What Makes a Viral Game?

Written By MrSun at 9:55 pm - Tuesday, January 13th, 2009
Categories: Game Development

You all those games, the kind that usually aren’t particularly amazing but turn out to still be very popular. Those are what are know as viral games. Some are created to advertise a product or event. Others are just made to be funny. But, they all have some aspects that are special to these kind of games. I’m going to tell you the components of games like these.

They’re Easy to Learn

A viral game must be easy to learn and play. This way, anyone can play it. Most of the time, you only need to use a few keys and/or the mouse. One viral game that really utilizes this aspect is Spank the Monkey. There is only one thing you have to do, which is move the hand as quickly as you can. You can’t really any simpler than that.

They Have a Simple Concept

This component is very similar to being easy to learn. Often, a game with a simple concept is easy to learn. It’s also very easy to talk to others about. In order to have a simple concept, a game should have one true goal. Don’t even think about creating sub goals or side quests. It should be as simple as getting from point A to point B. Spank the Money, again, perfectly carries this out.

They are Out of the Ordinary

This is the most important aspect of a viral game. Being out of the ordinary is what makes people want to tell others about your game. Games that just have what most other games have will never become viral.

There are many ways to make a game out of the ordinary. Sometimes, all you have to do is just have some crazy art. Perhaps you could add some extremely controversial themes, like violence towards small animals Of course, it is up to you to create a truly unique game.

Some Examples of Viral Games

Perhaps you’d like tell us some games that could be considered viral?



Nice breakdown. I guess these things may seem obvious, but it’s worth emphasizing these three extremely crucial factors. Thanks.

Some thoughts:

Easy to Learn -> get the player into the meat of the gameplay as quickly and reliably as possible

Simple Concept -> let players tell other people about the game as easily as possible

Out of the Ordinary -> give players a reason to tell other people about the game

Another example of a viral game: You Have to Burn the Rope

I wonder if in-game ads (like MochiAds) are the only appropriate way to monetize a viral game. How effective do you think ads would be versus other things like microtransactions – selling virtual items or premium content? Would that even work for meme-ish games?

Mr Sun:

Thanks for your input.

On the topic of in-game ads, I think those would probably the most successful in monetization, due to the huge amounts of hits most of them get. But, using microtransactions could be an interesting experiment. But, the way I see it, if your game is so complicated that it’s actually possible to buy in-game items, then it really isn’t truly viral.


Viral games have a way of rotating at my workplace. The current fav is Bubbleshooter found at http://www.bubbleshooter.net . It’s easy to learn, and a good ‘mindless’ task when bored or stressed at work.