Endless runner or infinite runner is a subgenre of platform game in which the player character runs for an infinite amount of time while avoiding obstacles. The player's objective is to reach a high score by surviving for as long as possible.[1] The method by which the game level or environment appears to continuously spawn before the player is an example of procedural generation. The genre exploded on mobile platforms following the success of Canabalt, Jetpack Joyride and Temple Run[2] being other popular examples.[3] Its popularity is attributed to its simple gameplay that works well on touchscreen devices.[4]


Endless runners can be side-scrolling, as in the genre's early titles, top-down, or 3D, but the player is placed in a neverending level in which the character automatically moves forward. The player's only form of control is to have the character dodge obstacles, either by moving out of the way or using a specific button.[5] Some form of points, currency, or other rewards are gained over time by maneuvering in the level or simply staying alive longer. The game progressively increases in difficulty as time goes on. The player has a game over if they are hindered enough by the obstacles that they are "caught" by whatever is chasing them and die.[1]



The genre has its origins in the vertically scrolling video game and side-scrolling video game, rail shooters and platform games of the early 1980s, in particular the earliest titles to use continuous, automatic, or forced scrolling, and those that limited the options of the player to the avoidance or destruction of oncoming obstacles.

Skiing (1980) was an Atari 2600 title that featured vertical scrolling to give the illusion of downhill movement whilst avoiding obstacles. It was the earliest of its kind, and although the levels were timed rather than endless, it inspired the first true games of the genre.[6] It is no surprise that the combination of gravity and skiing made for one of the most logical game mechanics for the genre which have been used numerous times since.

Scramble (March, 1981) was the first title recognised to intoduce forced horizontal scrolling. It was followed by Jump Bug (December, 1981), one of the first platformers to introduce forced horizontal scrolling and one of the first 2D videogames to introduce parallax scrolling. This effect would be emulated by future titles to create a sense of motion and depth when continuously scrolling. Another forced scroller, Zaxxon (January, 1982), substituted parallax scrolling with isometric 3D giving the player the ability to avoid objects by moving in four directions. Like Zaxxon, Moon Patrol (May, 1982) and B.C.'s Quest for Tires (1983) improved upon the parallax scrolling effect of earlier titles, offsetting the linear forced scrolling by alluding to linear movement through three-dimensional space.

The Game & Watch title Turtle Bridge (February, 1982) is one of the first to feature endless running with the player using only left and right controls to avoid randomly diving turtles.

Pitfall! (September, 1982) is considered to be one of the genre's primary ancestors. While it did not feature side-scrolling, it featured constant linear (forward) movement from screen to screen along with the avoidance of hazards and a time limit.[7]

The vertically scrolling title MotoRace USA (March, 1983) was an overhead perspective car dodging and jumping game which included pseudo-3D segments which endlessly looped through tracks similar to the modern endless runner. Dragon's Lair (June, 1983), unlike platformers, featured forced forward movement by combining full action video and quicktime events to respond to oncoming hazards and obstacles. Another forced scroller, SonSon (1984), allowed the player to jump across to fixed platforms as they moved across the screen.

The idea of being chased relentlessly by an indestructible obstacle, monster or boss to enforce forward progression was greatly influenced by the boulder scene from the 1981 film Raiders of the Lost Ark. This theme appeared in games like Draconian (1984) in which the player must avoid obstacles while being pursued by an invincible giant dragon. This would become a recurring theme of endless running gameplay.

PC and console era

Side-scrolling platform games were booming in the late 1980s and early 1990s, however titles that limited player movement were rare. Instead, with the innovation of the PC mouse and console controllers in the late 1980s and 1990s, games, in particular platformers, were increasingly giving players more freedom to move in many directions to complete and increasing their objectives. There were, however, a few important precursors in this era. Atomic Runner Chelnov (1988), while also a shooter has many of the hallmarks of a modern runner with forced scrolling and long jumping onto platforms to avoid hazards. Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair (1988) also combines forced scrolling with platforming. Nintendo's Super Mario World (1990) featured similar mechanics.

