Andy Sum and Matt Hall met in October 2013 during a monetization talk at a conference and after doodling a whale on their notes, started talking game ideas. Inspired by Froggy and Flappy Bird, as well as Disco Zoo and Fez, Crossy Road was a twelve-week project. The Australian duo collaborated remotely the whole time. The game released on the App Store November 20.
Matt has developed three other App Store number one games. For Andy, Matt’s junior by 15 years, Crossy Road is his first commercial mobile release. So Matt got the responsibility for the mobile-specific details, while Andy experimented with the design in the Unity editor. “I did a lot of fine tuning on the difficulty to keep the curve satisfying. I always tested it on Matt first,” he says.
Monetization was an integral part of the design. “We wanted it to be free, so that everyone has a chance to play,” says Matt. At the same time, he wanted to shoot for a big financial hit that would allow the developers total creative freedom on their future projects.
“I played Disco Zoo and thought that video ads were a really good way to earn money without getting into people’s faces. We just needed to figure out a fun reason for players to watch them”. In the game, watching ads earns coins. Players can use coins to buy new characters that hop across the endless dangerous road in new and often hilarious ways. But it’s also possible to simply buy them with real money or just collect coins in the game.
“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,” says Andy. This makes the game really transparent, which is especially important to parents of small children.
Hipster Whale heard good things about Unity Ads and since they were already familiar with the Unity engine, it was a pretty easy decision. “It worked straight away. Plugins can make your game unstable sometimes, but we didn’t have any problems with this one,” says Matt. “It’s great that the ads are only fifteen seconds and exclusively for other games”.
Playing the game, it’s striking how the visual UI makes the whole “watch ads to earn coins, but you can simply skip this if you don’t care” message extremely clear. Another detail that makes Crossy Road so kid-friendly, but also helps with localization.
It’s fun to die in the game. A chicken, a black sheep, PewDiePie’s dog or a hipster whale get smashed by trains, run over by trucks and drowned in water, just like in classic cartoons (think Wile E. Coyote). Players can take screenshots and videos, then share them with their friends. “Let’s Play videos inspired us to try out Everyplay,” says Matt. “Over 200,000 people have shared their replays, that definitely helps”.
Crossy Road recently launched on Android. The monetization model is the same, but you can also play as the Android robot and score on Google leader boards. At the end of January, Hipster Whale will celebrate Australia day by adding Aussie animals (yes, that includes a platypus) and environments.
What’s next? “When you get into ‘development hell’ during a project, you get a lot of ideas for games you could be making in the future. Now both me and Andy can work on our own projects without worrying and stressing about making money,” says Matt. “At the same time, we would be crazy not to keep building on Crossy Road.”
What’s their advice for up and coming indies?
“Don’t believe that success in the market is random. You can definitely make it work! Just start thinking about it very early on. The Casual Connect conference is a good place to learn from games that make money. Don’t copy them, but try to understand why they’re working.” says Matt.
Andy adds that practice makes perfect: “Just make games! We’ve been both developing since we were kids. I also got a lot of the skills I needed through game jams. Even when developing Crossy Road, I took part in the 7DFPS.”
Getting started with Unity Ads is very simple – just import the free Unity Ads plugin from the Asset Store and you’re good to go!