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 Doodle Jump, Canabalt, 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 games of the 1970s, primarily racing games. The player always moves forward, avoiding obstacles and other vehicles. Taito's Speed Race, released in 1974, was the first. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the same concept was used in skiing games.

Vehicle-oriented platform games, like Jump Bug (1981) and Moon Patrol (1982), added both jumping and shooting as ways to deal with obstacles in continually scrolling levels. The home game B.C.'s Quest for Tires (1983) uses the forced-scrolling and jumping gameplay of Moon Patrol.

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.

Early development

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.

The 1990 Amiga and TV show game Hugo featured sequences of 3d endless running.

SkiFree (1991) by Chris Pirih and released in Microsoft Entertainment Pack 3 is probably the earliest true endless runner and was inspired by the 1980 Atari 2600 cartridge Skiing.[6] The player skis down an endless slope with procedurally generated obstacles, pursued by large indestructible yetis. Score is based on distance traveled.[7]

Battletoads (1991) has several forced scrolling areas where the player is required to avoid hazards and obstacles.[8] In Genji Tsuushin Agedama (1991) the player is constantly running in a forced scrolled environment. The pinball machine Doctor Who (1992) includes a video mode with forced running and avoiding obstacles.

SFCave (1996) is a Windows 3.1 game that involves flying through an endless cave without hitting the walls.

The 3D platform game Crash Bandicoot (1996) focuses on forward movement within corridors primarily in third person perspective, including obstacles and hazards that prevent backward motion, very similar to the modern Temple Run clone. It also includes levels where Crash must constantly stay ahead of a large boulder or pursuing dinosaur.

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.[9]

The prototypical endless runner, building on Doodle Jump's success, was Canabalt (August 2009),[10] 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.[11] 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:[12]

  1. Fast-track progress (so as to avoid having to repeat early stages of the game)
  2. Credit to extend the run (such as with extra lives) and avoid game over (however this is often considered cheating)
  3. Customisation or unlocking of new main characters
  4. Social score comparison
  5. Advertising

Transition to 3D

Hugo featured 3D endless running already in 1990.

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.[13]

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[14] and Pac-Man 256 (2015).[15] 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.[16]

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.[17] 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 lacking ongoing innovation.[18][19]


  1. ^ a b Polansky, Lana (2013-07-01). "The Leaderboard: The Loneliness of the Endless Runner". Paste Magazine. Retrieved 2021-12-31.
  2. ^ a b Fahey, Mike (2013-02-27). "Wouldn't Sonic Be the Perfect Endless Runner Hero? Sega Might Agree. [Update]". Kotaku. Archived from the original on 2022-09-20. Retrieved 2021-12-31.
  3. ^ Whitwam, Ryan (2014-03-11). "Not So Fast for Android Turns the Endless Runner on its Head". PC Magazine. Archived from the original on 2023-12-16. Retrieved 2021-12-31.
  4. ^ a b c Parkin, Simon (2013-06-07). "Don't Stop: The Game That Conquered Smartphones". The New Yorker. Archived from the original on 2022-09-20. Retrieved 2022-01-01.
  5. ^ Pocket Gamer staff. "Top 25 best endless runner games for Android phones and tablets". Pocket Gamer. Archived from the original on 2022-09-20. Retrieved 2022-01-01.
  6. ^ "SkiFree homepage". Archived from the original on 2023-12-08. Retrieved 2023-12-16.
  7. ^ Vincent, Brittany (April 7, 2018). "Remembering SkiFree, and the Yeti that still haunts our dreams". PC Gamer. Archived from the original on January 12, 2022. Retrieved December 16, 2023.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Hodapp, Eli (October 2, 2009). "'Canabalt' – Run For Your Life!". TouchArcade. Archived from the original on August 20, 2013. Retrieved July 18, 2013.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ How Canabalt jumped from indie game jam to the Museum of Modern Art Archived 2023-06-26 at the Wayback Machine by Craig Grannell 12 June 2015
  12. ^ How to Monetize an Infinite Runner Archived 2023-07-04 at the Wayback Machine by Michail Katkoff for Game Analytics 22 February 2013
  13. ^ Subway Surfers gets record 1 billion downloads on Google Play Store Archived 2023-06-26 at the Wayback Machine By C. Scott Brown 16 March 2018
  14. ^ McWhertor, Michael (2015-05-28). "Lara Croft makes the leap to mobile today with an endless runner". Polygon. Archived from the original on 2022-09-20. Retrieved 2022-01-01.
  15. ^ Pac-Man 256 Launches on Mobile Today Archived 2023-06-26 at the Wayback Machine By Zorine Te 19 August 2015
  16. ^ Race The Sun Archived 2023-06-26 at the Wayback Machine By Neil Watton 1 May 2017
  17. ^ "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.
  18. ^ Crash Bandicoot Mobile Leaves a Beloved Game Tainted by the ‘Endless Runner’ Archived 2023-06-28 at the Wayback Machine by Max Moeller 22 April, 2020
  19. ^ Doesn't Sony Have Any Better Ideas For Mobile Games? Archived 2023-06-26 at the Wayback Machine BY ERIC SWITZER 24 February 2023