The Emergency Stop Game


View Interactive

The game that became a story…

JustPark are the AirBnB of car parking – if you’ve got a spare parking space, you can rent it out to drivers via the JustPark platform.

To increase their website’s visibility in the search engines, JustPark wanted to increase the number of links to their site. And with a broad target audience and disruptive mindset, they were willing to have a little fun in the process.

One day, while thinking about cars and driving, my colleague Matt Round wondered…

Would you still pass your driving test if you sat it today?

This is something people often talk about. And as an early idea, Matt wondered whether we could create a game around it.

But when we discussed the idea, I thought the game would take too long. Would anyone really stick with it to get the answer? Would the return on investment be worth it?

In the early stages of the creative process, it can be helpful to keep ideas alive. To give this idea a fighting chance, I flipped the challenge into a question.

What would be the simplest version we could do?

We ruminated on this for a while…

And then it struck me — the emergency stop test! The part of the British driving exam, in which the examiner raises her hand and the driver quickly brings the car to a halt.

We’d recently had a viral hit with a game that tells you how well you keep rhythm, and the emergency stop game was quite similar in essence.

Matt had previously made lots of viral games at UsVsTh3m. And he continues to create amusing web curiosities at, including ‘The Circle Game’ and 17th Century Death Roulette.

Typically, after we create a piece of content, we sell it in to journalists and bloggers. However…

Selling the story of a game is not easy

Despite the fact, our first game (Got Rhythm) was featured in over 400 sites, we didn’t secure one piece of that coverage manually – not one! All of the links came as a result of it going viral on Facebook and Reddit. Which was great (and a relief!) but also provided an important lesson.

If we wanted top tier coverage for the Emergency Stop Game, we needed more of a story.

So we did some exploring to see which sites had written about reaction times previously. We discovered they tended to be loosely science-based.

We also wondered…

What affects your reaction times?

We discovered a bunch of scientific studies that revealed some common factors affecting your reactions. They included things like your age, how much sleep you’ve had, how many units of alcohol you drink each week, how much caffeine you’ve consumed, and whether you’re left-handed or right-handed (left-handed people are faster apparently).

So we decided to recreate those tests by getting a sample of 2,000 people to play the game and record their score, and we asked them questions related to the factors above. The stats and insights this generated gave journalists plenty to write about.

A lot of media want to cover new content formats, especially interactive ones that will send lots of traffic their way, but they need a reason to do so.

Here’s how the game played out

After receiving some instructions, the game starts, and you’re driving along…

When the stop sign appears, you hit any key (or the screen) to STOP!

Then based on our survey, the game guesses how old you are…



Think you can do better?

Within weeks of its release the game had over 250,000 Facebook engagements

It was our fastest spreading viral hit.

IFL Science sent more than half a million visits to the game in one day. I’m frequently amazed by the power of some online publishers to send huge volumes of traffic. I’ve previously seen Lifehacker send over 100,000 visits to What Career Is Right For Me, and the Huffington Post send over a million visits to the Vocal Ranges of The World’s Greatest Singers.

Back when I first wrote the case study for The Emergency Stop Game in 2016 ( a year after its release), it had received 302 links, over 411,000 Facebook engagements and 4.7 million visits.

At that time, I wrote…

“Previous experience with viral hits like these would suggest the Emergency Stop Game will receive a second wind at some point over the next year or two. And I would fully expect it to accumulate links from 500 to 1,000 sites in that time.”

Looking at the stats in late 2020, that prediction came true – it has now received 1,587 links, over 729,000 Facebook engagements and 10.8 million visits.

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