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Zombies, Run! is now free-to-play, and coming to Apple Watch

Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Zombies, Run! launched in 2012, and since then the fitness app has bulked up with legions of paid users looking to slim down. But today the game is relaunching, and its fourth iteration is a free-to-play app destined to land on the Apple Watch and similar Android devices before long.

Polygon sat down with co-creator Adrian Hon a few weeks ago to find out more. He said the move to free-to-play was largely strategic one.

"It's probably the biggest change we've made to the game," Hon said. "We're doing it for a number of positive and, frankly, defensive reasons. ... Zombies, Run! has always been an unusual thing. It's part fitness app, part game, part story, plus it's on smartphones. That combination is what has attracted people to us, but it's also harmed us because it's difficult for people to understand it.

"It's also been one of the most expensive paid apps. We launched at $8."

Hon's company, Six To Start, in partnership with the game's co-creator, author Naomi Alderman, has sold more than a million of copies over the years. But Hon says that with the new free-to-play model Zombies, Run! can reach even more.

"It feels like there's a big opportunity in creating a free experience that can reach tens of millions," Hon said, "and monetising it through IAP content, memberships, real-life events, merchandise, spin-off games, etc."

Hon has plenty experience with real-world games. Previously he was a pioneer in the realm of alternate reality gaming, and his work on PerplexCity remains a milestone in the genre. It's a fascinating story, and you can read more about it in Polygon's feature.

"Six to Start was originally an alternate reality games company," Hon said. "When we made Zombies, Run!, we thought we'd be making it for a year then move onto another project, maybe using different tech or media. But it's going to be easier and more sensible to expand as a brand if we have more players and fans."

Before it leaps into the real world, Zombies, Run! is heading to a wrist near you.

"Wearables will give us new input (sensors, touchscreen, buttons) and output (hands-free display, haptic feedback) mechanisms while players are on the move," Hon said. "You can totally imagine how we could use those for a game like Zombies, Run! Better feedback about zombie chases, the ability to control chases, the abilities to set real-world waypoints, live info about the supplies you've collected, and so on. Some of those things are possible right now with Apple Watch, some of those will require a more fully-featured SDK from Apple.

"But having spoken to people at Apple and at other games companies, it feels like we really ought to spend more time actually wearing and running with the Apple Watch before we design this stuff. It's one thing to look at it in a simulator on a computer screen, and another to spend an hour running with it and trying to tap the screen with sweaty fingers."