I’m addicted the the Subway Surfers iPhone game – have you played it yet?

Quick shout out to Vasu Vadlamudi who provided a lot of the great insights below. Vasu was previously at Zynga and now at Delectable. If you are into wine, download his new app – you will love it!

Subway Surfers Game

Everyone I know is addicted to Subway Surfers. Me, my 5 year old cousin, my mom, and the parking lot attendant at the mall. It’s nuts!

I found myself playing Subway Surfers more and more and then I realized why. They are amazing at Game Mechanics!

Game Mechanic #1: Easy to Learn

Lets start off with the core game, it is extremely easy to learn but really hard to master. Similar to golf. This makes it easy for anyone to start playing and enjoying in a matter of seconds. The game gets faster and faster so for more experienced players the game remains exciting and challenging.

Missions Subway SurfersGame Mechanic #2: Missions

The game has fun missions that keep on changing as you advance. These missions actually teach you how to get better at the game, the first few are super easy and make you feel good about yourself because you can pass them at the first go. You start saying things like this “I’m awesome at the game, maybe this is what I’m destined to do with my life!”

Game Mechanic #3: Coins

Just “having coins” is kind of a mechanical thing. It is the way Subway Surfers designed and implemented their coins system that makes it feel really meaningful to collect. Games that implement a currency well succeed because they either

a) make it so that every time I play actually helps me out with the other times I play (ex. coins I earn today, I can use tomorrow – so I am investing and also excited about the promise of learning or doing new things in the future) or

b) they give me an element of strategy and choice (when should I use my precious coins? on what? how much should I even FOCUS on the coins vs. just surviving).

Leaderboard - Subway Surfers

Game Mechanic #4: Leader-boards

They give you 5,000 coins if you connect to Facebook. That is a lot of coin, on average I collect 200 coins each play so connecting to Facebook is pretty heavily incentivized.

This makes a lot of sense though. A Leaderboard allows you to compete against your friends. One of my cousins was up until 6am playing the game because his friend overtook his high score. (Just in case you are curious he wasn’t able to beat his friend’s high score and is now accusing him of buying coins)

This also adds a viral component to the game, you can easily share your score on your Facebook timeline which serves as a personal endorsement for your friends to download the game.

multiple upgrades - subway surfers

Game Mechanic #5: Multiple Upgrades

All gadgets can get even better. For example the JetPack allows you to fly for 30 seconds, but if you upgrade the jet pack last for a few more seconds. There are 5 levels of upgrades and each level costs more coins. For example level one is just 300 coins, level 4 upgrade is 10,000 coins. The beauty of this is right after you upgrade is you see a dramatic difference which makes you addicted. All of a sudden you start becoming focused on collecting coins and start thinking of ways to collect more coins. You realize that 10,000 coins is going to take you 10+ hours to, so you decide to take a quick short cut and just buy 10,000 coins for $4.99.

Yutani Subwar Surfers

Game Mechanic #6: Collectibles

The game never gets boring. Their is a lot to discover and use. Every few plays you get a mystery box and when you get lucky you can get a spaceship or guitar. I’m not a big gamer but for some reason I really want that spaceship!

Now, getting that spaceship seems next to impossible when you run the numbers. Every 5 game plays I get about 1 mystery box and every 5 mystery boxes I get 1 spaceship card. In order to actually get a spaceship I need to collect 500 spaceship cards. This means I need to play the game at least 12,500 times! As sadly as this sounds this makes me want the spaceship even more!!!! So rare and unique, I must have it.

Daily Challenge - Subway Surfers

Game Mechanic #7: Daily Play Bonus

The Subway Surfers team wants you to play everyday… they don’t want to be a “One-Play Wonder”. They have their own type of loyalty program if you play 5 days straight. This alone makes you want to launch and play the app on a daily basis.

Game Mechanic #8: Daily Missions

Along with daily play bonuses they have new daily missions. These missions make me want to play first thing in the morning, similar to my addiction to coffee. The daily missions also vary from the regular ones? It gives the user a different experience to look forward to (but not too different, after all they fell in love with the game as it exists for a reason).

Tony - Limited Time Only Subway Surfers

Game Mechanic #9: Limited Time Only Items

You can change your character to different people. This is a lot of fun, I’m not really sure why but it just is. Anyway, they have limited time only characters. This means you have to buy coins if you can’t earn 100,000 coins in 2 day period.

Game Mechanics or Just Good Game Design?

A lot of the mechanics I observed are actually broader than just a game mechanic – they are hallmarks of good game design.

Yes, it’s true. I love Subway Surfers

Subway Surfers is one of the coolest games I have seen and their use of Game Mechanics is executed brilliantly.

These mechanics don’t interfere with the core fun of the game, a lot of them serve to actually ENHANCE it (leaderboards!) or at least make sure that more people get a chance to try out this great game. To me at least it’s always a little sad to see a great product that doesn’t bring as much joy to the world as it could have because not enough people ever saw it.

Do you think Game Mechanics are good or bad? I’d love to know your opinion in the comments below.

PS If you are wine connoisseur or a wanna-be wine connoisseur YOU MUST download and try Vasu’s new iPhone app.


  1. Whoa this post rocked my world! I’ve been (unsuccessfully developing iPhone apps) for a few years now and just what I needed to read. Thanks!

  2. Any insights on In-App Purchase promotions? I see that there is both a 45k coin and 65k coin available for $4.99. I assume the latter is in some sort of promotional period.

  3. I have not played this game, but I think you noted the most important attribute of a good game. Five minutes to learn, a lifetime to master. Go. Chess. Backgammon.

  4. does anybody know, how games/apps implement this coins/reward system. Does they do it in-house/manually or there are platforms/frameworks to build this quickly in your app

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