Considering how many downloads this game gets, it’s clear that all of these user acquisition strategies are working. But how does SYBO monetize this global community?
Let’s find out.
Subway Surfers’ Monetization Approach
So, we’ve learned that Subway Surfers has mastered user acquisition. But having billions of downloads doesn’t necessarily equal profit. A well-thought-out monetization strategy needs to be put in place to maximize the game’s earning potential.
Here’s how monetization works in Subway Surfers.
In terms of in-game currency, players collect coins as they run through the subway tracks. These coins can be used to purchase power-ups, hoverboards, character upgrades, and instantly complete missions. Players can get them through daily challenges, missions, and by finding them during gameplay.
The game also has a special currency called event coins. Players can collect them by playing the game or watching ads and using them to buy special event characters and items. While event coins offer a shortcut to certain exclusive items, they are not essential for gameplay progression, which ensures a fair playing field for all players.
Additionally, Subway Surfers incorporates a premium currency – keys.
Players obtain them through gameplay milestones, daily login rewards, and completing specific objectives. They can be used to continue playing, as well as unlock exclusive content, characters, and special events. Keys can be purchased directly using real money or by watching ads.
This brings us to Subway Surfers’ monetization approach – in-app purchases, combined with ads, which is known as hybrid monetization.
Ads in Subway Surfers
Subway Surfers features optional video ads that players can choose to watch in exchange for in-game rewards, which is why we call them rewarded video ads. Players have the choice to engage with these ads voluntarily, allowing them to access extra rewards without feeling forced or overwhelmed.
Rewards players get by watching ads in Subway Surfers are valuable, which makes the offers very enticing. For example, players can get game currency, including keys and event coins (the game’s premium currencies), and the ability to continue playing after making a mistake.
If we boil it down, that means players get exclusive access and characters, and the ability to keep playing and maximize the rewards they get from running.
You might be wondering, why would players make purchases if they get premium currency and other perks from watching ads.
And that’s the main idea behind hybrid monetization – monetize spenders with IAP and non-payers with ads (rewarded + regular interstitial).
Of course, I’m simplifying things a bit here, but you get the point.
Rewarded Ads Lead to In-App Purchases?
When players get premium currency and access to exclusive items for free, just by
watching ads, they will inevitably get used to those perks. They’ll also want more of it. For example, instead of getting just 3 keys by watching an ad, players can buy 350 or even 800 keys.
This is an example of how rewarded video ads and in-app purchases can work together. Essentially, ads give a taste of the premium experience available when spending money on a game.
That strategy is quite obvious in Subway Surfers. In the screenshot above, you can see that the game’s store has coin offers right below the option to get free coins by watching ads.
On top of that, there are many more enticing offers in Subway Surfers store, designed to make players spend.
Here’s the strategy behind them.
In-App Purchase Offers in Subway Surfers
This arcade game has seamlessly woven in-app purchases (IAPs) into its gameplay, forming an integral part of its hybrid monetization strategy. In-app purchases provide convenience and immediate access to desired items. In Subway Surfers, these items include game currency, outfits, or power-ups.
The design of Subway Surfers creates a balance where in-app purchases are attractive but not necessary for progression. The game ensures that all items that affect gameplay can be obtained through playing, but purchases can speed up this process.
The excitement of unlocking a new character or getting a rare hoverboard often serves as a strong incentive for players to make a purchase. By maintaining this balance, Subway Surfers makes sure that both paying and non-paying players can enjoy the game, while gently nudging them towards the convenience of in-app purchases.
The key to Subway Surfers’ success in monetizing through in-app purchases lies in understanding its player base. The game provides enough free content to keep players engaged, and the optional purchases are priced to cater to a wide range of spending habits.
For instance, the cost of in-app purchases in Subway Surfers starts as low as $0.99 and goes up to $99.99. That makes the game accessible and attractive to different segments of players.
Types of Offers
Subway Surfers utilizes an array of offers to entice players into making purchases. There are Starter Packs for new players, which provide a mix of keys, coins, and anexclusive character or hoverboard. Sale Packs are offered during specific events or holidays, often bundling a large amount of currency with rare or unique items.
One example is the Double Coins upgrade, which, as the name suggests, allows players to double the number of coins they collect during a run. This upgrade is permanent, making it a compelling purchase for dedicated players.
