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Publisher Spotlight: Imangi Studios

Posted May 1, 2015

Founded in 2008 by husband and wife team Keith Shepherd and Natalia Luckyanova, Imangi Studios is a mobile game developer dedicated to creating small games that are enjoyable for everyone. And, it appears that everyone is paying attention:  their games have been downloaded well over a billion times, and their most popular title Temple Run spawned an entire genre of endless runners.

Why Mobile?
Prior to founding Imangi, Shepherd and Luckyanova were software developers with aspirations to start their own business. When the Apple App Store opened, they saw an opportunity, and Keith left his day job to developer their first game, Imangi. The game was a hit, and that’s when the couple realized that it could become a business for them, and Luckyanova left her day job in in Spring 2009 to join her husband full time in their game development efforts. The rest is chart-topping history.


The Team
In the early days, Shepherd and Luckyanova relied on each other and the help of just a single freelance designer to create their titles. Today, the team is 11 members strong. While this is notable growth, Shepherd notes that Imangi plans on sticking close to their indie roots:

“We bootstrapped this company. We don’t have any investors or folks backing us. We always identified, and still do identify, with the indie spirit and the indie movement. We want to maintain that.”


The Games
Undeniably, the most popular IP Imangi has created is Temple Run, an endless runner that puts you in the heart of an escape scene from a movie.  As SlideToPlay describes the game:

“In pretty much every treasure hunting adventure movie there’s one specific scene in which the plucky hero finally gets his hands on the treasure but then has to navigate a maze of booby traps in order to get out alive. Temple Run is this scene and nothing else. And it’s amazing.”

Specifically, players control an explorer who has stolen a treasure from a temple. While trying to escape, the player is chased by demonic monkeys. With no end in sight, the player runs until they fall off a path or are eaten by the monkeys. To make the run exciting, the player can collect coins while running to unlock power-ups and other characters.

Of course, if a player’s run ends too soon, there’s always a second chance.  Imangi smartly monetizes their game by offering players two options for acquiring an extra life:  spend a crystal or watch a video. Once the player has selected their option and completed their purchase or video, it’s back to the action.

The original Temple Run game was released in 2011, and boasted a team of only three:  design and programming by founders Shepherd and Luckanova with art by Kiril Tchangov. Realizing they had a gem on their hands, Imangi released the sequel Temple Run 2 in January 2013.

While Imangi may be most well known for Temple Run, the studio actually has a handful of titles under their belt, including Max Adventure, Harbor Master, Hippo High Drive, GeoSpark, Little Red Sled, Word Squares, and their self-titled debut title Imangi.

Lessons Learned
While Temple Run has been extremely successful for Imangi, it wasn’t their first title, and they learned many lessons along the way. For instance, the intuitive tilt and swipe controls in Temple Run are a result of lessons Imangi learned while developing Max Adventure. The game was a dual-stick action adventure game. While Imangi had thought that utilizing familiar on-screen virtual controls would be intuitive for users, Shepherd wasn’t happy:

“Using the virtual controls always felt like a cop-out on mobile devices. In our postmortem of that game, we were looking at it and saying, ‘What if we spent some time noodling on that and thinking about other ways to control a character in a 3D environment?’”

Style & Inspiration
11019010_908025655914361_3004108464552459303_nTheir noodling soon turned into inspiration. As Imangi explored their new tilt and swipe control scheme, they thought about what type of environment this type of constant movement would be fun and challenging for users. It all evolved from there, as Shepherd described in an interview with VentureBeat:

“A maze was the first thing we hit on. We set out to build this environment of an endless maze. The more and more we went down that path, the more and more it looked like a temple wall or something like that. The environment and theme and a lot of that stuff clicked into place as we were going along. It really started with that mechanic, though, the swipes to move the character around.”

Advice to New Publishers
So what advice does Imangi have for new mobile game developers? In an interview with Rob LeFebvre, Luckyanova advised to learn from failures and keep experimenting:

“You probably won’t succeed right away, but failure is good. Learn from it. Our game Max Adventure took us a year to make and was a financial flop. If we had given up and just sulked afterwards like we kind of wanted to do, we would never have made Temple Run.”

Of course, simply creating a great game through trial and error. Luckyanova reminds developers to strategize their marketing efforts:

“You need to think about how you’re going to get that game out to as many people as possible. We spend a great deal of time on this aspect of the business, which is almost as important as making great games.”

Follow the Team
In addition to following @Imangi on Twitter for the latest updates from the studio, check out the Twitter accounts of the three masterminds behind Temple Run:

Looking Forward
While chatting with Dean Takahashi, Shepherd confessed that while their team has been devoted to creating additional Temple Run content for their loyal user base, there’s a desire to do something more and “get back to making new games.” Expect to see a new title from them soon, but don’t hold your breath for Temple Run 3 just yet.

Of course, if you want to get your hands on a new Temple Run experience, you could always check it out the virtual reality version on the Samsung Gear VR. In a recent interview with Pocket Gamer, Shepherd explained why took on the VR project:

“We wanted to experiment with developing for new technologies. . . It was an interesting challenge and learning experience for us to tackle, and it was very cool to be an early adopter of VR technology.”

Join the Conversation
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