How much money does Slither Io - How an app with a marketing budget of zero euros overtook Facebook and Snapchat

The app version of was downloaded 68 million times in just under three months, and 67 million users play the game in their browser every day. The numbers are even more impressive when you consider that the game is not backed by a large gaming company, but by a 32-year-old independent developer who allegedly couldn't spend any money on marketing due to a lack of funds. Online Marketing Rockstars got to the bottom of the phenomenon and explains its success.

When Steven Howse uploaded his latest development to Apple's App Store at the end of March this year, he could hardly have known what would happen in the weeks that followed. is a game with a relatively simple principle: The users control a snake that moves on a two-dimensional surface, can eat colored balls there and grows longer with each eaten ball. The game is over when the snake encounters an obstacle. The player is surrounded by other snakes; The aim is to make your own avatar the longest line in the game. A “leaderboard” informs all players about the score.

Snake in the multiplayer version

Older generation readers will be reminded of the movie Tron with a similar game playing a major role. Or of course the game Snake, known from Nokia mobile phones and at times very popular, the game idea of ​​which is very similar. Howses variant has one major difference compared to the original Snake: is a multiplayer game in which the players compete against real players. Allegedly up to 500 players can be active with their snakes in a game. Anyone who bumps into another with his character dies and dissolves into colored balls that the other players can eat. The game is not only available as a free app, but can also be played in a free desktop version via the browser.

The success comes almost like a landslide: On March 25th. is available for download for the first time from Apple's App Store. Less than two weeks later, on April 7th, the app ranks number one among the free games in the United States. On April 11th, even took first place in the US app store across all categories - and was ahead of the offers from large digital corporations such as Facebook and Snapchat.

The app store analytics tool App Annie shows how quickly shot to the top spots in the US app store

Number one in the App Store in 48 countries

But that is only the beginning. By mid-April, the game will also reach first place in the respective app store in many other countries. On iOS, the game has temporarily achieved first place in 48 countries across all categories, and at least the top 10 in 88 countries. The Android version has so far taken first place in 37 countries across all categories, and 66 countries in the games category. is also extremely popular in Germany; rises to fourth place in the cross-operating system download ranking of App Annie in April and can hold this position in May. A US mobile blog calls the "Snake for the Instagram generation".

The result: By mid-June, had 68 million app downloads; 67 million players meander through the browser version every day, as Steven Howse now told the Wall Street Journal.

This success is astonishing for several reasons. For one, because the idea of ​​the game isn't new. If you enter the search term "snake" in the App Store, you can scroll through a long list of epigones from the Nokia game. Just last year, the game with the principle "eat, so you get bigger" was extremely successful. In this multiplayer game developed by a then 19-year-old Brazilian, the players don't control a snake, but a cell that devours other cells. The game, which also exists in an app and browser version, was the most searched game on Google's search engine in 2015 - ahead of blockbusters like Fallout 4. The success once again inspired a whole armada of imitators. depends on all competition

Steven Howse has succeeded in leaving all of these competitors behind with Meanwhile, the game is not only searched for more often than for, but also more often than for the big gaming apps from professional mobile publishers such as Angry Birds or Clash of Clans.

Against this background, the success of is extremely impressive. The mobile gaming business is now worth billions; the industry has become more professional over the past few years. With a few exceptions, the app charts for games are dominated by large publishers with enormous financial and personal power. maker Howse told the Wall Street Journal journalist how he had problems paying his rent just a few months ago.

Before, the now 32-year-old was rather moderately successful with his developments. In 2003 he put a page with Flash gadgets and tools online, in 2005 the multi-user coloring page Drawball, and in 2006 the photo editing tool Hypah. In 2011 he helped to develop the Livememe service: a site that members of the Reddit social community in particular use to create “memes”, that is, upload images and add text. After a tough battle among several competitors, however, Imgur establishes itself as the main image service for Reddit and becomes the traffic heavyweight; Howses service is left behind. In April 2016, when the success of went through the roof, Howse sells Livememe, after all for 75,000 US dollars. In the mobile area, the developer is completely unsuccessful before Both the puzzle game Circle Push and the mashup Flappy 2048 Extreme, with which, as with, he tries to combine the game ideas of two already successful games (Flappy Bird and 2048) both do not have any noteworthy placements in any app store.

