How Did They Do It: Crossy Road’s Ultimate Route To Success

Crossy Road's

It is nothing less than an intimidating proposition to be a mobile game maker in 2015: With a whopping estimated 500 games per day launching on iOS alone, you are bound to be looking for design savvy, marketing skill and a fairly good amount of luck to make sure your product attracts limelight.

 Hipster Whale’s “Crossy Road” proved to be one such stupendously hit game last year. The very first proposition of Hipster Whale was downloaded 2.5 million times in less than a week. The game dominated the ‘family’ category charts along with claiming the number one position on the iPad App Store in Australia, US, UK, Canada, France, Italy, Switzerland, Russia, Netherlands and South Korea.

Ask about its other significant achievements and there are scores to mention; though one of its most substantial achievements is surpassing a total of 3 million players, with 200,000 people playing the game at any given moment. The game has also received about 20,000 reviews, averaging at five stars. As if this wasn’t enough, in its first 90 days on iOS, Android and Amazon platforms, the game brought in $10 million from 50 million downloads.   

Blame it on these two infinitely ingenious people, Andy Sum and Matt Hall. They are the masterminds behind the success of Hipster Whale, who respectively have a churning yet intriguing stories to tell. Their individual skills infused to pursue a single goal led them to produce a game that turned out to be as substantial and engaging as Crossy Road.  

Crossy road 1  Crossy Road developers Matt Hall (on the right) and Andy Sum

For that matter, we need to consider Co-Founder Matt Hall and Andy Sum’s track record on a serious note here, which will help us understand their abilities in a better way, and therefore aid us in decoding the success of their game. That said, Co-Founder Matt Hall already carries three top ranking app games in his credits, including Little Things and Doodle Find. Whereas, Andy Sum is also considered a rising star with critically acclaimed titles including Dungeon Dashers and Stray Whisker.

Andy Sum and Matt Hall on making the ‘Next Flappy Bird’ at GDC

 At the Game Developers Conference session conducted this year, Andy Sum and Matt Hall spoke extensively about the Whys, Whats and Hows of developing Crossy Road. Here are vital excerpts from their GDC session.

Sum and Hall said how they “wanted to make the next Flappy Bird”.

“Our goal”, Hall says, “wasn’t to make money.”

Though, in its first 90 days on iOS, Android and Amazon platforms, the game made $10 million from 50 million downloads. Over and above that, unlike in games like Candy Crush and Clash of Clans, players aren’t encouraged to spend money.

So how does the game generate a profit? Primarily, the duo says, “through video advertisement and giving players the option to buy in-game characters.”

“We thought engagement was the most important thing” Hall adds. “Someone on the free-to-play business would look at those numbers and think we could make a lot more per user. But, if we changed it… if we sold coins and had a ‘save-me’ button and it felt like the other games, would anyone have cared?”

Instead of encouraging players to spend money or watch videos, players opt into doing so only if they are in a look out for a coin boost. It should also be noted that each character in the game is exactly the same except for in design, so you don’t have the option of buying a place in the leader board.

While winding up the session the duo said how they hoped others would be encouraged by their success and follow in their innovative footsteps.

In this talk from GDC 2015, Andy Sum and Matt Hall reveal all about their viral #1 mobile game hit Crossy Road. Developed in just 12 weeks as a free-to-play experiment, it exceeded their wildest expectations achieving 10 million downloads in the first month and breaking into the elusive top grossing charts.

Factors that carved Crossy Road’s way to Success

  • Skipping the Make-a-problem-and-give-a-solution strategy

Crossy Road’s accomplishments are based on a simple, yet well thought-out plan. What is evident, is 2015’s key to Game Development is simply to design game in such a way that users play game and they keep coming back for more. This has, in some way, led the game developers to develop a problem and then provide with a solution for the same. To put across accurately, scarcity of lives, extended period of time to wait represent problems. Whereas, coins and gems which are generated automatically but takes time. And then there’s human nature’s limitations wherein their patience is tested which few fail to linger upon. Hence, the existence of in-app purchase in justified.

However, Hipster Whale had different plans. They preferred to make the most out of the human nature “to discover” rather than playing around with their limitations. Hence, bringing the problem solving strategy to an end only to give way to extra pleasure for paying a price.

Crossy Road doesn’t force the user to watch ads or to get coins. What rules the game’s unique business model is the availability of attractive and distinct characters with nonidentical body language to play with. This led users to honor developers with purchasing those character.

  • Constructing a Business model that’s “Fair and Ethical”

“We didn’t want any consumable purchases, we wanted to do something that everybody could pay a little bit for if they wanted to, but where it wasn’t necessary to keep paying,” Sum said.

As you might be knowing, Crossy Road is all about those quirky animal characters and you can purchase the new ones to try to get across the endless traffic and rivers with. This includes Pewdiepie’s pups, chickens, sheep, penguins and a hipster whale. No, wonder these characters are all for fun and they have been designed so well that users can’t help but buy them.   

Crossy road 2

Indeed, it is these in-game characters that have successfully fostered indepth value within the game.

Looking at its monetization model, these characters have to play a vital role wherein when a user is willing to buy them, he needs in-game coins. Users can get hold of these coins through three different methods.

Either the user can spend real currency on IAPs to get more coins. Or else he can earn them by playing the game, or by watching video ads. Keep in mind that the million dollar figure only applies to the iOS video ads, excluding the Android version which also uses Unity Ads.

As conveyed by Hall, the inclusion of video ads was inspired by playing Disco Zoo, which used them as well. It eventually turned out to be a monetization system that both creators found agreeable.   

Sum reportedly stated he considered Crossy Road‘s monetization to be “fair and ethical.” Indeed because there are no wait timers, dual currencies, or invasive ads (those that the user doesn’t agree to view).

  • Meeting the rising Demand of Retro Gaming exceptionally

crossy road 3

Crossy Road is undoubtedly an addictive retro-arcade-styled game for iOS and Android phones in which the player controls a chicken and an endless range of animals, in order to get them across a busy road. The ever-so-attractive 8-bit creatures must dodge cars, trucks, trains and leap across rovers, all when you are suppose to avoid the nasty hawk that swoops when you hesitate for an extensive period of time.

However, the eagerness with which Crossy Road found an acceptance suggests a real hunger for games that are too retro in their design, with arcade style pixel graphics.

“Matt had been heavily inspired by Flappy Bird and last year it was a big phenomenon. It had that arcade feel, it was simple, and so many people were playing it,” Sum says.


We cannot overlook the fact that the owners of Crossy Road firmly stated that their proven success was more or less the result of a mere free to play experimental monetization strategy that turned things upside down for the duo. Not to forget, they happened to witness extensive flow of money when they had least expected it out of video ads. Whereas, Crossy Road’s exceptional game play and design acted as pillars of success. It’s time for fellow game developers and marketers to fasten their seat belts before taking off for a bumpy ride, as experimentation always comes with a word of caution. But, then you have greater chances of emerging as a millionaire at the end.

The post is in line with the popular “How Did They Do It Series,” that is featured on Appn2o blogs.

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Aparna David

Aparna David

Aparna is an ardent writer who is fond of all things design and technology. She believes in evoking fresh ideas through her writing. In her spare time, she loves to explore novel apps and read about marketing apps and art.