Help Us Beta Test ZR in New Languages

Raise the Gates! ¡Abran las puertas! 문이 열립니다! Ouvrez les portes ! ゲートを上げるんだ!

Zombies, Run! is coming in four new languages – Spanish, Korean, French and Japanese – this summer.

We’re looking for a small group of players who can help us test in these languages! If you’re fluent or highly proficient in French, Spanish, Korean, or Japanese, we’d love you to help us check if we’ve got everything right, and fix any problems before they go out to the wider public.

Interested? Email jen@sixtostart.com with “ZR Testing” and the language you speak in the subject (so if you speak Spanish, your subject line would be “ZR Testing – Spanish”)

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

Ten Years of Zombies, Run!

I’ll be honest – I knew we had an incredible idea in Zombies, Run!, a running game and audio adventure that would make exercise more exciting – but I never imagined it would last for ten years. iPhone and Android apps had only been around for a few years: who knew what we’d all be doing in 2022?

But that idea, and the story of Abel Township’s brave survivors (crafted by Naomi Alderman, the game’s co-creator and lead writer), was more tenacious than I thought. It wasn’t just a fun distraction. It became a way for millions of people to motivate themselves to run just one more kilometre, to get going on a rainy Sunday morning to find out what happens next, and to make friends with fellow players around the world. It mattered in a way that I never imagined was possible.

It was only thanks to our enormously talented cast and crew that this happened. Zombies, Run! is a team effort, which is why it’s persisted for a decade and counting.

In this retrospective, I want to skip the usual stats and look at some of our most memorable moments and lessons learned. If you want to know “how we did it” and what mistakes we made, you’ve come to the right place.

– Adrian Hon, co-creator and lead designer of Zombies, Run!, and CEO of Six to Start

Stories

Illustration of people in a radio shack welcoming us, with the caption "Welcome back, Runner Five! That was a good run!"
Drawn by Azisa Noor, winner of our first fan competition

At Six to Start, we take it for granted that storytelling, alongside gameplay, is one of the most powerful ways to motivate people. Everyone’s different, but we all enjoy a great book or movie or TV show. So why shouldn’t exercise also involve storytelling?

One obvious problem is that good storytelling is incredibly hard. A less obvious problem is how you integrate it with an activity like running, where you can’t look at the screen or press buttons as you move. Our solution was to use first person audio storytelling to immerse players into our world, and to mix it with the player’s own music for the perfect balance of intensity.

It’s surprising how few other companies have been able to pull this off successfully. I think a lot of people still can’t believe it actually works, and even if they do, they see “zombies” and imagine it’s just an app where you hear zombies growl at you occasionally, and you’re instructed to run here or there for supplies. Anyone who’s played even a single mission knows it’s much more special than that – more akin to the very best TV shows or novels than just a novelty.

It’s hard to talk about how the story of Zombies, Run! has evolved and grown over the last decade without massive spoilers, but it’s safe to say that Naomi and her team of incredible writers have managed to create an epic, thrilling, and emotional tale serialised across hundreds of missions. We’ve gone from a crumbling township in the UK to a globe-trotting adventure with a cast of dozens – and with stakes as high as, well, the zombie apocalypse, as intimate as love and betrayal, and as hilarious as chasing after an escaped chicken.

That’s why ten million people have downloaded Zombies, Run!, and why we’ve regularly had hundreds of thousands of active players and tens of thousands of subscribers. The greatest compliment I can pay to Naomi’s team is that they make it look easy!

In recent years, we’ve begun a new strand of non-zombie “New Adventures” like the thrilling Dino Dash by Andrea Phillips and the hilarious Spellcast by Bilal Dardai, not to mention Mur Lafferty’s epic Godmaker and Kieren Knapp’s terrifying The Thirteenth Runner. These stories have helped us spread our wings into whole new genres, and even into non-fiction, like our three-year collaboration with the British Science Association for Run the Solar System, Run to the Deep, and Run with the Ancestors.

