Imagine Activision releasing the latest Call of Duty game without telling anyone it was coming. No developer diaries, no screenshot packages, no media events—just a quick heads up that it would be in stores tomorrow. Preposterous, right?
Yet on Thursday a sequel to a game played by more people than Call of Duty: Black Ops II arrived on iTunes with little more than that. Temple Run has been downloaded more than 170 million times. Christmas Day 2012 alone accounts for 2.5 million of those—1 million on iTunes, 1 million on Google Play and 500K via the Amazon Marketplace.
What a delightful surprise.
This sort of thing rarely happens in the world of console gaming anymore. Back in the days before the internet a gamer could wander into Babbage's and discover a game he'd heard absolutely nothing about. That's how I discovered Final Fantasy II for the Super Nintendo—one of my favorite games of all time, and I had no idea it had been released.
These days console game publishers start the hype train early. Sometimes we know about games years in advance, teased with concept art at the earliest stages of development. When a game does manage to slip into stores under our radar, there's often a good reason—sometimes the games just aren't worth marketing.
That wasn't the case with Temple Run 2, a fine follow-up to the incredibly popular endless runner. It's not that there's anything wrong with the game. It's just that Imangi Studios' Keith Shepherd, Natalia Luckyanova and the rest of the extended development team (up to five people from the original three) had the luxury of working on the game until it was ready to release without worrying about setting up previews or launching a marketing campaign.
"It's one of the joys of being a small indie studio," Shepard said during a call days prior to the game's launch. "We love making games, and plan staying small making games. That's something you can do on this platform."
That's what's beautiful about mobile gaming and indie game development in general. While traditional console game developers are busy jumping through hoops, creating preview builds, capturing screenshots and coordinating with marketing, studios like Imangi can concentrate on doing what they love, keeping surprise alive in the process.