The Crossy Road to success

How a software engineering student has taken the mobile gaming world by storm

Greta Harrison, University of Melbourne

Published 2 July 2015

A mobile game that has topped app charts around the world and earned its developers a salary in the millions has been co-created by University of Melbourne Master of Engineering (Software) student Andy Sum.

Crossy Road is an addictive retro-arcade-styled game for iOS and Android phones in which the player controls a chicken and a seemingly endless range of animals, in order to get them across a busy road.

The colourful 8-bit creatures must dodge cars, trucks, trains and leap across treacherous rivers, all while avoiding the nasty hawk that swoops when you hesitate for too long. The game is now a phenomenal worldwide success and has been downloaded over 100 million times. It has topped both the App Store charts, ahead of established gaming brands such as Candy Crush Saga.

During June, Andy and his team took home a coveted Apple Design Award from the Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, an award that recognises the best software for iOS from independent developers around the world.

They have also just been commissioned by Bandai Namco to make the latest version of iconic arcade game, Pac-Man.

And yet Crossy Road took Mr Sum, his business partner Matt Hall and artist Ben Weatherall a grand total of only 12 weeks to make.

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

He says his team, which goes by the company name Hipster Whale, were also inspired by classic 80s arcade games.

Our aim for the game was to make it appeal to as many people as possible. The game had to be free for that to happen.

And yet even a free game needed to offer them some financial return. Mr Sum says the monetisation of Crossy Road was quite experimental in its use of in- game purchases and optional advertising, with the team initially unsure it would actually make money.

“We had this idea that if we were transparent with our in-app purchases then people would appreciate that,” he says.

“We have over 60 different characters, and you can buy any of them for a dollar. Many of the characters also change the look of the game. For instance, if you get the penguin it changes the landscape into an icy world.”

Crossy Road has clearly resonated with gamers. The game had seven million downloads in the first 10 days alone after the game launched on Google Play, bringing total downloads on iOS and Android to over 50 million.

When the game was featured on Apple’s App Store and championed by the world’s top YouTuber, PewDiePie, the team were receiving hundreds of thousands of downloads daily.

We realised it was big, but we were thinking ‘When is it going to drop?’ However our downloads have just been going up. It took us about a month before we realised how big the game actually was.

Yet Mr Sum also attributes much of the success to positive feedback from gamers sharing it with their friends.

“The game spread really well on its own through word of mouth. We tried to design a game that would be funny and interesting enough that people would want to share it with their friends.”

“We’re doing really well, especially compared with many free-to-play titles that spend a lot of money on advertising. We haven’t spent anything.”

Mr Sum says he has been playing games his whole life, but first started creating them when he was around 10 years old.

“I kept teaching myself through high school, and then at university I learnt new concepts which improved my programming,” he says.

He turned his hobby into a commercial venture two years ago, creating games for PC before trying mobile. The Hipster Whale team is now in high demand in the tech world, with numerous exciting opportunities arising this year, such as invitations to speak at conferences in Amsterdam and San Francisco.

Find out more about Crossy Road and download the game.

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