Did a forum post start the avalanche?

So how did's unparalleled success come about? Howse reported to the Wall Street Journal that he developed the game within six months of following the success of After the launch, he didn't have the funds to do any kind of paid marketing. "I posted a half-hearted post on a gaming forum and thought nobody would notice the game or be interested in it," Howse told the industry blog Pocket Gamer. But within a few days, the usage and download numbers pick up speed.

A corresponding post from Howse cannot be found on Google - which could also be due to the fact that it was posted in an area for registered users that Google cannot search. A post by a Reddit user from March 29th (four days after the launch) can be found in the Webgames sub-forum, which collects 230 "upvotes" within a short period of time - at first glance that is not much, but at least significantly more than the average in this "subreddit". Obviously, wins fans on Reddit: Just a few days later, users on Reddit set up their own sub-forum for Reddit had already been one of the main success factors at

Entry barriers are lower than with other games

A plus point of in terms of user acquisition are the low entry barriers: The game is available as a free browser version; possible smartphone owners can test the game before installing it on their device. No registration is necessary, the rules are easy to understand and anyone can start playing right away.

One of the drivers behind the spread of could possibly also have been special "skins": In order for the users to be able to give their characters a certain color or a special pattern and thus to stand out from the other players, they have to use Facebook or Twitter share a link to the game.

However, the biggest growth driver is likely to be YouTube in particular. “A few days after the launch, all these people with millions of subscribers posted LetsPlay videos on YouTube. I could not believe it. The game grew very quickly after that, ”Howse told Pocket Gamer.

Hundreds of thousands of Youtube views within a few days

If you search YouTube today, you will find various videos that confirm Howse's statement. On March 29th, LetsPlayer Bodil40 (whose channel currently has 388 million views) uploaded a video entitled “The new - with Snakes ??”, which has meanwhile been viewed almost 777,000 times. The next day, another video by Youtuber David Segerson follows, which again compares the title with and which has so far recorded almost 150,000 views. The German LetsPlayer Danny Jesden (almost 200 million views) also published a video for on the same day, which has so far been viewed 354,000 times. A video (“The New”) from the English-speaking LetsPlayer Ward will follow on April 1 (a total of 43 million views), which has recorded almost one million views to date. The climax follows on April 7th when PewDiePie, the world's biggest gaming Youtuber, plays in a video. On the same day, the app soars to number 1 in the US app store.

Did Howse pay the Youtubers to play his game despite the contrary information? It is noticeable that all of the videos mentioned so far either emphasize the proximity to in the title or make ambiguous pubertal jokes about "the length of the queue". But in the descriptions under the videos, at least today, no affiliate links can be found that would clearly prove that a paid advertising campaign took place here. Whether the LetsPlayer simply have a heart for small developers, are enthusiastic about the game or whether the whole thing was an orchestrated action, can hardly be checked today in retrospect.

The company's own YouTube channel of, which was set up on April 2, at least suggests that Howse or a member of his team is very familiar with the video platforms and their possibilities. So far it has had almost 90 million views and is the most popular video for the game on Youtube with a video with 22 million views. As the YouTube analytics tool veescore shows, the channel currently has between two and three million views per day.

The development of the daily view numbers on the official YouTube channel from (source: Veescore, please click for a larger version)

400 million views with slither videos

Meanwhile, the total number of videos on on Youtube is immense. "There are already 82 videos with more than a million views on Slither," says veescore maker and YouTube expert Christoph Burseg. "Overall, the videos for the game have already recorded 400 million video views across all channels." The aforementioned skins and "mods", ie modifications of the game that other gamers have developed themselves, are a particular driver. "As a result, Slither has awesome YouTube rankings for well-known games such as Pacman, Nyancat, Angry Birds, Minecraft, and so on," said Burseg. Through corresponding videos, those interested in gaming who are actually looking for videos about other games will come across According to an estimate by the statistics service Alexa, YouTube is the most important source of traffic for the browser version of and are not only similar in terms of the gameplay - the spread and the sudden, great success followed a very similar pattern. Matheus Valadares, the developer of, posted a link to the browser version of the game for the first time in the 4Chan message board (here an archived version of the article). also quickly received its own subreddit on Reddit; Here too, Youtube was an enormous growth driver. To date, videos are said to have been viewed a total of two billion times.