For many players, the audio story is our main attraction, and so we’ve made it central to our production and development. We’re unusual among audio drama companies for the sheer time and effort we pour into making the best stories we can, and practically unique in how our technology – both in the app and behind the scenes – is tailored to support that process.

The Abel Township Community

The moment I realised that we were responsible for a community and not just a game was in April 2013, just after Zombies, Run! 2 had launched. We were incredibly proud of the massive, across-the-board upgrades we’d made to the app, and none moreso than the Base Builder. In ZR1, you couldn’t move or customise buildings, which meant that everyone had the same base. Other than the neat detail that you upgraded buildings by assigning specific supplies to them (e.g. first aid kits for the hospital), it was pretty unsatisfying.

So for ZR2, we wanted to create a more complex and interesting tile-based base builder in which players could choose exactly which buildings they wanted in their base and where to place them. There’d be more interactions between buildings, more requirements, add-ons and levelling, new buildings unlocked based on your story progress – the works.

But when we released the app, not everyone was happy: we’d just wiped out their base. We might not have thought much of it from a game design perspective, but thousands of players had put countless hours of sweat and tears into rebuilding it. To us at Six to Start, it was old and busted. To players, it was their base. And even though the replacement was “better”, even though you could still see a snapshot of your old base online, it wasn’t the same.

It’s obvious now, but we’d been deeply inconsiderate. There are better ways we could have handled the change, and we’ve been much more respectful since then. Sometimes we make changes that aren’t universally popular, but it’s not because we haven’t thought them through carefully!

Milestones, Not Achievements

One of the greatest things about Zombies, Run! isn’t what it has but what it lacks: achievements. True, we added some achievements in mid-2013 after a lot of requests, but it’s not something we foreground in the app. We spend far more time on our milestone emails, which players receive after completing certain missions or hitting key running or game targets.

That run was epic, Runner Five. I mean I… I hope you don’t mind me calling you Runner Five. We do need a new one. I’ll see if I can dig out some of the previous Runner Five’s stuff. There’s a backpack with “5” on it and stuff.
 
Anyway look, this is your bunk. I know it’s not much, but we take what we can get in the zombie apocalypse, right? And you’re only sharing this room with three other runners so that’s an improvement on Mullins! We’ve radioed Mullins and, yeah, sorry, they say they’re not sending another chopper for you. Too dangerous what with rocket launchers and stuff. But we’re doing well here on our own, Five. We really are. It’s not a bad place to live. Really. I’ve left you a few things to get you started: you’ve got your own toothbrush and towel! And if you find stuff while you’re running it’s yours to scavenge.
 
Listen, we’re glad to have you here. We’ve all got to stick together now most of the humans… aren’t human. That’s what we do at Abel - we look after each other.
 
If you need to chat, come and talk any time.
 
- Sam
Season 1 Mission 1 milestone email

Milestone emails are different because they’re so tightly tied to what makes Zombies, Run! unique. Instead of a generic achievement that could’ve come from a million other gamified apps, you get a message from an in-game character you care about – a message that could’ve only come from Zombies, Run! These take us far longer to write and illustrate, but that’s what makes them more meaningful.

That’s why you don’t see much traditional gamification in Zombies, Run! It’s not stuffed with experience points or levels or leaderboards. We’re focused on what makes running more exciting and satisfying in the moment – and in the long term.

Virtual Races

Back in 2015, we kept hearing about this strange thing called a “virtual race”. Apparently people were paying to receive a medal for saying they’d run a 5K or 10K distance – and they wanted Zombies, Run! to do the same.

The idea of essentially selling a medal for $30 didn’t seem right to us, but creating a paid worldwide event where all our players ran the same missions during the same fortnight was exciting. Even more exciting was the idea to include new ways to deepen the story in the real world, through physical artefacts in our virtual race pack, like a certificate from our characters and a special multi-use tea towel:

A towel design with illustrations of how it can be used - as a water filter, filled with rocks to hit zombies, on a bindle stick, a head covering, a mask, a sling, a flag. 

