What is the most downloaded mobile game in the world ever? It is neither the Angry Birds nor Temple Run, but it’s known as – Subway Surfers.

Some people may still remember the Google Play Store was previously named “Android Market” before it was changed into the current name in March 2012. In 6 years time, there are only 26 mobile apps received more than 1 billion downloads.

Not surprisingly, when taking a deeper look at these 26 apps – 19 of which are made by Google (such as Gmail, Google Maps, and YouTube are among the top 5) and 4 of which belong Facebook (Facebook, WhatsApp, Messenger, and Instagram). Kiloo’s Subway Surfers impressively appears to have generated downloads on par with Samsung’s Push and Microsoft’s Skype.

Running ahead, dodging the trains – Subway Surfers is the most downloaded game ever


What is Subway Surfers?

Launched in May 2012, Subway Surfers is a Danish-made mobile game (collaboration between Kiloo and SYBO Game). Kiloo was founded in 2000, while SYBO was established in 2007 by two friends in the animation school.

The concept is simple – the game allows users to play the character named Jake, and run through the subway system to prevent being captured by the fierce inspector with his dog. When running, the character collects coins while dodging oncoming trains. Later, players can use these coins to purchase types of equipment and unlock new game themes/levels. Some call this a “Parkour” type of game, which puts it alongside games such as the highly notable Temple Run, and Temple Run 2.

A variety of “Parkour” games

The success of the game can be seen from debut. In just 4 days after the game was first published on AppStore, it racked up 350,000 downloads. After launching about 3 months, the number surged to 500,000 downloads (boosted by its Google Play Store launch). Within a year, the game received more than 400 million installs from mostly organic downloads. In April 2018, Subway Surfers finally broke the record and accumulated over 1 billion downloads on Google Play Store.

The ultimate success of Subway Surfer teaches us about few things to make a billion-downloads mobile game.

Choose your battle (find the right segment to appeal to)

The gaming industry is a massive market, which also attracts tonnes of competition.

In one of the most competitive markets in the world: China – Tencent is a dominant force. Beginning from 2007, Tencent implemented a segmentation strategy to its game production efforts. By cloning successful games in the US, and focusing on specific niches: 1st-person shooting, real-time strategy, or adventure – it found a more effective way to first dominate certain niches, instead of going entirely mass market.

Cross-analysis of US & China games – rooms for filling the gaps

Make yourself noticeable

Some say naming is an important component leading to the app’s success. Finding a special, catchy name will help you stand out. “Candy Crush” is hard to forget, whereas another parkour game “Running Sausage Under Knives” might be the contrary. An easy-to-remember phrase and a name strongly associated with the theme leave an impression.

Catchy app names – and icons – makes you stand from the line

Another trick is to publish the game onto multiple application stores. Subway Surfers published initially on iOS and later on Android. In the Chinese market, they also chose to launch the app on phone maker’s app market, such as Xiaomi Store.

In China, there are many “App stores” by phone makers, such as Xiaomi App Market instead of Google’s Play Store

User-friendly and intuitive

Given the core functionalities are easy to understand and intuitive, Subway Surfers easily became the most popular game. This should not be taken for granted as its development team devoted a lot of time and effort to continuously improve the game stability and functions. New characters are also added in subsequent updates, providing a fresh gaming experience which in turn leads to high user retention.

Mobile games nowadays are more than just the individual playing. Players love to show off their scores in their social networks, thus integration with social apps, and in-built sharing features become increasingly a MUST HAVE.

No time to travel around the world? The game has now featured over 70 cities as background.

Winner takes all

When thinking about football gaming apps – FIFA or Winning Eleven may come to mind. The two games alone account for 90% of the market (in terms of users). As user behavior suggests, there’s usually no room for smaller players.

The gaming market a winner takes all market, and users only download the most popular games out there. Therefore, when planning your market strategy, do not be easily satisfied with anything less than being the absolute winner in the category you’ve chosen.

Closing: The future is mobile

The global gaming revenue currently stands at US$125.3 billion, and mobile gaming alone is projected to account for at least half of that this year. On top of that, Asia seems to be taking the lead, with top 3 countries comprising mainly of Japan and China. Japan will be the 3rd largest gaming market in terms of revenue (after US, China).

The industry will only grow bigger with the proliferation of cheaper and more powerful mobile phones, and faster, more affordable mobile internet across the globe (especially in Asia). Based on these expectations, we at Momentum Works contend that this is the industry to keep our eyes on – for the next few years for outsized gains and returns.

Friends from all walks – wish you all to be the Ready Player One!


Thanks for reading The Low Down, insight and inside knowledge from the team at Momentum Works. If you’d like to get in touch with us about any issues discussed on our blog, please drop us an email at [email protected] and let us know how we can help.

Thanks for reading The Low Down (TLD), the blog by the team at Momentum Works. Got a different perspective or have a burning opinion to share? Let us know at [email protected].