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GDC China Speaker Spotlight: Halfbrick's Phil Larsen Ponders The Evolution Of Fruit Ninja

Halfbrick chief marketing officer Phil Larsen recently reflected on the astounding success of the studio's Fruit Ninja over the last year and a half, attributing a large portion of the game's growth to the fact that its premise "requires no explanation."

Since its iOS debut in 2010, the game has maintained a high position on the App Store charts, and has expanded to encompass new platforms like Android, Windows Phone 7, and even new interfaces like Microsoft's Kinect. Of late, Halfbrick has turned it attention to China, where it expects the game to see an additional 70 million downloads.

At this month's GDC China, Larsen will dive even further into the series' growth in a session dubbed, "The Rise and Rise of Fruit Ninja: Developing, Marketing and Supporting a Hit Mobile Game," which will cover the game's initial development and the tactics the studio used to evolve the game over the last 18 months.

In anticipation of his talk, Larsen reflected on Fruit Ninja's success, and offered some insight into how Halfbrick grew the game from a small-scale mobile project into the company's most valuable brand.

What would you say have been the key factors to Fruit Ninja's success?

Simplicity, satisfaction, theme and marketing! It was abundantly clear that the game is so simple to play that it requires no explanation. Only a tiny fraction of developers have managed to achieve this in the mobile market. From there, the input and feedback from the game's squishy fruit means that it's satisfying to simply slice over and over, let alone compete and aim for high scores.

When you have a game with clear value and rewards to the player, then it makes an even stronger message when communicating the game through marketing channels. Talking with platform holders, meeting with the media, chatting to fans online - everything runs smoother when the game lends itself so well to fueling discussion.

What tactics have you used to maintain the game's success since its original debut?

We've definitely worked hard to keep the momentum going after launch, and the consistent sales have been proof of our success. After launch we focused on both updates to the game, continued PR support and building the Fruit Ninja brand. For example, we listened to customer feedback and were able to continually add new fruit, new blades, new online features and even new game modes. It's this kind of support that keeps fans playing and keeps them talking about Fruit Ninja.

We support every major update and milestone with targeted PR, and further build on the success by increasing brand awareness. Merchandise, TV, social networking and expanding the universe of Fruit Ninja is an ongoing task for us and our chance to ensure that the mainstream audiences are aware of how massive mobile gaming is in a global entertainment market.

How did your marketing and distribution strategy for Fruit Ninja differ in China compared to North America and other regions?

We were lucky in the sense that Fruit Ninja is easily understood and playable across all languages and markets without any major changes necessary. For that reason it was simple to convey what the game is with visuals alone, and that combined with the accessible gameplay and popularity of mobile games in China helped us become a success. Through our work with official portals such as the App Store, the word got out all around the world and become a household name.

We weren't able to market the game through channels local to China (social networks, press sites, advertising) as effectively due to our limited knowledge in the market at launch, but it is definitely a top priority for us now to ensure Fruit Ninja content is localized and distributed among the best platforms possible in China. Approximately 30 percent of our fans are from China and it is our responsibility to support and market future Fruit Ninja products to the highest standard!

What has been the most challenging aspect of managing the Fruit Ninja brand?

For a casual game, it's important to prove that the brand itself is versatile and universal enough to be expanded upon, both in game and out. It has been a lot of hard work for the development teams to create new content that lives up to Fruit Ninja quality, and the management team has had a lot of challenges extending that and finding creative ways to make Fruit Ninja even more mainstream. Even with so many challenges overcome there are a lot more to face in the future!

How will your GDC China talk address the evolution of Fruit Ninja and what do you hope attendees will take away from it?

The idea will definitely be to demonstrate how Fruit Ninja became a success in the time around its release, and from there explore just how rapidly the mobile market has changed and what we have done to keep our ideas, updates and new releases fresh. Hopefully attendees will gain a bit more insight as to why certain games succeed and why others don't in both today's marketplace and over the next six to 12 months, and be able to make informed decisions about what they want to support as consumers -- and create as developers.

Additional Info

Taking place Saturday, November 12 through Monday, November 14, 2011 at the Shanghai Exhibition Center in Shanghai, China, GDC China will return to bring together influential developers from around the world to share ideas, network, and inspire each other to further the game industry in this region.

For more information on GDC China, please visit the show's official website, or subscribe to updates from the new GDC China-specific news page via Twitter, Facebook, or RSS. GDC China is owned and operated by UBM TechWeb.

GDC China

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