Subway Surfers TAG: Skateboarding Game Kickflips onto Apple Arcade

Subway Surfers is one of the most popular smartphone games in existence. In addition to being played by millions of people, Subway Surfers is also available in arcades and has been animated for YouTube. Rather than relying on a free-to-play model, though, Sybo opted for an Apple Arcade game based on its Subway Surfers intellectual property for its latest endeavor.

An arena game in which you ride hoverboards around short stages, fighting robots and doing tricks to keep your board’s battery alive is what Subway Surfers Tag is not, as its predecessor was. To learn more about how this project came to be, what it’s like to make a more traditional video game that has an ending, what’s going on with the animated series 12th episode, and how it feels to be a part of a studio whose small game becomes a massive success, GameSpot recently spoke with game director Eoin O’Doherty and Sybo CEO Mathias Gredal Nrvig.

Subway Surfers Tag isn’t what I expected, says GameSpot. Is this a departure from the original Subway Surfers concept?

Nrvig: Sybo’s creators made a Subway Surfers graduation film from the animation workshop and they were still animators at heart very early on, when the original game was in development. There was something appealing about the idea of creating fascinating characters, deep worlds, and experimenting with new ideas. There was nothing in their minds about games when they made their graduation film. There was a lot of discussion regarding the plot and the world. Afterward, when the iPhone was released, they wondered: “Our starting point is right here. We can actually come up with something here that looks better than anything that was available at the time.” When Temple Run came out in 2011, they realized that it would be a wonderful fit for their graduation film. Actually, this is a good fit for the IP.

With Subway Surfers Tag, we want to give players a wide variety of ways to experience the world of Subway Surfers, as well as its universe and characters. As I’ll explain to you in a moment, we’ve never felt restricted to just limitless runners since the very beginning of the arena-style game. Fans around the world are so enthusiastic about the IP, we decided to create more games in it.

I believe one of the things we had to take into account was the IP itself, and what components go into the original game that gamers would be familiar with. To begin, we used several of those basic blocks. While developing for several platforms, we also had to consider the limitations that Apple Arcade places on your creativity. We want to make sure that the experience is consistent across all platforms, including Mac OS, so we need a control scheme that works on all three platforms. We spent a lot of time conceptualizing and researching old-school games because we believe Apple Arcade is an excellent platform for bringing back the classic arcade experience. We were influenced by a wide range of video games. In the beginning, we played a lot of Paper Boy. Delivering items from one location to another. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and Jet Set Radio were also on our radar.

Tricks and beating robots keep your battery charged.

We came into this thinking that this was the IP. This notion of grinding and moving around in a parkour-like manner came to us while we were working hard to preserve the surfers’ self-administered movement. “Hey, why don’t we just focus on the hoverboard?” was our next thought. The original game had an element that you could activate, but we decided, “Let’s put it in as a fundamental element that you always start with,” and then we have this idea of the battery running out, which is different from the original game where if you lose it there, you keep running.

So, we finished the game there and then added more fun elements like other foes and various locations where these characters would go like the railyards where the original game begins. We just went from there and added more fun components like this. However, we wanted to create the impression that the cast was dispersed over the city, hanging out in a variety of locations. Consider going to a park or the mall late at night when you shouldn’t be there. So that’s where it all started, with the security guard attempting to stop you from doing what you’re doing, but it was all very customized.

In the end, we decided to add a shooting mechanic as well. We spent a lot of time deliberating about our approach to audience segmentation. Keeping in mind what you’re doing second-by-second in the game, we put a lot of consideration into the rhythm. There were several playtests and months of iteration before the final product was ready to be released.

From the outset, did Apple Arcade play a role in the development of the game? Or were you already working on it when the Apple collaboration was announced?

In my opinion, the simplest way to describe it is that we have been working on various game ideas and brainstorming what we can do. Our relationship with the other platforms is clearly close, and Apple has always supported Subway Surfers.

When I went to Apple Park three years ago, they told me, “Let me tell you something: “Look, we genuinely believed you were here to pitch an Apple Arcade game,” and after saying, “I’m not, but that sounds intriguing.” So, let’s have a discussion about that.” The idea was born from there, and as soon as the creative teams got to work, it evolved into a project aimed specifically at that platform.

We’ve been looking for something that fits the Apple Arcade’s aesthetic while still being kid-friendly, cutting-edge, and a joy to play on a mobile device.

Having the freedom to create a game without worrying about money was a welcome relief.