SkiFree (1991) by Chris Pirih and released in Microsoft Entertainment Pack 3 is probably the earliest true endless runner and was inspired by the earlier Atari 2600 title Skiing.[8] In this game the player skis down an endless slope is a landmark of the genre, possibly the first to feature endless play, procedurally generated obstacles, and use distance run as a scoring mechanism, and being pursued by large indestructible bosses in the form of yetis, all staple elements of the modern endless runner.[6]

Battletoads (1991) features several forced scrolling areas where the player is required to avoid hazards and obstacles.[9] In Genji Tsuushin Agedama (1991) the player is constantly running in a forced scrolled environment. The popular pinball machine Doctor Who (1992) featured a video mode with forced scrolling running and avoiding obstacles. The 2D platformer Disney's Alladin (1994) featured automatic horizontally scrolling magic carpet segments in which featured hazards entering from the right of the screen by which could be avoided by moving up and down. Nintendo's Yoshi's Island (1995) featured several forced scrolling platforming levels. SFCave (1996) was a Windows 3.1 title that involved flying through an endless cave without hitting the walls.

The 3D platformer Crash Bandicoot (1996) focused on forward movement within corridors primarily in third person perspective, including obstacles and hazards that prevented backward motion, very similarly to the modern Temple Run clone. Limiting freedom of movement helped overcome the graphical limitations of early 3D console hardware but the ease and simplicity of its linearity and controls proved extremely popular among gamers.

While early games included elements of the endless runner, few of them were truly "endless" in the sense of the word in that they included some sort of set levels, objectives, stages, time limits or game loops.

Mobile gaming boom and the emergence of endless games

The emergence of the touchscreen on smart phones and tablets paved the way for the type of simplistic game controls which gave birth to the modern genre.

Doodle Jump (April 2009), a vertical scroller, was one of the first mobile titles to be endless, with game only ending when falling to the bottom of the screen or hitting an obstacle. It was to pave the way for even more popular titles.[10]

The prototype endless runner, building on Doodle Jump's success, was Canabalt (August 2009),[11] an indie game developed by Adam Saltsman in which the player flees from a city being destroyed by giant robots that is procedurally generated and infinite. Cannabalt used distance gained as the main scoring system. These were both common elements of subsequent runners. The 2D scroller limited movement to leaping and dodging obstacles simply by touching the screen, overcoming control limitation of touchscreen devices.[12] Adult Swim Games soon asked Saltsman for permission to adapt Canabalt's design into their own title, and released Robot Unicorn Attack (2010). It became an internet meme due to Adult Swim's larger audience and its quirky themes.

Within just months, the App Store was full of 2D endless runner clones. Some of the more popular 2D mobile titles included Tiny Wings (February 2011), Jetpack Joyride (September 2011), Punch Quest (2012) and Flappy Bird (2013). Running with Friends (2013) is notable in its effort to integrate with Facebook to support social multiplayer running.

Monetization and the Free to Play model

Endless runners became known for the addictiveness of their gameplay. This also led to them being monetized using the Free to Play model. Monetization tactics used in endless runners included virtual currencies (using In app purchases on mobile and support for:[13]

Transition to 3D

Bit.Trip Runner (2010) added rhythm game elements and was also one of the first in the genre to be rendered in 2.5D.[4]

Another of the earliest 3D titles in the genre was Temple Run (August, 2011), introducing an over-the-shoulder viewpoint.[4] Temple Run was followed by numerous clones and 3D innovations. Among the more popular third person 3D titles were Subway Surfers and Agent Dash (2012). Subway Surfers went on to become the most popular game of the 2010s, the first game to reach 1 billion downloads and with a total of 2.7 billion downloads achieved revenues of over $80 million through monetization.[14]

The PC as well as sixth, seventh and eight generation consoles, despite being known for their 3D graphics and later incorporation of touchscreens, were slow on the takeup of the Temple Run clone. A rare exception was the 2D title Rayman Origins (December, 2011) and its 3D successor Rayman Legends (2013) along with their mobile tie-ins were pioneering boss chase levels that would greatly simplify the platform genre and pave the way for more running titles.