Text reads: Stay Safe, Stay Alive. Use Your Towel. Manufactured by Mullins Military Base for: Abel Township, Runner 5

Our first race, in the fall of 2015, was a huge hit, and in the following years they’d get bigger and better every time, including ARG-style websites, puzzle books, ID cards, phone numbers, and even entire online games. Last year, Matt Wieteska’s Jack & Eugene’s World Tour was over three times longer than our usual race, with six separate training missions, three races, and an hour-long “ambient” mission to chill out to! And this month brings us to thirteen virtual races over seven years…

Shipping tens of thousands of virtual race packs was no mean feat. We converted half of our London office into a mini-warehouse and shipping area, and became experts in figuring out how best to label and package items for Royal Mail, not to mention sourcing quality merch and dealing with international logistics. Not bad for a small indie game developer.

The pandemic and ensuing shipping problems have made it hard to offer the same kind of race packs in the past year, along with Six to Start becoming a fully-remote company. But we’re always looking for smart ways to make our virtual races the best and most immersive in the world, and you can be sure we have plenty of ideas…

Audio

The first season of Zombies, Run! was recorded with bedsheets to muffle noise, and with frequent pauses whenever a noisy bus passed by our makeshift recording studio. While we might not have been recording at Abbey Road, our actors and Audio Director Matt Wieteska made up for it with immense gusto – if you’ve listened to A Voice in the Dark or Horde, chances are you won’t mind the bedsheets.

Over the years, the bedsheets were replaced by a custom “recording tent” in office, and then by a fully-fledged soundbooth shipped from the US, which was perfect other than its tendency to overheat in the summer. When we went fully-remote, we finally began hiring a dedicated recording studio in London, and since 2020, all of our recording has been online.

Some things have stayed the same. Unlike other games companies, we’ve always tried to record with as many cast members as possible at the same time, because we know that performances are better when actors can react to each other – and when they can take their time. But as the diversity of our characters have changed, so too has our casting process. Now that we record online, we’ve been able to cast from almost anywhere, which has been both essential and rewarding for literal round-the-world stories like Jessica Wright Buha’s Nellie Bly, not to mention Avin Shah’s The Signals War and our upcoming All Hands To Freedom by Jess Erion.

Reliability and Sustainability

It doesn’t matter if you have the world’s greatest game if it keeps crashing. If you want to make something that lasts for ten years, you have to care about something that you can’t show on any screenshot: reliability.

That goes doubly for fitness apps, where a crash during a run could mean an hour’s effort lost and a bug means an extra minute spent fiddling with your phone out in the cold. While there have been times when Zombies, Run!’s crash rate hasn’t been great, in recent years we’ve driven it down incredibly low. This isn’t always easy given how much Zombies, Run! does – audio, music, gameplay, GPS tracking, network syncing – all while the phone’s screen is off, but it’s key to what we do.

Anyone who’s made even the simplest of apps will know how tricky it is to keep it maintained year after year, as new iOS and Android capabilities are introduced and old ones are deprecated. Sometimes it can feel like you’re treading water rather than getting anywhere useful. And it’s hard to know when you should be adding new features or refactoring old code. Amid a sea of buggy and abandoned apps, I’m so proud of how solid Zombies, Run! is, and it’s all thanks to our developers and QA team – truly the best in the business.

Ten More Years

In 2032, will we all be wearing augmented reality displays and running from 3D zombies? I’ve been doing this for long enough to know better than to make predictions. What I do know is that for as long as people want to keep getting fit, there’ll be a place for Zombies, Run!

We’ll supply the motivation. All you need is to do is pull on your trainers.

Raise the gates… covering fire… run!”

Zombies, Run! is coming to French, Japanese, Korean, and Spanish!

