Subway Surfers is undoubtedly the biggest mobile-hit game ever to come out of Denmark. With approx. 700 million downloads since it’s launch in May 2012, it’s far above and beyond any other mobile title ever produced by the Danish games industry – almost rivaling the performance of some of the best Finnish and Swedish mobile titles.
The game itself is a curious collaboration between two different developers. SYBO games (named after the founders Sylvester and Bodie), developed the original game concept based on an animated short they had produced at the Animation Workshop in Denmark
After that, they teamed up with Kiloo who then took on the publishing duties as well as integration of monetization into the game, servers, backend, etc.
With the success of Subway Surfers, neither developers are short on money. In fact, the revenue from Subway Surfers helped catapult Kiloo to the position of “Growth Company of the Year” – an award handed out by the county’s biggest financial newspaper Børsen.
It’s not you, it’s me …
But despite the success they found together with Subway Surfers, it seems both companies are now looking in opposite directions for their next hit. SYBO founders Bodie Jahn-Mulliner and Sylvester Rishøj Jensen were gracious enough to find time during GDC to give some input as to why they are going solo in the future. “As a successful studio, we want to be able to publish our own productions,” they said.
“SYBO’s focus will continue to be on developing unique, character-driven IPs and redefining genres. The natural next step for us is to embrace the full spectrum from idea through launch to long-lasting franchises.”
Whether the decision to not continue the partnership is SYBO’s alone, or if Kiloo had some part of it, is hard to decipher. Especially since Kiloo has effectively closed down all contact with the press after a couple of incidents where they felt misrepresented. It’s not a hard break though, as both Kiloo and SYBO are committed to continue the development of Subway Surfers, which SYBO also confirms.
However, there does seem to be a clash of styles between the two developers. Where SYBO does not flaunt their success, and adhere to a more indie-styled mindset, Kiloo are not shy to talk about their success, even if it happens on social media rather than in press interviews.
Lots of developers want a World Tour now in their game. You’re welcome, guys! I came up with it in the shower one morning.
— Simon Moller (@simonmoeller) June 5, 2014
Kiloo is known to have ruffled some feathers by their approach. But some of that is probably also attributed to the fact that the normal Danish ethic only allows showing off in moderation, whereas Kiloo’s style is more in line with how you present your success in America.
One thing they do have in common, though, is the massive hiring spree both studios have been on lately. In a small games industry like the Danish, the recruitment efforts of especially Kiloo have been noticed as the studio has also opened up an entire new office in Copenhagen.
SYBO has, again, been more discrete about it, but they have also been staffing up. And when you notice listings for Backend Engineers, Business Intelligence Analyst, and Client Systems Engineer, there can be little doubt left that they plan to run things alone in the future, as these are the very aspects that Kiloo is taking care of in the co-produced Subway Surfers. A strategic decision that they are also confirming themselves.
“We are structuring ourselves to publish our titles, but first and foremost to raise the bar on our developments,” they tell Nordic Game Bits. The new hires are not leading up to a rush of new releases, however, according to SYBO. But rather to increase the quality of individual titles. “We are a studio of game craftsmen, whose goal is to come with a limited number of high-quality titles that have tremendous long life-cycles, just as we are doing with Subway Surfers.”
In the post Subway Surfers-world, Kiloo have been trying out a couple of different tactics for their latest games. Surprisingly enough, both major Kiloo-releases since Subway Surfers have been more feature-heavy games, which lack some of the imminent charm of the endless runner.
Their first release was the Kung-fu Panda-inspired Smash Champs, which boasted impressive production values and was the result of the hard work of one of Kiloo’s in-house teams, with some freelance help in some specific areas. That didn’t seem to help though, and after the first month on the market, the game had disappeared from most of the top lists on the App Store. Not that that equates a financial flop – probably not. But a new IP in the league of Subway Surfers it is not.
After that, Kiloo seems to have reverted somewhat to their old model of co-development. However, with SYBO out of the picture, it’s Canadian Emerald City Games that has picked up the gauntlet to produce the actual in-game content for the upcoming Infinity Blade’ish Stormblades, with Kiloo handling overall direction, marketing, and monetization.
And it seems like Kiloo is sticking to their idea about trying to push more feature-heavy games post-Subway Surfers. And in the case of Stormblades, maybe also approach a more niche audience that will appreciate the many RPG-touches and more complex gameplay. Still, it’s impressive looking, and if Kiloo can convert just a fraction of the Subway Surfers-players to try it, it should be able to reach critical mass in very little time, leaving it up to Stormblades itself to show if it can keep the players there.
It is almost funny then, that the next game from the other half of the dynamic duo of Subway Surfers, also has been moved to a fantasy setting. But that’s also where the similarities between Stormblades and SYBO’s next game, Blades of Brim, ends.
Blades of Brim is clearly related to Subway Surfers, sharing both a recognizable endless runner-gameplay and the familiar cartoony graphical style from the previous game. This also makes good sense, in that it was SYBO who were responsible for the core game and assets in Subway Surfers, so they might have a better chance at making a game that shares some of the same core features as Subway Surfers.
So far, Blades of Brim has been soft launched in Canada and Sweden, and should be on its way to the rest of the world in the not too far future. “We are in beta with Blades of Brim and have received a very warm welcome,” SYBO says. “We are perfectionist and are still tweaking the game to make it just amazing and it will be released in the coming months.”
Performance on the charts is not impressive yet, but that will most likely change when the real launch comes around. Given that the current version of the game is listed as v. 0.6.1, there also seems to be a few iterations to go before the game reaches the full release version. And then it will be time for SYBO to prove that they can sell and monetize their game, without the help of Kiloo.
The next upcoming months will come to show which one of the two developers have done the best job at replacing the skills and possibilities that the other half of the partnership supplied them with. Maybe both of them will actually be able to produce a hit game. In that case, the whole of the Danish games industry would be much better off, as two individually successful mobile developers are much harder to kill than one, and this would also suggest that Subway Surfers was not just a lucky punch, but represented a repeatedly successful strategy.