Mystery Boxes are power-ups players can collect during a run, or purchase from the game shop. These boxes contain a range of rewards and introduce an element of randomness and anticipation into the game.
With mystery boxes in Subway Surfers, players don’t know what they’ll get.
It might be an exclusive item or something more common, but that’s part of the excitement. It’s no wonder loot boxes and gacha systems are so popular among mobile games.
Rewards can vary from small packs of coins to more coveted items such as character tokens, keys, or even grand prizes of numerous coins. The unpredictability of what a Mystery Box might contain provides players with a fun surprise. .
What’s interesting is how they’re set up.
Players can open one box a day for free. After they do that, they can also open it by watching an ad, once every 4 hours. The next offer is to spend 500 coins or spend 6 keys for a special, token box. For each offer, the game lists what are the chances of getting a particular item.
That way, if players are looking to get a specific item, they’ll keep trying their luck and opening these boxes.
Customization monetization is a potent strategy in mobile games. It amplifies the allure of personalized gameplay and, in turn, opens an enticing revenue stream.
Subway Surfers has skillfully utilized this strategy within its endless runner universe and it contributes significantly to its overall monetization strategy.
Here’s how it adds to the game’s success.
This endless runner offers its players a plethora of customization options, from choosing among a wide array of vibrant characters to unlocking different colorful hoverboards. There’s even the ability to personalize these hoverboards with various superpowers, improving in-game performance and giving a unique aesthetic appeal.
These features, available for purchase via in-game currency or real money, are a significant part of the game’s in-app purchase strategy. They not only make the gameplay more exciting and personalized for players but also provide a steady flow of income to the developers.
Mobile Gamers’ Love for Customization
The key to understanding the success of customization monetization lies in the players themselves. Mobile gamers love to tailor their gaming experience to reflect their personality or mood. Customization allows players to assert their individuality within the game environment, and this sense of personal ownership often translates into higher engagement levels and, consequently, higher willingness to spend.
Notably, Subway Surfers presents this customization in a non-intrusive way. Players can fully enjoy the game without spending on customization options, but the added personal touch can enhance the gaming experience and incentivize purchases.
In the grand scheme of Subway Surfers’ monetization strategy, customization monetization functions as an integral layer. It complements other revenue streams such as in-app purchases for in-game currency, advertising revenue, and the sale of physical merchandise.
Subway Surfers Merchandise
A remarkable aspect of this endless runner’s success story is its innovative monetization strategy that spans not only in-game features but also physical merchandise.
As an additional revenue stream, Subway Surfers’ developers have brilliantly leveraged the game’s popularity to launch an array of themed merchandise. It’s an exceptional case of mobile gaming brand extension.
From clothing, toys, and school supplies featuring beloved characters like Jake, Tricky, and Fresh, to special edition collectibles like hoverboards, Subway Surfers’ merchandise effectively taps into the game’s global fandom. This creates an immersive brand experience that transcends digital borders and allows fans to physically possess a piece of the Subway Surfers world.
The merchandising strategy complements the game’s in-app monetization features, which creates a diversified revenue model. While in-app purchases such as coins, keys, and character upgrades provide an immediate boost to gameplay, physical merchandise offers a more tangible, enduring connection to the game.
By doing so, the developers have created a multi-faceted business model that caters to a broad spectrum of consumer preferences and increases brand loyalty.
Subway Surfers Live Ops: Driving Engagement and Retention
Wondering how Subway Surfers managed to stay not only relevant but popular after so many years?
If we look at it on a micro level, this game changes with the times and constantly evolves to provide its users with the best and most current gaming experience.
On a micro level, the game stays fresh as the result of live ops, i.e., continuous updates, new content, events, and game enhancements.
Subway Surfers is known for its frequent theme changes, where the game’s visuals, characters, and environments are transformed to reflect various locations and events. Each new theme features unique graphics, environments, and character designs that transport players to different parts of the world or specific events.
These theme changes play a crucial role in Subway Surfers’ live operations strategy and significantly contribute to increased engagement and retention of players.
Most importantly, these changes keep the game visually appealing, which creates a sense of exploration and discovery as players encounter and interact with new landscapes and settings.
Subway Surfers Events
Another way to keep the game fresh and engaging is through live events.
Live events offer limited-time challenges or content that enrich the player’s experience beyond the core gameplay. The ticking clock on these events fosters a sense of urgency.