This summer, we’re incredibly excited to be bringing Zombies, Run! to four new languages! We’re starting with the core Zombies, Run! experience, including all of Season 1 (plus Abel and New Canton races), Supply Missions and Radio Mode.

The entire audio for all those missions has been completely translated and redesigned for French, Japanese, Korean, and Spanish, and we’re incredibly pleased by the quality of the work by our partners at TransPerfect. Just check out this trailer!

But that’s not all. This is a full localisation of the Zombies, Run! app, which means the entire user interface, from the mission titles to the Codex to the Base Builder has been translated. This has required almost a year of serious production and engineering work behind the scenes, both on the app and online, and it’s laid the groundwork for improvements and new features for all players.

Ever since we launched Zombies, Run! ten years ago, we’ve had thousands of emails from players asking us to translate the app into other languages. We’ve always wanted to do the best job possible, though, which is why we’ve waited until we had the resources and talent required to do the game and story justice.

We’ll have more to share about our launch in French, Japanese, Korean, and Spanish in the coming months but just remember: as long as you can move faster than a slow shamble, Abel Township needs you – wherever you are.

Photo credit: NASA/Reid Wiseman

Zombies, Run! is turning 10!

On February 27th, your favourite running app will be marking its ten-year anniversary! That’s ten years of zombie chases, ten years of raising gates, and ten years of voices in the dark. We couldn’t be more proud to have spent a decade right alongside you, Runner Five.

We couldn’t let this occasion pass without some serious celebration, so here’s a sneak peek at what we have planned. Our plans extend throughout the summer, so keep your eyes on our Twitter and Facebook pages for the latest info & extra details as we announce them!

  • 27/02/22: Zombies, Run! Tenth Birthday – we’ll be celebrating with a special message on our brand-new TikTok account, so make sure to follow us before the big day!
  • March: Livestream Recording Session – step behind the scenes as we gather our old friends together for a live re-recording of some of your favourite Abel Township moments
  • March: A look back at 10 years of Zombies, Run! – keep your eyes on our blog as Zombies, Run! co-creator explores a decade(!) of Zombies, Run! highlights
  • April: Exclusive 10th Anniversary Merch – brand new designs just for the fans, celebrating our favourite Zombies, Run! memories
  • Spring: Zombies, Run! Season 9 Part 2 – we won’t keep you waiting any longer! The return of the Zombies, Run! main storyline brings new revelations, new drama, and even more reasons to love your favourite characters.
  • Spring: 10th Anniversary Base Building – bring the party into the post-apocalypse, as Abel Township itself celebrates 10 years of survival.
  • Spring: Top Secret Content Release – we’ve got something very exciting in the works that we can’t wait to share with you all! Rest assured – it’s a great way to celebrate 10 years since we first raised those gates!
  • Summer: Summer Run Celebration – we’ll be spreading the love as the sun returns with this charity-focused birthday celebration!
  • Year-Round: New Adventures, New Storylines – we’re giving you even more reasons to run this year as we continue to expand our New Adventures catalog, including some returning favourites, exciting special guest writers, and even some brand-new zombie-centric storylines…

It’s a big, exciting year for us here at Six to Start – with the 10-year anniversary, our growing catalogue of incredible New Adventures, and more (extremely exciting) projects still to be announced. We can’t wait to share it all with you!

Stay safe out there! – Abel Township

Join the Runners of the Round Table!

When adventure calls, heroes answer. When old evils return, legends rise. The Grail Quest comes to Abel, and dragon-fire and darkness await… 

Take up your sword and save the realm in our upcoming Spring 2022 Virtual Race, Runners of the Round Table!

Our latest race brings us back to Abel! Join Sam and Maxine on the hunt for vital melee weapons – and the fabled Demons and Darkness module Excalibur Rising – from a zombie-infested convention. But when strange events follow you beyond the gaming tables, could the legends be real? Find out this March…

It’s easy to enter – just upgrade to a VIP membership in the app! Not only will you get access to this race, but you’ll also have instant access our 12 past virtual races. You can also buy a gift membership for yourself or friends from just $49.99 USD!