O’Doherty: It’s a significant departure. It has a high-end vibe to it. The team and I are having a lot of fun making a new game for Arcade, and it’s one of the main reasons we started from scratch. When you claim you’re going to develop something for a subscription service, you don’t have to do much more than engage the player, be entertaining, and have some sort of IP representation. That was our starting point. Not exactly a relief, but it certainly alters your perspective. Angry Birds is a premium experience, but I’ve worked with a number of free-to-play teams before, so I’m familiar with the ins and outs of intellectual property management. It was a wonderful challenge, to put it mildly, to adapt those lessons for Surfers on Arcade. Though monetization is an excellent idea, when it isn’t in place you realize that “Oh my god, we have to do all these other things now as well.” For example, you need to make sure that the other game mechanics are sound. It forced us to put our full attention on the gameplay and the enjoyment of the user, which is exactly what a game development team should be doing.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s also a reflection on the quality of the teams. As a result of Subway Surfers, our studio is now profitable, proving that this was a decision we made purely out of desire. In addition to the team’s dedication, Apple has allowed us to take our time to get the product to market so that we could get it properly. Bringing a tailored, premium experience that complements our Subway Surfers world is a wonderful fit for us.

The robots are easy to defeat thanks to the use of special abilities.
It appears at first that you’ll be playing the classic endless runner Subway Surfers, but that’s just a ruse, and you’re soon thrust into an entirely new world. Can you elaborate on the reasoning for the initial fake-out?

O’Doherty: We don’t think it’s a ruse. You may describe it as “familiar” but “new.” The gameplay has been altered, and we wanted to let you know about it. As far as we understood, one of the most visible changes would be the camera angle adjustment. It took us a few tries to get the player on board, but we decided that going around the train and rails and having a kind of narrative moment would be the best way to introduce the player to the new game. We thought it seemed more natural to express it this way “Okay, so you’ve played this game before. However, we’re actually transferring it.”

When the camera pans up, the scene shifts into an arena-like setting. It was a good approach to introducing the game to new players. As a result of the greater performance, we opted to remove the more materialized first segment and instead place players directly in control of their own destiny.

We’ve reimagined several of the power-ups from the original game, for example, to make them more interesting. There are a variety of grid systems from the original game included here as well. Our goal was to create a game that was both familiar and new at the same time, and that’s exactly what we achieved with the introduction and the home screen. That was the purpose of the introduction.

We’ve grown to know the IP even better during the game development process, which I think also reflects on the creative development. Sometimes, the team would raise the question, “Can this be done in software?” “Hey, there are these characteristics of Subway Surfers… how would that fit into this style of gameplay?” is another option. There were so many different opponents, mechanics, and environments that matched the IP and some that didn’t, and we swung back and forth to reach the finish of the game. The security guard is back as the nemesis who despises joy.

Do you know whether there is an ending? I haven’t played long enough to know.

Goals can be achieved. O’Doherty: By achieving high scores in prior arenas, players are able to gain access to new ones, which is how the game’s progression system works. As a result, we’re launching with four, with the possibility of more. In addition, once you’ve completed all the arenas, you’ll receive certain upgrades and can spend cash to become more strong. Subway Surfers is famed for its high scores, therefore you’ll have your ultimate top score at each of the arenas. Those who have a strong interest in the game might keep playing in these areas and compete with their friends’ results. To achieve the highest possible score, you must learn the arena’s rhythm and how to make the most of every second of action. However, there is a limited amount of content that can be unlocked, but you can always obtain a better score in the final chapter.

Did making a game with a conclusion seem odd at the time?

O’Doherty: Perhaps we didn’t even consider this possibility. Isn’t Subway Surfers a running game? The game’s structure is simple, with only a few possible outcomes. Some of that was something we wanted to keep. What would you say about the city if you were caught by the guard? There are so many places in this city to explain. When we first started working on the game, we thought of doing it all on one enormous map, but we realized that it would be too sprawling and the player wouldn’t have a clear sense of where they were in relation to other characters. As a result, we decided to break it down into smaller portions, and that’s where we came up with the arena notion so that we could see all of these different areas without them being knitted together. Even yet, I never had it in my head that this game had to have a conclusion, so we proceeded with the arena structure.

This game’s art style is distinct from that of Subway Surfers. Do you think this update was difficult to implement or was it straightforward to take the familiar design and add a little something new to it?

In order to keep the art style fresh, we’ve experimented with developing miniature figurines and older incarnations of the characters. We’ve experimented with a variety of approaches to licensing. As a result, we’ve got a slew of talented individuals on our team eager to test the IP’s pliability. It’s hard to say. What may they look like in this context? When viewed in this light, how do you imagine the entire cast to look? While working on this project was enjoyable for the entire team, the learning curve was also present because of the need to understand the IP in a new context or environment, such as an arena brawler where you have to interpret characters in a new way due of how they’re managed. For a runner, you need to be able to see where they’re going and wear big shoes. You need distinct readability in an arena game with an overhead view. Learning about the IP was a lot of fun for everyone on the team. It also had a few “a-ha!” moments where they actually offered new information back to the main game team and said, “This is also what the IP can be.”.

Subway Surfers animated series is a good example of how IP can be used in several ways.

