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Runaway Play celebrates 10 years

Award winning New Zealand game studio, Runaway Play, celebrates 10 years

of releasing mobile games inspired by nature.

Award winning New Zealand games studio, Runaway Play is celebrating its 10 year anniversary this week - a rare feat in the fiercely competitive games industry. Based in Dunedin, New Zealand, Runaway Play create free-to-play mobile games inspired by the natural world. With successful titles including Flutter: Butterfly Sanctuary, Flutter: Starlight, Splash: Ocean Sanctuary and Furistas Cat Cafe, Runaway games are enjoyed by around a million people worldwide every month on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.

Runaway has flown quietly under the radar in New Zealand - due largely to the fact that their customer base is nearly entirely overseas, with key markets in the United States, China, Germany and the United Kingdom. However this games company boasts some impressive achievements, including over ten million downloads, multiple awards, a 70% increase in revenue during the last three years, visits from the Prime Minister of New Zealand, an executive team led entirely by women in a male dominated industry, and a “no crunch” culture with an emphasis on providing a happy, positive workplace for the team of 30 talented artists, programmers and production staff who work quietly in the light and modern office in central Dunedin.

Runaway began as a small games studio in 2009, during the early years of the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. The idea of the studio seeded from the mind of founder Tim Nixon who wanted to create a workspace where passionate people could do what they love and truly feel valued. From there, the fledgling business was supported by Natural History New Zealand (NHNZ), a New Zealand based production house and Runaway’s parent company.

The studio’s initial project was a virtual butterfly sanctuary in which players raised butterfly species in a relaxing forest environment. This early project was published on the Facebook games platform, and later shifted to the free-to-play mobile market as Flutter: Butterfly Sanctuary. Flutter has been a flagship title for the studio, providing a stable revenue base for the business for seven years (an impressive feat for a mobile game). Runaway has since released four more successful games; all containing messages about a positive approach to the environment.

With a primarily female demographic, Runaway provide games for individuals often overlooked by the games sector: women and marginalised folks. Games by Runaway promote sustainability and offer relaxing experiences. This diverges from stereotypes of video games as being violent and male-oriented. In a world battling with environmental issues, games by Runaway fill a void for conscious consumers. This unique experience stems from the combination of a diverse creative team alongside a dedication to offering an experience which highlights the beauty and wonder of nature.

The studio has grown exponentially over the years, with the company presently consisting of thirty individuals from diverse backgrounds. Women occupy the top leadership roles within the company, with Managing Director, Zoe Hobson and Creative Director, Emma Johanson. The studio is one of the few games companies in the world that has near gender parity with very low staff turnover rates. Managing Director, Zoe Hobson attributes this to strong ethical brand values and a culture built from transparency and mutual respect between staff, alongside an ongoing effort to recognise unconscious bias and promote diversity.

Runaway has also worked hard to promote diversity and communicate positive ethical messages within the wider games industry. The studio’s social media campaign #GirlsBehindTheGames to promote marginalised voices within the games industry has previously gathered national and international attention, including attention from the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Adern.

Although immensely proud of the studio’s achievements over the last ten years, Managing Director Zoe Hobson says the best is yet to come. “Our team has done an incredible job, starting from a point where no one on the team had made a mobile game before and growing to where we are now, as a healthy and profitable business supported by our live products. We have all learnt so much during this journey...but what I’m really excited about is where we go next. Our next games will put all our learning into practice, and I believe they will be really appealing to a large market. We’ve had our heads down over the last ten years, doing the work quietly and getting on with things - I can’t wait to see that hard work pay off, and I think you’ll be hearing a lot more from us.”

Upcoming announced titles from Runaway Play include ‘Old Friends Dog Sanctuary’, a mobile game in collaboration with a famous real dog sanctuary (Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary) based in Tennessee, USA. The real Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary is a popular not for profit organisation which runs on donations, generated largely from their social media fan base of over two million followers. In Old Friends the game, players are given the opportunity to run their own senior dog sanctuary and nurture old dogs, based on the most loved characters from the real sanctuary. Recent clues from Runaway also hint at another title approaching release early next year.


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