Grab the Gear

T-Shirts, hoodie, tote bag, mug, and poster featuring Runners of the Round Table with dragon and Semper Currens design

The adventure of a lifetime is not one to be forgotten: immerse yourself in the world of “Excalibur Rising” with our gorgeous cotton shirt, hoodie, tote, mug, and poster! Even better: VIP members get a 20% discount code off all merch.

We weren’t able to make a race pack this time due to manufacturing and shipping problems! We know runners love them and so we’re hoping to bring them back for future races in a sustainable way…

Help beta test Zombies, Run!

We’re getting ready to roll out our latest iOS update to ZR, and we’d like your help make as it good as it can be by joining our beta testing group. It’s easy and fun and you get to check out all the latest features early – although because these are pre-release versions, there is a chance the app could be a little less stable than usual!

  • iPhone: Join up with this link

We’re keen to hear your feedback about anything unexpected you discover while using the beta version of the app – just email us at support@zombiesrungame.com with your phone model and app version!

Photo by Atanas Dzhingarov on Unsplash

The Great Zodiac Race

恭喜发财 Gōng Xǐ Fā Cái! Wishing you prosperity and happiness! Ahead of the release of our latest New Adventure, The Great Zodiac Race, writer Kim Richards gives us a fascinating explanation of the Lunar New Year, and how it is celebrated widely beyond the Chinese traditions we are often more familiar with.

The Great Zodiac Race is out on Tuesday 25th January 2022. To play, get Zombies, Run! for free on iPhone and Android.

A drawing of the animals of the zodiac running

It’s near time to celebrate the first full moon of the year, and for many of those with East and Southeast Asian heritage, this is a time of feasting, family gatherings, sharing joy and reflecting on the year ahead. Growing up in a mixed Chinese-Malaysian and British household, Lunar New Year was the biggest celebration of the year for my family. The house would be scrubbed from top to bottom, then decked out in red and gold decorations. My family would gather on the night before LNY for our Reunion Feast, which began with Yee Sang (‘Prosperity Toss Salad’); a huge dish of different ingredients symbolising various blessings that we all mixed together while cheering ‘Lo hei! Happy New Year!’ This would be followed by a hearty communal steamboat and exchanging oranges (symbolic of gold and luck) and ‘ang paos’ – red packets of crisp new bank notes.

Thanks to the global pandemic, our celebrations have been non-existent for the last two years, so writing ‘The Great Zodiac Race’ has been a real joy for me, allowing me to share the fun of how the order of the Zodiac calendar was decided. The Zodiac calendar and Lunar New Year are intrinsically linked – with the former laying down the theme for how we celebrate the latter.

An image of Yee Sang 'Prosperity Toss Salad'

‘Yee Sang’ is a dish that everyone at the table mixes together, using chopsticks. The aim is
to toss the ingredients as high as you can!

But wait! Why did I say Lunar New Year, and not Chinese New Year? Lunar New Year is not just a Chinese festival! It is celebrated all over East and Southeast Asia; Vietnam, South Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines…each community having both similar and different customs to celebrate ringing in the new year. While I personally celebrate with Chinese-Malaysian traditions, it is more acceptable to refer to the wider holiday as Lunar New Year, so as not to alienate people from different ethnicities. With this in mind, I’ve written this adventure based on what I am experienced with; the Chinese version of the Great Zodiac Race.

There are several localised variations of the original folk tale, mostly revolving around what animals are native to different countries. For instance, in Malaysia, Rabbit is replaced with Mousedeer, while the Nepalese Zodiac exchanges Dragon for Eagle, and Korea swaps Sheep with Goat and Pig with Boar.

An image of a traditional Lunar New Year family meal.

Our last family Reunion Dinner, where we traditionally have steamboat (also known as
hotpot.)

