The Es­sen­tial: Mon­u­ment Val­ley

T3 chats to Us two about how so­cial is at the heart of the puzzle app’s suc­cess

Australian T3 - - CONTENTS -

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+

This month… Mur­dered: Soul Sus­pect haunts / Square­pusher goes ro­botic / RoboCop re­turns / Beamly so­cialises your telly

Lat­est blue­prints for Bat­tersea Power Sta­tion’s re­vamp: a bit “out there”

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