The Essential: Monument Valley
T3 chats to Us two about how social is at the heart of the puzzle app’s success
Guiding a silent figure around a New Age rendering of an Escher painting isn’t exactly a textbook blueprint for an app phenomenon. Yet Monument Valley’s beautiful interactive mazes, which we manipulate to open new pathways and routes through parallax errors, are miniature masterpieces of digital design that have, in turn, topped Apple’s App Stores the world over.
Most surprising of all for a modern-day app success? There are no in-app purchases or adverts whatsoever, with players handing over a one-off, five-buck payment before being left to get lost in the world. Us two’s hit serves as a timely reminder that the freemium business model isn’t essential to guarantee success.
“We’ve spent the last 12 months with people calling us absolutely crazy,” says the game’s producer Dan Gray. “They’d see Monument Valley and say, ‘Oh, this is brilliant. It’s a free game, isn’t it?’ And we’d say, ‘No…’ The amount of raised eyebrows we received was unnerving.”
Monument Valley isn’t the first attempt Ustwo has made to crack the App Store, mind. It’s built commercial apps for Sony and others, the intriguing Rado photo experiment and scored a hit with the game Whale Trail, which racked up five million downloads although struggled to shift that into a freemium moneyspinner. None of these achieved the instant recognition of their latest.
“In all honesty, we never thought it would blow up the way it did,” says Gray. “We knew we’d made a good game, but we thought it’d be slightly niche, but the opposite has happened. I think people have been so attracted to the visuals that even those that don’t consider themselves gamers have been drawn to it.”
“even people that don’t consid er themselves ga mers are drawn to it ”
Monument Valley was dripfed to the public in a long lead publicity campaign accompanied by meticulous beta testing, with the game passed between players as young as five and as old as 83. Ustwo’s thirst for buzz involved getting the game on as many radars as possible, from design magazines to games blogs – which meant being completely open with publishers and players from the get-go.
“We wanted to focus on something we hadn’t done previously: reaching out to people early,” says Gray. “We tried not to be precious about what we showed people, getting super-early versions of the game to Apple and the media. We wanted a more personal relationship with our audience instead of just releasing an app and wishing for the best.”
It’s hard to argue with Ustwo’s methods, cultivating a hit rather than just craving one. The personal touch has seen its niche title, a labour of love and intricate graphic design, top the charts and reach a massive fanbase that’s, reassuringly, more than willing to pay to play. $4.99, monumentvalleygame.com, out now on ios 6.0+
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