Nørvig: We’ve put out 11 YouTube videos so far, and we’re confident that our followers enjoy them. The 12th episode has raised a lot of eyebrows, I believe. Although we haven’t put it in the freezer, we’re not actively working on it either. We’re currently focusing on improving the gameplay for our gamers, but we’re also planning to produce additional animated material in the future.

O’Doherty: To add to that, we take inspiration from the animated series on a daily basis. Imagining the worlds we already have and are creating is a terrific approach to thinking about them. As a fan of the show, you’ll notice that Subway Surfers Tag features a Delorean park and a railyard where the original crew gathers. We use a lot of material from that series to create a complete gaming experience. For the sake of the game’s plot, we drew a lot of influence from the show.

Does the mobile market currently have room for games that you buy once and never have to pay for again? Those kinds of games don’t seem to be as prevalent on mobile devices. Is there a blunder here? It’s been a long time since we’ve seen those kinds of games.

If you look at the industry as a whole, I think free-to-play is clearly winning since it’s the most popular and fastest-growing segment of the market. We chose the free-to-play business model because we believe it would allow us to reach a large number of players and provide them with a wide range of enjoyable experiences.

However, when it comes to the premium market, I don’t believe it shrank at all. Smaller than the total market size, but still a significant number It’s possible that there are still a lot of gamers that love a premium experience and appreciate the variety of game designs that may be created when the game doesn’t require a subscription. I think there’s room for it and platforms like Apple Arcade, and some of its competitors, that curate content and make sure that there are family-friendly, safe havens where kids and people who just want to have a monthly subscription can enjoy the experiences without having to worry about monetization are a really solid supplement to what free-to-play allows you to try for free. If you’d like to go even further, you can do so.

“O’Doherty”: I agree. I grew up in the earliest days of mobile when the industry was still in its infancy. For a variety of reasons, I believe the industry has proceeded down an organic road toward free-to-play dominance. Playing free games is a great way for gamers to get their name out there. But I think things swing back and forth like a pendulum. I believe that wherever there is a gap in a market, something will step in to fill it. I’m not sure if there’s a change or a wave on the horizon, but I wouldn’t be surprised if one or two games, even at a high price point, manage to bust through and become a hit. That sort of game has been around before, don’t we? Consider the Fall Guys. As a full-fledged fad, is it feasible? I’m stumped. I can’t say for sure, but I’d love to play the games when they’re released by those firms.

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I’d like to know when it became evident that Subway Surfers was a tremendous success for Sybo. During that time, did Sybo undergo a shift?

As a childhood friend of one of the founders, I was aware of the situation, but I hadn’t yet begun working with the company. I began nine months later. However, in essence, it was at the time of launch. Considering the fact that it was May of 2012, the mobile market was still in its infant stages, but only three days after its debut, the first million apps had been downloaded. At the time, that was the number of cumulative downloads anyone wished for in the lifetime of a game. Everything Sybo has become subsequently was sparked by the fact that so many people downloaded Subway Surfers. Despite the fact that it has been ten years since the game’s introduction, we’re still seeing over a million and a half new installations a day. People enjoy what we’re doing so much that they keep coming back for more because of our mobile evergreen status, which is a result of our robust IP and early entry into the market. And I believe they can tell that we feel the same way about them. On Discord, we talk to them, and on social media, we spread the word about how much we love the IP and how much we love the game.

The question is, why did that happen? I’m sure Sybo sits about and thinks about it a lot. Were you trying too hard to figure out what made Subway Surfers a huge success?

Nrvig: Since my professional background is in economics, I’m qualified to explain at least half of this. Isn’t serendipity the other half of the equation? The ease with which it may be picked up and played is a big part of the appeal of Subway Surfers. Bodie Jahn-Mulliner (president and co-founder), Sylvester Rishj Jensen (chief creative director) came up with it, and it’s perfectly logical that I play a runner this way. You used to have to tilt the screen in order to see what was on the other side. In 2012, Subway Surfers introduced the three-lane system and swipes, and since then, every runner has used it.

As a result, we had a lot of virality and word-of-mouth coming from over-the-shoulder recognition. Since our world tour has taken us to more than 50 places, you can still recognize Subway Surfers if you see it. Despite the fact that you’re playing in a different country, everyone knows this is a Subway Surfers game. I’m sure those two factors play a role in it. As far as I’m concerned, this is the most important factor in animation. Even in the early stages of development, we were obsessed with having everything appear beautiful. We get a lot of compliments from people because of the tactility and sensibility of the movement and the fact that it’s truly done by skaters from the underground culture and subculture of hip-hop street graffiti.

With the greatest of intentions, we hope the best for any new games that try to compete with us, but it’s clear they don’t spend as much time on the final milliseconds of gaming as we do. Our on-the-fly gameplay is the best in the business.

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