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“Running Circles” Case Study – how it became a #1 game on GooglePlay

We've seen games like this before: since the beginning of the Flappy Bird era, a lot of new developers started to build small, original casual games. The question is: what makes a game reach #1 while others only manage to get to Top 10 or Top 25?

Manuel Boca

July 6, 2015

7 Min Read

Note: As of now, Running Circles is #1 in Top New Games in Google Play in UK, Germany, etc and top 5 in most other countries. It’s a game by Boombit, and you can play it here:

get Running Circles on Google Play

We’ve seen games like this before: since the beginning of the Flappy Bird era, a lot of new developers started to build small, original casual games. Some were more successful than others. The question is: what makes a game reach #1 while others only manage to get to Top 10 or Top 25?

Now let’s break down all the elements of a game to see which are the ones that contribute mostly to the success.

Is it the graphics? Well, it could be a contributing factor, but it’s definitely not the major one. Yes, some games that reach #1 do have some original graphics or a new style: think about Crossy Road: we’ve never seen blocky characters done in that way before. Well, you might say that Minecraft has some similarities, but characters in Crossy Road definitely are different: there is a dominant color in each character, plus it makes use of half and quarter size blocks.

Let’s see if the game design is the element that makes a game be #1.

Is the gameplay of the Running Circles so amazing and different? Some may say that yes, it is. Yet, there are other original games, maybe even more catchy, and yet they will never reach #1. Of course originality does matter, and the game has to be really fun, and the replayability high. But not all the games that have ALL these elements become #1. You’ll see what makes the difference in the next section.

Is the stickiness an important element? It definitely is. Some may confuse this with the infamous expression “addicting game”. However, let’s not try to use that term. Addiction is, by definition, a negative thing. It’s something that controls you without your will. We don’t (really) want that in our games. What we do want though, is people to like our game, to come back and play it again. We don’t want them to be desperate to play our games, we don’t want them to skip school or lose their jobs to play our games. All we want is that when they have some free time, to come back and play our game. That, my friends, is called stickiness, not addiction.

So is Running Circles a sticky game? Yes, it sure is. You play a few times on the first load. Then, the next day you get some notifications that you have to claim your diamonds prize and start playing again. That is stickiness. How to achieve it? Well, it’s simple: just as Running Circles did, send some MEANINGFUL notifications to the players and they WILL come back to the game. And if they liked in the first place, they will come back tomorrow, and then the next day, and so on. If they wont’t, they’ll either turn off notifications (if you have that option) or delete your game. But that’s still better than having the game installed and forget about it and never play it again.

The next element is virality. Does virality matter? Could this be the thing that makes a good game go from #25 to #1? Well, if the game is good enough, the answer is yes. Please note that the game has to be good, otherwise virality will push the game close to the top, but it will quickly fall down. Now, everyone wants to have their game go viral, but how does one do that?

One way is to be covered by youtubers. You might think that that’s the key to success. However, there is proof that it’s simply not enough: these guys got their game played by PewDiePie, the famous youtuber with over 37 million subscribers. The result? Over 2 million views on youtube at the time (over 4 million now). And $8 in sales. Conclusion? Being covered by a youtuber with a huge fan base is great, and it can make your game go to the top 50, but from there, it has to rise by itself. Either the game is so amazingly different for its time, so everyone is going to tell their friends about it (word of mouth), or everyone is sharing it like crazy (social media virality).

A few words about each:


Let’s talk about what makes people tell their friends about a game. So let’s take a classic example: Flappy Bird. The game was extremely frustrating, an unseen in a mobile game before, in an age where everyone was trying to make games as easy as possible, with lots of tutorials, sometimes teaching you the basic stuff you already knew, which became really annoying sometimes. On the other hand, Flappy Bird was so hard and so frustrating that some people were smashing the phone when they were losing in the game (and were posting videos with them destroying their own phones on youtube), So having something that is completely different than everything else on the market will definitely make people talk about it. But this is pretty rare, so let’s see if the other option is easier for you to achieve.


B1. Sharing on Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Now, you all heard about this and you know it’s important. But how can you make your game to be shared a lot? Well, one way is to ASK people to share it. It’s up to you if you want to do it or not, but it may not be as annoying as you think it is. If it’s not intrusive, then it could be fine. Let’s put it like this: on the game over screen, above the Play Again button you could have some buttons for sharing the game on facebook and/or twitter (and maybe a screenshot too). As long as you don’t have a separate screen for that (so people won’t have to tap on extra buttons to hide your sharing window), it’s not that bad. And young people tend to share everything, it’s their second nature (for some of them, but still, why not use that to your advantage)?

B2. Multiplayer

Yes, having a multiplayer option in your game. And no, it does NOT have to be a multiplayer game in the first place. Have a look at Running Circles: it’s a single player game by definition, yet it has a multiplayer mode. It seems that it’s not real-time, meaning you’re playing with a recording. This makes things a lot easier for a coder: you don’t need to worry about too many server issues. Just having the ability to store a saved game on your server and reading it is enough. The interesting part in Running Circles is that you can play with random people and friends as well, and you don’t need to make an account (it’s totally optional). It can’t be any better than this in terms of user experience. It’s also great how they made it so easy to rematch, keeping you play more and more. Now, combining this multiplayer thing with notifications is the real killer, especially because you can play or rematch a game with someone that wasn’t active for a while (again, this is possible because it’s not real-time play). That person will receive a notification, increasing the chance of making him or her an active player again.


In conclusion, all these elements contribute to the success of Running Circles: original and fun gameplay, clean graphics, stickiness, sharing options. However, the element that pushed it to #1 was the extra thing that most other games do not have: the multiplier game mode coupled with notifications for rematches.

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