How to be #1 game in US Appstore without spending a dime?



Originally written for Naavik newsletter!

After initially being created as a rail safety campaign for Metro Trains Melbourne in 2012, Dumb Ways to Die has since become a hugely successful brand with a colossal, global following.

After the original campaign video went viral on social media in November 2012, the team decided to take the animation and turn it into an iOS app.

On 6 May 2013, Metro released a “Dumb Ways to Die” game as an app for iOS devices. The game, developed by Julian Frost, Patrick Baron, and Samuel Baird, invites players to avoid the dangerous activities engaged in by the various characters featured throughout the campaign.

Within the app, players can also pledge to “not do dumb stuff around trains.” The activities include things like getting toast out with a fork and poking a stick at a grizzly bear. An Android version was released in September 2013.

A sequel titled “Dumb Ways to Die 2: The Games” was released on 18 November 2014. In the sequel, there are a lot more varieties of challenges in each particular building, and each building has a particular theme. More sequels and spin-offs were released until today to underline the power of this intellectual property (IP).

PlaySide Studios

PlaySide Studios Limited, which was incorporated in 2011 and is listed on the Australian Securities Exchange, is Australia’s largest publicly listed video game developer. It provides titles in a range of categories, including self-published games based on original intellectual property and games developed in collaboration with studios, such as Disney, Pixar, Warner Bros, and Nickelodeon. The company has over 130 games creators and other staff and its portfolio consists of 50+ titles that are delivered across 4 platforms, which include mobile, virtual reality, augmented reality, and PC.

Besides everything else, on 1 October 2021, PlaySide Studios acquired the Dumb Ways to Die franchise for A$2.25 million from Metro. Playside Studios also released an NFT called BEANS on 3 February 2022. The Beans NFT project is all about giving NFTs an actual use. All Beans NFTs will be viewable in 3D another way to flex, and eventually playable in a Play & Earn game!

This NFT sale brought $8 Million to the company’s pocket. The return on investment looks pretty solid, right? 

Expect to continue seeing the Beans all around the world, via NFT collections and even with PlaySide’s recent deal with Netflix Games to bring you Dumb Ways to Survive.

Working with the brand to it’s fullest potential!

The power of social media 

As indicated earlier, this game is 10 years old and has a big audience. The original campaign video has 229 Million views on YouTube. The Dumb Ways to Die YouTube channel is followed by 1.09 million people, but most importantly the TikTok channel has 2.4 Million followers and 20.4 million likes. Since acquiring the Dumb Ways franchise in October 2021, PlaySide immediately began re-engaging with fans and looking for the right opportunities to enhance the brand and deliver new content to a growing audience. Here’s where it gets really interesting. 

The original Dumb Ways to Die game reached the top 1 rank in the US downloads chart in Appstore on the 2nd of February 2023. Why is this interesting? There is no User Acquisition operations whatsoever! All their downloads are coming from organic, resp. Their social media activities drive all downloads! 

UA channels live currently? Z-E-R-O

No bullshit gaming podcast two & a half gamers break!

two & half gamers gaming podcast

3 Videos

session #42


session #41


session #40

Strong social media presence

The PlaySide social media team has been pushing a ton of content on TikTok for a long period of time. The TikTok strategy changed over the course of the last two months. They were publishing videos every two days with 10s+ length. They saw a nice boost in downloads around Christmas, but their strategy remained the same = A new 10s+ video every other day.

Things started to change at the end of January 2023 when BEANS (the characters from Dumb Ways to Die game) started riding the dancing trends of TikTok. Average video views went from 20-30k to 150-200k as the average daily installs of the game. From 5k to 15k daily installs in US only. 

If I look at the current CPI’s in US and take an average of all averages I see $4 CPI. To get these numbers of installs they would need to spend $60k/day in User Acquisition. First few days of February started to work really well. Few videos per day, all under 7 second length and 100k+ daily installs ($400k/daily spend). 

Why is it so successful? 

They started to combine the dumb ways to die soundtrack with short clips of people doing stupid things. Millions of views per video, tens of thousands of downloads. BOOM! Just look for yourself below!