What’s more, live events encourage frequent player interaction by offering novel content and unique rewards and promoting daily logins and longer playing sessions. The exclusive, time-sensitive rewards incentivize players to participate in the events and thus help increase session frequency and length.
This is why Subway Surfer has managed to stay relevant all these years.
According to Sybo’s CMO, Philip Hickey, “At the core of keeping Subway Surfers fresh is our World Tour, a vital part of our live ops strategy. This feature takes players around the globe, offering diverse and exciting gameplay experiences. Additionally, we’re constantly introducing new events and fresh ways to play the game like the Plant Invasion, adding another layer of challenge and excitement for our players.”
One of Subway Surfers’ main recurring live events is the World Tour, which whisks players away to a different city with each update. Each city brings unique characters, hoverboards, and landscapes. That revitalizes the gaming experience and makes each update a new adventure.
This global trotting strategy does more than just offer visual variety. It resonates with players on a personal level, especially when their hometown or favorite city is featured.
The sense of novelty and surprise ensures the gameplay doesn’t become monotonous, a key factor in long-term player retention.
The Weekly Hunt is a recurring event that also contributes to keeping the Subway
Surfers experience fresh week after week. During a Weekly Hunt, players collect tokens scattered throughout the game to win various prizes.
The tokens change with each Weekly Hunt, tying into the theme of the current World Tour location. This element of novelty sparks player curiosity and drives engagement, as players look forward to new hunts every week.
The Season Hunt is a more extended event compared to the Weekly Hunt. Here, players collect seasonal tokens over an entire season, which usually lasts a few weeks. Collecting a specific number of these tokens unlocks unique rewards, such as characters, boards, or keys.
Each season features new cosmetic items, characters, items that add bonuses to score multipliers, flash deals (cosmetic items), and discounted special season bundles.
The sense of progress throughout the season and the anticipation of bigger rewards keeps players hooked, fostering long-term engagement and retention.
Word Hunt is a time-limited event Subway Surfers has integrated into its gameplay. In this event, players hunt for letters scattered throughout the game to form a specific word. Once completed, players receive rewards.
The Word Hunt is not only fun but also educational, especially for younger players. It’s an intriguing intersection of gaming and learning that adds an extra layer of depth to the game.
New Subway Surfers Game – Will It Be as Successful?
Finally, I want to touch on the most recent Subway Surfers game – Subway Surfers Blast.
The latest entrant from the house of SYBO Games is a fresh spin-off that takes a significant leap from the runner genre and ventures into the realm of puzzle games. Yet, it retains the game’s iconic characters, graphics, and thematic elements, offering a familiar environment for the players.
As to how Subway Surfers Blast works, players solve colorful tile blast puzzles to progress. They discover and decorate their hangout spots, use powerful boosters, and engage with their favorite Subway Surfers characters in a whole new way. The game’s accessibility and addictive mechanics suggest it has the potential for great success.
But will it mirror the triumph of its predecessor?
According to Philip Hickey, Sybo’s CMO, “Expanding the Subway Surfers universe into new genres is an exciting venture for us. We’ve been exploring various concepts beyond our core runner genre, and our foray into puzzle games with Subway Surfers Blast and Subway Surfers Match has been enlightening. These games have provided valuable insights, laying the groundwork for delivering more diversified Subway Surfers experiences for our fan base.”
Sybo is already harnessing the potential of the Subway Surfers brand, relying heavily on cross-promotion to boost user acquisition for Subway Surfers Blast.
In the original Subway Surfers game, players are frequently served with enticing in-game ads for Subway Surfers Blast. These ads offer sneak peeks into the game’s exciting puzzles and new gameplay mechanics.
To capture the interest of the Subway Surfers’ fanbase and entice them to give the new game a try.
The cross-promotion approach not only makes sense from a marketing standpoint but also capitalizes on the existing brand loyalty to Subway Surfers. The developers are leveraging the strong affinity players have for the original game to ensure Subway Surfers Blast has a robust and loyal player base from the outset.
Subway Surfers: Final Thoughts
Our thrilling ride through the labyrinth of Subway Surfers has now come to an end.
In closing, Subway Surfers stands as a testament to the art of skillful game design and marketing. It illustrates how the perfect blend of compelling gameplay, regular updates, effective monetization, and strategic marketing can result in a true industry icon.
With these insights in your arsenal, you’re now better equipped to navigate your own game development journey. It’s time to roll up your sleeves and create your own success story!