The biggest variation comes with Cat. You see, Cat was invited to take part in the race that would define the Zodiac calendar; but you’ll notice that no domestic kitties grace the 12 year cycle. This is because, in some stories, Rat never passed on the race invitation, or didn’t wake Cat in time to go to the race. In other stories, Cat participated, but Rat pushed her into the river near the end of the race, hence why Cat hates both water and Rat. However, Cat does appear in the Vietnamese Zodiac, replacing Rabbit.

2021 was the Year of the Ox; a time for perseverance and endurance. 2022 is the Year of the Tiger, who is associated with strength, confidence and exorcising evil (in further myth, Tiger eats evil spirits who try to invade the Jade Emperor’s court). Here’s hoping that Tiger’s qualities follow us in the year ahead; we deserve it after the last two years! If you wish to share Tiger related well wishes, here’s a rather sweet Mandarin expression: ‘虎啸祥瑞Hǔ xiào xiáng ruì!’ – ‘Tiger roars and calls for an auspicious New Year!’

I hope you enjoy the race – if you want to feel extra festive while running, consider wearing red clothing and reward yourself with an orange afterwards! I wish you a wonderful and prosperous year ahead. Gōng xǐ fā cái!


The Great Zodiac Race will be released on Tuesday 25th January 2022. To play, get Zombies, Run! for free on iPhone and Android.

Black Friday Sale: 25% off memberships!

We’re taking a massive 25% off our VIP and Abel Runners Club gift memberships until the end of November! They’re the perfect gift for your friends and family – or for yourself!

Get unlimited access to 500+ missions, plus our Zombies, Run! 5K training app and The Walk, a spy thriller where you walk the length of Great Britain. And in ZR, you can customise your zombie chases and play Interval Training and Airdrop Mode!

With VIP you’ll get everything above PLUS every virtual race we’ve made, including this year’s multi-part epic Jack and Eugene’s World Tour! Each race comes with exclusive story extras including secret websites, emails, puzzles, minigames, and access to our private forum!

This offer is only available until 30th November, so there’s never been a better time to join!

Non-US Players: Order Your Merch Soon!

If you live outside of the US, you may want to order race packs, tech shirts, caps, and more from our shop in the next week, because we will be limiting non-US shipping from October 10th.

The reason is because DHL has significantly increased the minimum spend required for their worldwide shipping accounts, which affects one of our US suppliers (Sweatvac). Unfortunately, we don’t have a replacement that is as fast and affordable as DHL yet because we were given very little notice of this change.

That’s why we’ve made the difficult decision to pause shipping these products outside the US from October 11th:

  • All Race Packs and Souvenir Packs
  • Tech shirts and tech tanks
  • Face masks
  • Caps, hats, and headbands
  • Water bottles
  • Socks

These products from our other supplier (Scalable Press/Fuel) will continue to ship worldwide as normal:

  • All cotton T-shirts
  • Hoodies
  • Posters
  • Tote bags
  • Mugs
  • Phone cases

We are working on finding a way to ship all our products worldwide as soon as we can, but it’s likely to be a few months – so if you’re outside the US and you want a souvenir pack or a tech shirt, please order now!

The Home Front auf Deutsch!

The Home Front ist jetzt auch auf Deutsch verfügbar! Wir haben mit Warlocs zusammengearbeitet, um die ersten 10 Episoden unserer Bodyweight-Workout-Serie für deutschsprachige Nutzer verfügbar zu machen. Sie sind für jeden kostenlos herunterzuladen – öffnet die App und sucht nach „The Home Front Deutsch“ im Reiter Missionen.

Screenshots of The Home Front Deutsch

The Home Front is now available in German! We’ve collaborated with Warlocs to bring the first 10 episodes of our home bodyweight workout series to German speakers everywhere. They’re free to download for everyone – open the app and look for “The Home Front Deutsch” in the Missions tab!