Peak Popularity

During the 2010s numerous large franchises adapted their gameplay into endless runner mobile spin-offs. The 2010s these included reboots of classic video games as endless runners including the notable titles: Pitfall! (2012), Rayman Jungle Run (2012), Rayman Fiesta Run, Sonic Dash[2] and Pac-Man Dash! (2013), Crossy Road (2014), Lara Croft: Relic Run[15] and Pac-Man 256 (2015)[16] as well as Super Mario Run (2016).[17] Original titles were often lost in the sea of generic titles, rare exceptions were Race The Sun (2013) and Alto's Adventure (2015) which received positive reviews.[18]

Google's Dinosaur Game (2014) was released at the height of the endless running craze with developers in September 2018 revealling that it had been played approximately 270 million times monthly.[19] Microsoft was later to do the same with Surf (2020).

Post 2010s the format has been criticised for being uninspired, particularly the adapted franchises, and a genre generally lacking ongoing innovation.[20][21]


  1. ^ a b Polansky, Lana (2013-07-01). "The Leaderboard: The Loneliness of the Endless Runner". Paste Magazine. Retrieved 2021-12-31.((cite web)): CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  2. ^ a b Fahey, Mike (2013-02-27). "Wouldn't Sonic Be the Perfect Endless Runner Hero? Sega Might Agree. [Update]". Kotaku. Retrieved 2021-12-31.((cite web)): CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  3. ^ Whitwam, Ryan (2014-03-11). "Not So Fast for Android Turns the Endless Runner on its Head". PC Magazine. Retrieved 2021-12-31.((cite web)): CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  4. ^ a b c Parkin, Simon (2013-06-07). "Don't Stop: The Game That Conquered Smartphones". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2022-01-01.((cite web)): CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  5. ^ Pocket Gamer staff. "Top 25 best endless runner games for Android phones and tablets". Pocket Gamer. Retrieved 2022-01-01.((cite web)): CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  6. ^ a b Remembering SkiFree, and the Yeti that still haunts our dreams By Brittany Vincent published 7 April 2018
  7. ^ 12 Best Endless Runner Mobile Games, Ranked BY ERIK PETROVICH 25 November 2022
  8. ^ SkiFree homepage
  9. ^ Harnett, Craig (17 August 2015). "The Toads are Back in Town: Celebrating Battletoads". Nintendojo. Archived from the original on 2021-11-11. Retrieved 27 September 2015.
  10. ^ Hodapp, Eli (October 2, 2009). "'Canabalt' – Run For Your Life!". TouchArcade. Archived from the original on August 20, 2013. Retrieved July 18, 2013.
  11. ^ Parkin, Simon (June 7, 2013). "Don't Stop: The Game That Conquered Smartphones". The New Yorker. Archived from the original on June 12, 2013. Retrieved July 17, 2013.
  12. ^ How Canabalt jumped from indie game jam to the Museum of Modern Art by Craig Grannell 12 June 2015
  13. ^ How to Monetize an Infinite Runner by Michail Katkoff for Game Analytics 22 February 2013
  14. ^ Subway Surfers gets record 1 billion downloads on Google Play Store By C. Scott Brown 16 March 2018
  15. ^ McWhertor, Michael (2015-05-28). "Lara Croft makes the leap to mobile today with an endless runner". Polygon. Retrieved 2022-01-01.
  16. ^ Pac-Man 256 Launches on Mobile Today By Zorine Te 19 August 2015
  17. ^ Super Mario Run review: a fun but compromised Mario on iPhone By Andrew Webster 16 December 2016
  18. ^ Race The Sun By Neil Watton 1 May 2017
  19. ^ "As the Chrome dino runs, we caught up with the Googlers who built it". The Keyword. September 6, 2018. Archived from the original on September 8, 2018. Retrieved June 18, 2021.
  20. ^ Crash Bandicoot Mobile Leaves a Beloved Game Tainted by the ‘Endless Runner’ by Max Moeller 22 April, 2020
  21. ^ Doesn't Sony Have Any Better Ideas For Mobile Games? BY ERIC SWITZER 24 February 2023