How to make an app like Temple Run

Temple Run is the endless running game developed by Imangi Studios, a husband and wife led three person team (they added a graphic designer!), that since switching to an in-app-purchase business model a month after launch (due to their noticing a drop off in downloads – the number of new users started to decline at the end of the second week), has regularly featured at the top of the app stores’ charts.


Kevin Shepard and Natalia Luckyanova founded Imangi Studios in 2008, shortly after Apple announced the App Store would be open to third party developers.  Temple Run was the pair’s fifth game made for the iPhone, with them having enjoyed one success with 2009’s release of Harbour Master, which made well over $100,000 in its year after launch.

That success followed their failure with Little Red Sled, a game they had targeted for a Christmas release and tie in, but failed to release until the following February after it took them twice as long to develop as they had expected.  From that failure, they changed strategy to focus on games that were quicker to develop, that “You can play a million times, and you’re going for a high score”, resolving to make “That kind of gameplay with the intuitive controls fits really well with people’s lifestyles and how they play games on a mobile device, Sheppard told in March 2012.

Temple Run was actually inspired by the failure of their previous game, Max Adventure, which had been the young studio’s biggest investment, taking over a year to develop, and biggest flop.  The biggest issue appeared to be the game’s controls, which utilized an on-screen ‘virtual stick’ layout, something often derided by gamers for being an ineffective method of utilizing a devices touchscreen technology.  Shepard noticed that it was enjoyable to make the Max character walk around and collect coins.  They next decided to re-arrange the controls and use a swipe method instead, limiting the character to just 90 degree turns.  Those turns then made them think of a character navigating a maze.  Within a week of beginning experiments on their Max Adventure failure, they had an entirely new game that would closely resemble Temple Run.

Their graphic designer, Tchangov came up with the Mayan temple theme, from which the character’s personality as an explorer was born.  From there, they thought of reasons why the character was running: having stolen an idol from the temple, with Tchnagov’s adding to this with his creation of the chasing evil demon monkeys.  Sheppard would later credit these demon monkeys with helping to create that tension within the game, which makes the player feel like they must continue to run.

Interesting, Sheppard also notes having had reservations about the app’s icon – ‘it has this terrifying face on it and we wondered if it was going to scare people away from buying our app.’

The game only took four months to develop, and in 2012 was enjoying ten million daily users (by Imangi’s own metrics).  Sheppard revealed to that 1% of Temple’s Run players make in-app-purchase, but with 10 million daily users and tens of millions of downloads, that still amounts to a generous revenue base.  Indeed, it’s thought that not making in-app-purchases essential for continued play of the game allowed the team to reach a far larger audience.  This huge traction, propelled them to the top of the app charts, whilst only monetizing 1% of players, as opposed to many competing games (with more required in-app-purchases) that might achieve monetization from 4% of their players, but struggle to achieve more than a million daily average users.

The team have been very successful in utilizing the social media channels. Temple Run’s Facebook page enjoys over eight million likes and Luckyanova told Techcrunch that tweets of how terrifying the monkeys are helped the game go viral.

The team released an Android version of the game in January 2013.  In doing so, they chose to partner with another development company, rather than expand their own small team.  Although the game achieved over a million downloads in it’s first three days in Google Play, there have been technical difficulties with the Android version, which has suffered lower ratings and reviews as a result.  These issues are attributed to the iOS version having been built utilizing the Unity game engine.

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Nicholas Wright wrote on

Nicholas is a co-founder and CEO of AppInstruct. Nic is actively involved in the start-up space, mentoring other founders with mobile, fundraising and legal advice. Nic's favorite app is WhatsApp, which allows him to remain in contact with family in America and England.