Raleigh couple's 'Temple Run' sets standard for pocket games - WNCT

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Raleigh couple's 'Temple Run' sets standard for pocket games

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Keith Shepherd and Natalia Luckyanova created "Temple Run" in their Washington, D.C. apartment. Keith Shepherd and Natalia Luckyanova created "Temple Run" in their Washington, D.C. apartment.
"Temple Run 2" was released in January 2013. (Imangi Studios) "Temple Run 2" was released in January 2013. (Imangi Studios)
"Temple Run" has a fairly simple premise -- run as far as you can without being caught by evil monkeys, don't get hit by any objects coming at you and don't stray from your path. (Imangi Studios) "Temple Run" has a fairly simple premise -- run as far as you can without being caught by evil monkeys, don't get hit by any objects coming at you and don't stray from your path. (Imangi Studios)
"Temple Run" has a fairly simple premise -- run as far as you can without being caught by evil monkeys, don't get hit by any objects coming at you and don't stray from your path. (Imangi Studios) "Temple Run" has a fairly simple premise -- run as far as you can without being caught by evil monkeys, don't get hit by any objects coming at you and don't stray from your path. (Imangi Studios)
RALEIGH, N.C. -

With fierce monkeys hot on your trail, one of the most popular apps to hit your smartphone is taking it to the next level from the Raleigh home of a couple who caught the game development bug early on.

Having been downloaded 170 million times, "Temple Run" is one of the best-selling smartphone apps in recent history. Its sequel -- appropriately titled "Temple Run 2" -- was downloaded 50 million times in less than two weeks after its launch.

The game has a fairly simple premise -- run as far as you can without being caught by evil monkeys, don't get hit by any objects coming at you and don't stray from your path. The gameplay, however, is increasingly more difficult the longer your character runs.

Launched in the summer of 2011, the game initially cost $0.99, but when it was switched to a free game, without the help of any advertising, that's when "Temple Run" went viral. While the game itself remains free, players can use real money to purchase boosters to aid them in the game -- a so-called "freemium" model.

"This is beyond anyone's wildest dreams," said Natalia Luckyanova, co-creator of "Temple Run" and co-founder of Imangi Studios.

Luckyanova and her husband, Keith Shepherd, created the endless runner in their Washington, D.C. apartment. But with small start-ups to game giants like Epic Games calling the Triangle home, Shepherd and Luckyanova saw a ripe market made the move to Raleigh. They now run Imangi Studios out of their home.

"I think there is a really good, independent game development community here in Raleigh," explained Shepherd.

With a blockbuster title now under their belts, Luckyanova and Shepherd are looking to open a full-fledged studio in Raleigh and want to hire developers to expand their game offerings while continuing work on the "Temple Run" series.

Still, reaching that point didn't come overnight for the duo. A self-proclaimed Apple fanboy, Shepherd began by developing a word game called "Imangi" after he saw an opportunity with Apple's launch of the App Store.

The game sold for $3.99, and the couple said they made about $5,000 in their first month. The game was followed by "Word Squares," and then "Little Red Sled," "Harbor Master," "Hippo High Dive," "geoSpark," Max Adventure" and ultimately "Temple Run."

"'Temple Run' was our ninth game," Shepherd said. "We've been doing this for five years now."

And that persistence paid off, especially after they answered one burning question: Why are you running?

"You need to have a reason," Luckyanova said. "That is when we added the monkeys. Then our artist, Carol, made these really scary monkeys with the scull faces and the noises."

Shepherd and Luckyanova say they get the most feedback about those demonic monkeys, and now the Indiana Jones-style game is a hit worldwide. Even toddlers are determined to reach their high score.

"I think the terror added to the adrenaline of the game," Luckyanova said.

Capturing the attention of Disney, the iconic company reached out to Shepherd and Luckyanova in 2012 to create a spin-off title to help promote Pixar's "Brave" and the live-action "The Wizard of Oz" prequel, "Oz: The Great and Powerful."

The app duo is now vying to take "Temple Run" beyond the video game world.

"We actually have a board game and a card game that were on the shelves last Christmas," Shepherd pointed out. "[We're also] working with an apparel company -- apparel you'll start to see it in malls and the stores."

They're also hoping for a "Temple Run" movie.

Melanie Sanders

Melanie anchors the 6 PM news. Her "What's Next" series features an engaging approach to storytelling and highlights the leaders in innovation who are shaping our future. Check it out HERE! More>>

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