Hit Game Temple Run Helps Imangi Studios Keep Pace With Bigger Rivals

CEO Walter Devins of Imangi Studios poses with a golden icon from the game Temple Run.

At Raleigh’s Imangi Studios, a demon-monkey can chase you in real life, just like in their hit games Temple Run and Temple Run 2.

In the game, your character is holding a golden icon and running from a herd of demon-monkeys through an obstacle-filled course. In the Imangi Studios offices, they have a custom-made demon-monkey suit that people can wear. Not quite as thrill-inducing as the herd chasing you in the game, but equally as creepy.

The life-size demon-monkey suit has been featured in videos on their YouTube channel, where the startup has over 1 million subscribers. Sitting next to the plaque displaying its YouTube accomplishment sits a Nickelodeon Kid’s Choice Award, a real-life golden icon, and a shoe signed by Olympic sprinting legend Usain Bolt, a super-fan of the games. Temple Run, created in 2011, and Temple Run 2 (2013) have had over 2 billion downloads combined.

So how does a Triangle startup reach this level of awesomeness?

By running.

Walter Devins, CEO of Imangi Studios, said that Temple Run’s simple goal of running gives players a zen feeling, and keeps them playing the game.

“Take this thing and run,” Devins said. “It’s a human reaction. It’s, ‘I know I get the shiny gold thing and run away,’ and everybody just kind of understood.”

But Imangi Studios was far from an overnight success.

Devins was originally a lawyer, running his own successful law firm in Raleigh. His high school friend Keith Shepherd was working for a tech company in the area. The two had dreamed about becoming entrepreneurs together before, but when Apple launched the first ever App Store, they knew they had the chance.

In 2008, the two left their stable jobs to take the leap, forming Imangi along with Shepherd’s wife Natalia Luckyanova. Shepherd and Luckyanova are listed as Co-Founders, while Devins serves as CEO.

They started making games, beginning with a “tiled, old word-game-type thing,” Devins said. It had some success, so they released more games. They then had some ups and downs over the course of making about eight or nine games.

Then, the company had one really big failure. They released a game called Max Adventure—about a boy named Max who, well, had adventures—that they thought would be a really cool story. But the game was too complicated and it flopped.

The life-size demon-monkey suit sits in the corner of the Imangi Studios office.

However, the mechanics that made the game work were solid. Now, Imangi just had to create a storyline that appealed to the public. Soon, Temple Run was born.

It happened to be at the same time that the App Store started offering apps for free, with the option to purchase more things inside of the game. Imangi switched Temple Run to be one of those apps, and it blew up.

“And what’s interesting,” says Devins, “is that a lot of companies at the time that were having success, say, Angry Birds, had teams of 50 to 150 people, they had marketing teams where they were spending millions of dollars and doing commercials and that kind of stuff. We were a team at that point of three people, and it spread by word of mouth.”

Now, the app has grown with the addition of more characters and different worlds to run in. The company even partnered with Disney for the release of the movies Brave and Oz the Great and Powerful, creating a special game for each one.

One corner of Imangi’s office holds a host of merchandise created about Temple Run, including pajamas, and a National Geographic partnership.

The company has now hired Hollywood script writers to tell the story of the game.

“We have character, dialogue and backstory,” Devins said. “Why are they running? Who are friends? Who are not friends? Who are the bad guys? And through the new games that we’re making right now, we hope to tell that story a little bit at a time.”

The game is also popular globally, with interest growing in China and India especially. Imangi has created maps in China and Chinese characters, and is working on including Indian traditional holidays, like Holi, into the app in an authentic way.

The company is also trying to make its workplace more inclusive by hiring employees from diverse backgrounds and practicing mindfulness at work.

“We do meditation,” Devins said. “We try to do deep breaths before we start some meetings. And there’s scientific evidence proving that it really helps balance people out. I think that’s something that sets us apart.”

And on that note, Devin said the company is also looking to hire new talent, so if that sounds like a fit, reach out to Imangi.

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About Laura Brummett 22 Articles
Laura covers tech and startup news for GrepBeat. She is a business journalism major at UNC-Chapel Hill, minoring in studio art and history. Reach her by email at laura@grepbeat.com or find her on Twitter @laura_brummett.