The method in the madness – how to make a successful gate runner game

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Whilst traditional runner games might not be dominating the charts as they once did, so far in 2022, 3 out of the top 10 games in the US come from a runner sub-genre: gate runners (according to Data.ai). These are Crowd Evolution, Tall Man Run and Count Masters which combined have received 500 million in cumulative downloads.

These games are not flukes. They’re savvy and well thought-out creations that have resulted in continued, long-term success. Here we’ll take a look at the different types of gate runner games, reasons why they’re so successful, and tips for making a successful gate runner game.

Types of gate runner games

We’re all familiar with the traditional runner games; think Subway Surfers from SYBO, which has topped the charts for over a decade. As with every genre, runner games need to evolve to stay exciting for the player and to get an edge over other titles in their genre. The introduction of gates is by far the most interesting and successful addition to runner games. Last year it was more about narrative runners, where the players switched from being poor and rich, fat and thin or other such extremes. Now it’s about multiplier gates. These gates offer a new dimension of progression into the story, run through a gate and your story will evolve accordingly. The options for change are endless: pace of runner or action, value of items, size of runner, weapon held, value, size of car driven, and more.

Unlike simulation and idle arcade games, which need a good amount of content before launch, with gate runners, nothing new has to be invented; it’s the same mechanic, just a different theme. In some games, even the theme remains the same and only the assets change. Take, for example, the stacking runners that were popular a few years ago. Whereas in stacking runners the players were collecting items, in gate runners the gameplay is around selecting the gates you need for the players themselves to grow, generating both faster changes and encouraging decision making, which increases engagement within the game. The ability to reuse mechanics is a game changer for prototype turnaround.

Gate runners: a dream CPI and retention

Gate runners work well on two fronts: they have a strong marketability factor and a relatively high retention rate. Let’s break each of these down.

What makes gate runners stand out is their ability to show a large portion of the game in a very short space of time. The gates pop up along the course and are constantly changing, creating a fast-paced and satisfying experience. In a mere 5 seconds, a game can show many changes, creating the perfect foundation for an eye-catching and performant creative, helping to lower the Cost per Install (CPI). What’s more, the decision-making action in runner games brings another layer of interactivity to the game, making it more fun to play and enabling a more visually enticing aesthetic.

Secondly, gate runners benefit from being part of the runner genre, which has proven itself over the years to be a leading category with high retention. Their high retention is driven by their basic core gameplay which makes it easy to play with little skills needed. When the ease of playing is coupled with a classic 30 second per level, it encourages users to play several levels at once, resulting in an increased playtime.

Tips to making a successful gate runner:

  1. Select a popular theme: Look to social media platforms for inspiration. Choose a theme that people see every day, one that will easily resonate with as many people as possible without much thought, and you have a greater chance of a hit game.
  2. Choose eye catching changes: The beauty of this sub-genre is that the gates give an opportunity for the runner to constantly change their image, which is captivating and grabs attention. Make the changes hard to miss! A person growing in size, clothes suddenly changing for the better or worse and speeding up the pace drastically are just a few examples of how a big change in visuals can have a big impact on KPIs. Don’t be afraid to exaggerate the transformation to make it clear what’s happening and to attract attention.
  3. Try stacking your runner: Gate runners don’t have to work in isolation. You can combine them with elements from other genres or sub-genres to exaggerate the impact. For example, combining them with a stacking gameplay offers both the thrill of the change together with the visualization of the purpose of the game.
  4. Use Unity’s new runner template: Based on best practices and industry expertise, you can speed up the process of creating high-quality prototypes and iterations by using a template. You’ll be able to spend less time building the framework for your runner game, freeing you up to focus on honing your concept and making the next great game.

When it comes to long-term success, gate runner games have really hit the nail on the head. They’ve taken an already successful game concept (that has been in the top charts since the beginning of the hyper-casual) and delivered a ramped-up, more catchy, iteration that not only has impressive KPIs but that can be developed, and re-used with minimal time input. It has created a sub-genre that has great marketability as well as great playtime. It will be interesting to see where gate runners are in the charts in 2023, and if a new genre or subgenre will appear to capture its throne.

For developers hoping to create a winning runner game, they can submit their runner game to Supersonic (by December 14th 2022) to be in with a chance to get a $200,000 bonus.

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