The professional mobile gaming industry actually relies on other types of “user acquisition” by default. Because it has become difficult to get attention and downloads through the app store alone, so-called app install ads in apps and on the mobile Internet, with which publishers buy installs, have become standard. But the costs have risen sharply recently and the market has become tighter. Many publishers are therefore testing new strategies: expensive TV spots at the Super Bowl, for example, or working with celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Katy Perry or Britney Spears.

User acquisition via Reddit and 4Chan

In contrast, both and have chosen a different strategy for success: They have built on existing communities by heavily integrating Reddit and 4Chan in particular, both communities with millions of users - for example, by encouraging users to use certain abbreviations in their names could change the appearance of their avatars according to their preferred community. copied this model with the aforementioned skins. There are or were there skins that players could use to identify themselves as Reddit or Twitch users, for example.

As successful as this user acquisition strategy was, it makes it difficult for developers to monetize their games - because 4Chan and Reddit users are traditionally critical when someone all too obviously wants to earn money with or from them. The developer of initially published the game as a browser version; the app version followed a few months later in collaboration with the Swiss online gaming provider Miniclip. Presumably, the company paid the young developer a substantial amount for the license. A few months after the launch of the apps, Miniclip introduced new payment functions, such as so-called coins, as a YouTube video by Pocket Gamer shows. That didn't go down well in the gaming community; Sellout can be read in many forum posts. The game's app store rankings have plummeted over the past few months.

$ 100,000 in sales per day maker Steven Howse has apparently benefited from this situation, as the App Store Rankings and Google Trends show. But despite the mass achieved in this way, Howse is apparently also struggling with monetization. As he told the Wall Street Journal, he has already converted a seven-figure sum with, meanwhile the daily income amounted to more than 100,000 US dollars.

That may sound like a high sum to those who are not in the industry - but compared to other games, this is very little. Industry experts estimate that Clash Royale, the latest game from gaming app market leader Supercell, is currently selling between $ 500,000 and $ 1.2 million per day. Like all other major gaming publishers, Supercell relies on in-app purchases, with which players can purchase special items, for example, in order to gain an advantage over fellow players.

Advertising as the sole pillar of income

At, this has not yet existed in this form. The users gained via Reddit and other communities are likely to be very skeptical of this form of monetization. Howse has made money through advertising so far. An advertisement is displayed in the app every time the player fails with his queue and the game is over. For 3.99 euros, users can turn off advertising. In the browser version, apparently after every third game, Google Adsense ads are displayed.

Howse had not yet integrated monetization when the apps were launched; but only introduced it afterwards. The analytics service provider Apptopia therefore estimated the income from from mid-April to mid-May at a meager 72,000 US dollars - in total.

He's getting less than a US cent per ad, Howse told the Wall Street Journal. After all: Apparently the intensity of use is quite high. The game records a total of 460 million “fails”, i.e. player deaths, per day. Daily income like the aforementioned 100,000 US dollars should therefore already be achievable in this way.

Problem child hosting

On the other hand, according to Howses, the monthly cost of hosting is $ 15,000. Because of the hundreds of thousands of simultaneously active players, one of the greatest challenges for the maker is to buy server capacities where they are needed so that the players do not suffer from delays and lose interest in the game. is profitable, says Howse.

The company Miniclip, which is hated by Reddit and 4Chan users, integrated the browser version of on its own website very early on. According to a post from a moderator on the subreddit, Miniclip did not take over However, it is conceivable that Howse will receive a license payment because of the integration.

As Howse told the Wall Street Journal, he is also considering selling - he has already received three interesting offers.Such a statement should be interpreted as a clear signal from someone who has so far hardly shown himself in public, of whom no private Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin profile can be found on the Internet: if someone has to pay the right amount Howes would be more than happy to part with