Escape the zombies and burn calories at the same time

A new smartphone game developed with funds raised by crowd-sourcing has become the world’s highest-grossing health and fitness app during its first fortnight of release.

Zombies, Run!, released just weeks ago, 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 and the drama plays out in fully scripted audio.

Sales are expected to top 100 000 soon, despite the full version costing more than $8, and media specialists say the game’s success has many lessons for the industry.

The game is the brainchild of Adrian Hon, head of London games studio Six to Start, and Naomi Alderman, an Orange prize-winning novelist, game writer and aficionado.

Alderman said their inspiration was a “learning how to run” course. “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 Alderman about his ambition to develop a fitness app that “made the actual act of running itself fun”, Zombies, Run! was born.

Crucially, the pair decided that rather than attempting 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 in September and swiftly captured the imagination of internet users. Pledged funding of $73 000 from 3 464 donors poured in — more than five times the initial target — as well as more than 30 000 “likes” on Facebook.

Crowd-sourced funding meant that there were no investors to keep on board and thus, in Alderman’s words, “no need to waste time trying to explain what you’re doing”.

This meant a bold pricing strategy, with the full version on release for $7.99, the highest price of any game in the global top 200 in the App Store and a far cry from the cheap-and-cheerful model dominating gaming on mobile devices. However, Six to Start’s tactic has paid off.

The lesson seems to be: give people something fresh and gripping to play to their interests and they will not only pay a premium price, they will also pay upfront for you to make it.

Zombies, Run! has more in common with an audio book or radio play than it does with most games.

For Alderman, this crossover is the essence of their success: “Games are great at motivating action, but stories add meaning to your action. That’s the sweet spot I think we’ve hit.” —

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