Why Stolen! is the new game app that everyone is obsessed with

Well, I know what game app you’ll be downloading next: Stolen!, the new game by Siqi Chen and team.

The fruition of this game is all a bit fairytale. After Chen’s original social media app HeyDay didn’t succeed (though it did earn tons of interest from investors), Chen and his team of eight decided to use the last of their money to try to build a hit. They returned to their social gaming roots and built what they thought was a rather silly app called Stolen!. They beta-tested it with some friends and set a deadline of Jan. 31: If Stolen! didn’t take off by then, they’d have to sell the company.

Well, the game took off.

Fortune Magazine writer Erin Griffith explains the game as such:

So now I can walk up to my nemesis and say, eyes narrowed, “I own you” and actually mean it? Cool.

Ingeniously, Chen and his team integrated the app with Twitter so users can “steal” their favorite celebrities. (Is Tom Hiddleston still available?) The beta testers loved it; the price for accounts like Justin Bieber skyrocketed. (I wonder what Bieber thinks of that.) Beta testers suddenly stopped using the app, claiming they had to delete it because it was too addictive. No one was getting any real work done!

Chen didn’t realize just how addictive Stolen! was until he posted the game on Product Hunt. Since this was a bare-bones beta version, Chen restricted those who could play Stolen! to users with Verified Twitter accounts and provided only a limited number of access codes.

Within three days, the app exploded. It’s currently among the top 50 social networking apps in the Apple App Store and in the top 200 overall. Even with the limited number of accounts, tens of thousands of downloads rolled in. There are more people who want the game than there are codes available, which explains the sudden popularity of the hashtag #stolencode. Users who tweet any mention of a stolen code will be bombarded with requests.

And there’s even a Twitter account dedicated to retaining and selling these “stolen codes.” Not that this account is necessary — every night Stolen gives out 800 new codes and they get snapped up in less than three minutes.

So long, Candy Crush!

Before the company’s analytics provider crashed, more than 70% of Stolen’s users were online at the same time. The game is designed to be played for just a few minutes here or there,  but “people are literally just sitting there playing for hours,” Chen told Fortune Magazine. Wow. Stolen!’s servers are getting 10,000 requests per second. And Stolen! retains 90% of their users. Chen claims he has never seen anything like it, not even even during the heyday of Farmville at Zynga.

Of course, this unexpected influx of interest has sent Chen and his team scrambling. As Chen explained, “Our servers are on fire. We are literally sleeping in the office right now trying to make this thing not die.” Someone should bake them a coffee muffin. Once the game’s popularity became clear, Chen’s team built in the ability for people to opt out. Until then, any Twitter user could be “stolen,” regardless of whether they signed up for the game. So the Stolen! team quickly built the ability for people to remove themselves from the game if they chose. As of writing this, only one (unnamed) person has done so.

Chen firmly believes that Stolen!’s community will be the most important part of keeping the app around. However, he is also aware that without moderation the app could turn into a mess of meanness. The next step is to add moderation to the chat section of the app. Stolen! also needs basic functions like search, optimizing to save phone batteries, and the ability to purchase the game’s digital currency. Once that’s in place, Stolen! will stop requiring codes to play.

“That’s how beta this is – you can’t even search for a user, which is absurd for a game,” Chen explained. “This was not a planned launch at all.”

Nonetheless, we’re sure glad the game launched! Now, does anyone have a code I can use?

(Image via Stolen!)

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