@official_dumbwaystodie ♬ original sound – Blake Floyd
@official_dumbwaystodie ♬ original sound – Blake Floyd

The anatomy of a (potential) viral TikTok video

Very important to start with is the length of the video. All videos under 7 seconds, kind of guarantee a nice algorithm boost for your posts. I found out about this when I experimented a little bit with TikTok myself for our no-BS gaming podcast two & a half gamers.

Here are other elements of a quality TikTok video:

  • Catchy hook that grabs the attention
  • Quality content
  • Call-to-action

What are the types of videos that might go viral?

  • Public Interviews
  • Day in the life videos
  • Educational videos
  • “POV” type of videos
  • Product review videos

Dumb ways to die combines their Beans characters, signature music, and short clips of people doing stupid things suggesting they are going to die pretty soon. This is obviously sarcastic death. But the combo works so well! Have a peek at their TikTok channel once more.

Dumb ways to die also leverages the save the dog phenomenon adaptation at the beginning of the video. Does this ring a bell? Of course, fake ads are all the way! PlaySide team is monitoring all the trends on TikTok well. Kudos to them!

In order to succeed on TikTok you need to follow the current trends – dance moves, music, whatever else and adapt it to your brand.


Download NOW! iOS : Android : A whole new adventure to experience! Nothing like you've seen before!

♬ original sound – Dumb Ways to Die

No marketing? Hell no! Just no User Acquisition

As PlaySide’s CEO said, it’s zero marketing cost, all viral. Well, you still need to pay the social media team, they produce content, equipment, etc. etc… It’s zero user acquisition cost. On the other hand, isn’t this just a different terminology for UA? 

They were able to hit #1 download rank in US thanks to continuous hard work, experimentation, and following trends. It took a while to get where they are right now. 

Please don’t think you can replicate this easily. 

Months of hard work came to fruition and we can see the results now. Hats off, guys! Well done, you just saved your company millions of dollars in budget spent. 

TikTok UA channel of the 2022

I am pretty sure even after you read this, you still underestimate the power of TikTok. I’ve been saying this over and over again in the last few months. It works on both ends – Organic & paid. 

The UA performance is so good. I can see 4x lower CPIs on TikTok when compared to other channels (mainly Facebook) and the quality is even better.

Few weeks ago, I opened up a Purchase campaign on TikTok for an action game. D1 ROAS 72% with $1.7 CPI targeting UK, DE & France as T1 campaign on Android.

I guess here we have a winner of the UA for 2022!

Some useful tips for running UA on TikTok:

Discover trending hashtags daily and use them in ads (to multiply reach)

  • Use 1 – 5 hashtags to get closer to your target audience.

In creatives use real-life people and situations to look like native content

Ideal creative length 7-15s

  • but if you only have longer 20s+ videos, use them to start
  • then focus on shorter video production

Use vertical format (in high quality – 720p)

  • but the square format works well too!

Add background music to your ads to make them more enjoyable and native

Start leveraging TikTok creative gallery and using their music gallery as well.

  • I run a split test for one creative using random music vs trending music on TikTok.
  • TikTok trending music had 20% lower CPI and 14% ROAS right away
  • frequently check TRENDING SONGS IN THE CML 

The ad copy is important, the words are metadata for the platform.

  • The CTA is essential. It is better if it is simple and direct: Download now!, Play Game, Install

Start with lowest cost bidding and then switch to cost cap to control the CPI/CPA

Rotate creatives frequently – every week

  • Minimal changes needed (different button color, background music, length, etc is enough)
  • use TikTok native video editor to produce quick and dirty iterations of your videos
    • refresh your campaigns with these new iterations
    • repeat on a weekly basis

Use Organic posts in UA campaigns!

  • I frequently check engagement on organic TikTok posts 
  • posts with the highest engagement are added to campaigns ASAP. Try this!
  • Dirty (Sanchez) trick: Use this in other UA channels as well, you will be amazed by the results!


Above all, don’t underestimate the power of TikTok (both organic and paid). Publish frequently (every day or every other day), keep it short (up to 7 seconds), use hooks to grab attention, and double down on quality with humor by piggybacking on trends. 

If you keep these lessons in mind, you’re setting your 2023 UA efforts up for great success.

Anything I missed?

Oh wow! You made it until here! You must be very engaged. I like that type of players.. Ehm, people!

Please share this article with your industry friends. It would mean a world to me. 

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