Trump Dump has been downloaded more than two million times since its debut in January 2016. Its creators, twin brothers Jason and Brian Fotso, are college sophomores—at Duke and Baylor University, respectively—who never dreamed their app would take off in this way.
The inspiration for the game came after Jason Fotso attended a Donald Trump rally in the summer of 2015. He had a feeling that Trump's campaign was here to stay. So, he decided to riff on 2014's indie mobile gaming sensation, Flappy Bird. He and his brother built their app in one week over a school break. Sensor Tower sat down with Jason to discuss their success on the App Store.
What prompted you and your brother to build Trump Dump?
Jason Fotso: I attended a Trump rally in North Carolina near the Duke campus in the summer of 2015. It was a bizarre experience and I felt this strange energy from talking to Trump supporters that his campaign was real and the Trump campaign was here to stay. As a teenager in 2016, the digital world of emojis, memes, and GIFs is embedded in the way we communicate. I had this idea to play off emojis with a topical figure like Donald Trump. I also thought it'd be interesting to play off the massive indie hit, Flappy Bird. We decided to use the iconic bald eagle as the bird and have the eagle poop on Donald Trump, turning him into a poop emoji. My brother added to the theme with the idea of making the structures take the form Trump's proposed "wall".
What were your expectations for launching the app? Did you ever dream it would be downloaded more than two million times?
JF: I'm a politics major and my brother is an economics major, so we don't have a lot of coding experience. We built the app using a program called Stencyl in one week. I slept only four hours that week as new feature ideas kept emerging in my head.
We didn't really know what to expect; I certainly didn't think we'd ever reach a metric like two million downloads. A lot of it was word of mouth and sharing the game using memes to promote it. We actively monitored social sites like Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and Snapchat to engage with people that were sharing the game with their friends. A lot of users were taking screenshots of the game. Then members of these communities would ask in the comments section "what game is that?", and this spurred a lot of the word-of-mouth virality.
(On Tuesday, February 2, the game peaked at No. 2 on the U.S. App Store's Top Free Apps chart for iPhone, becoming the second most downloaded app, surpassing the likes of Messenger, Instagram, and Snapchat for a period of time. The game oscillated in and out of the top 50 through March before losing steam. Then, on the night of the first presidential debate, the app took off again.)
How are you monetizing the app?
JF: We are using the ad mediation platform Heyzap to deliver ads to users after they reach a certain level. We also offer an in-app purchase for $1.99 to remove these ads, which a small cohort of users has purchased.
There have been some challenges on the monetization side due to the technology we are using. Because we built the app in Stencyl, some ad networks—AdMob and AdSense, for instance—do not integrate with our technology stack. We also missed an early window as the game was originally launched with iAd as our ad network of choice. But iAd was in the middle of being phased out by Apple, so we never made money through Apple's network. These types of issues have definitely been a learning experience in becoming an independent game developer.
What is retention like? Most viral hit games are incredibly successful at getting downloads and climbing the charts, but struggle in bringing users back to the app long term. Is this the case with Trump Dump?
JF: Yes. Retention on the app—as you might imagine for a casual game with very basic gameplay—has not been very high. We have found that most of the users don't return to the app after a couple weeks of playing and sharing with friends. But that's sort of where we see our game existing, as a meme of sorts itself. It's being widely shared and in the same way a GIF or meme creates a conversation, we see it as a conversation starter.
In our future games, we plan to add a bit more sophisticated gameplay to challenge ourselves creatively, but the goal was never to create a sustainable game like Clash of Clans.
Why do you think you've had so much more success on the Apple App Store—it currently represents about 75 percent of your downloads?
JF: The split between iOS and Android could be due to a number of things. For one, many of the screenshots that went viral had a search bar that was unique to Apple. The other consideration is the communities we've shared these in have largely been middle to higher income. Apple products are more expensive so that could be part of it as well.
What's next for you and your brother?
JF: We want to build more games. Again, this was the first app we built together and launched through app stores. We think apps can spur a conversation and movement. We want to continue to play off of trending political and economic issues and use our creativity to add to the conversation. We are proud of the fact that we were just teenagers with no experience and we were able to create something that two million people felt compelled to download and engage with.
Sensor Tower verified that Trump Dump is in fact the most downloaded politically themed app of all time. There is not a category for "Politics" or "Election" related apps on the App Store. To verify the app's metrics, Sensor Tower queried the title, description, and keyword field of all apps for a wide array of politics-relevant keywords. None of these apps came close to surpassing Trump Dump. Of course, this does not include the apps of large news outlets such CNN that cover more than just politics. It's worth noting, however, that Trump Dump does have more installs than news apps that are dedicated to politics, such as Politico's flagship app.