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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.

GDC Vault Debuts Raph Koster, Riot Games Videos, Free GDC Online Slides

The GDC Vault service is proud to announce that videos and slides for last month's GDC Online are now available, with free videos that include Playdom's Raph Koster on social media convergence, BioWare San Francisco on Dragon Age Legends, and Riot Games on poor design decisions.

Along with these free videos, slides for all of GDC Online's sessions are now available for free, providing a glimpse into the range of notable topics discussed at the recent show.

The full catalog of video for GDC Online is also now available to GDC Vault members, which now includes All-Access Pass holders from last month's show in Austin, Texas.

The following lectures are the first highlights to be made available for free from GDC Online 2011:

- Over in the show's Customer Experience track, Playdom's Raph Koster hosted "It's All Games Now! How Games and Social Media are Converging," a talk that notes the ways in which games and social media are becoming more alike, and examines what this means for game developers. Koster frames his talk with a fantastical allegory for game development, illustrating how the games industry exists in its own "magic circle."

- Next, the GDC Vault offers a Business track talk hosted by BioWare San Francisco's Ethan Levy. His talk, "Dragon Age: Legends' Road to 100K Likes," looks back on the development and promotion of Dragon Age's recent Facebook spinoff, pointing to the challenges that come with building momentum for an online social game. Along the way, Levy offers tips to help developers plan and promote their games for long-term success on social networks.

- The final talk to be made available for free is "Designers are Human Too - Causes of Poor Design Decisions," from Tom Cadwell of Riot Games. Here, Cadwell teaches developers to let go of design ideas if they won't work in the game. Drawing from a number of League of Legends anecdotes, he explains what happens when teams spend too much time on ideas that just don't work.

GDC China Reveals Cloud Gaming, Smurfs, KingsIsle Sessions

This week, GDC China has debuted new lectures featuring Microsoft on the present and future of cloud gaming, a look at Ubisoft's Smurfs & Co Facebook game, and Wizard101 developer KingsIsle on the ins and outs of RPG math.

Taking place November 12-14 at the Shanghai Exhibition Center in Shanghai, China, the event will once again serve as the premier game industry event in China, bringing together influential developers from around the world to share ideas, network, and inspire each other to further the game industry in this region.

This year, the show's Main Conference will feature three primary tracks, covering Online Game Development & Business, Global Game Development, and Social Games, and two Summits on Indie Games and Mobile Games, respectively.

Here are the latest talks to be revealed for the show:

- As part of the Global Game Development track, Microsoft's Brian price will host "Gaming and the Cloud: Present and the Future." Here, he will explain how game developers could benefit from using a cloud-based service, detailing cloud gaming's current capabilities and where he expects the technology to go in the years to come.

- In the Social Games track, Richard Tsao of Ubisoft Chengdu will examine the publisher's popular Facebook game based on the classic Smurfs franchise. In "The Smurfs & Co - How to Develop a Successful Facebook Game in China," Tsao will look back on the game's development, detailing the factors that helped the title become one of Ubisoft's most successful social ventures.

- Finally, Sara Jensen Schubert, design lead at Wizard 101 developer KingsIsle Entertainment, will look dive into role-playing statistics in "Fundamental Multiplayer RPG Math." In this lecture, Schubert will explain how to draft the essential framework for basic RPG systems, from experience curves to character attributes, emphasizing how data-driven spreadsheets can streamline the ways in which these systems take shape.

Reminder: 2012 IGF Student Competition Submissions Close Today

are reminding that there are less than 24 hours until the Student
Competition deadline for the 2012 Independent Games Festival, being held
at the Game Developers Conference 2012 in San Francisco next March 5-9.

The Independent Games Festival is
the longest-running and highest-profile independent video game festival,
summit, and showcase, and the deadline for the IGF 2012 Student
Competition is Monday, October 31st at 11:59pm PT.

The IGF has already revealed
record numbers of entrants for the Main Competition, with nearly 570
games competing, a more than forty five percent jump over 2011's total

Student Competition finalists will be announced in January 2012, and
will be available in playable form at the IGF Pavilion on the GDC show
floor from March 7-9, 2012.

Notable former student game finalists include Narbacular Drop, the precursor to the acclaimed Portal, as well as Cloud from the embryonic Thatgamecompany team, recent cult hit Octodad, and more.

Newly submitted student titles will compete for $7,000 in prizes,
which includes prizes for eight Student Showcase Winners and one prize
for Best Student Game. 2012 Independent Games Festival prizes for both
Main and Student Competitions total more than $50,000.

As noted above, submissions to the Student Competition are still open to all student game developers,
with many entrants waiting until the last minute to polish versions of
their game for more than 150 IGF judges. A full list of student entrants
will be released on the IGF website in the days following the
submission deadline, as also happened with the Main Competition.

GDC China Speaker Spotlight: Bastion's Rao: 'You Don't Have To Quit Your Day Jobs' To Go Indie

Earlier this year, Supergiant Games made its indie debut with the XBLA and PC hit Bastion, which received warm reception from critics and players alike. Now that the team has its first title under its belt, studio director Amir Rao says the team's "initial fears have subsided."

Rao notes that while several key members of Supergiant left traditional development at EA to move away from the risks and restrictions of big-budget development, going indie came with its own set of worries.

At next month's GDC China, Rao will outline the benefits and hardships of indie development in a session titled "Maximizing Risk: The Building of Bastion." During this lecture, he will detail the origins and development of the studio's debut game, and offer advice to other developers looking to pursue their independence.

In anticipation of his talk, Rao reflects on the driving forces behind Supergiant's inception, and points out some tips for making it in the indie space.

How and why did you and the team of other EA vets decide to go indie and make Supergiant Games?

Supergiant Games was started by Gavin Simon and me -- both of us worked at EALA on Command & Conquer 3 and Red Alert 3. We were inspired by the success stories of people like The Behemoth, 2D Boy and Jonathon Blow. We left EA to create games that were more personal to us. It was a decision born out of ambition and passion to try to make the kind of game we could never have made on a large team at a big company.

What was it like to adjust to indie development considering your previous job at a traditional game studio?

We are significantly faster and more nimble than we ever were at EA because we have no production or management overhead. A large team has to manage a complex schedule and deal with lot of risk; they need to plan on paper months ahead. We never do anything on paper. Good ideas get into the game in hours and are iterated on immediately.

What was the hardest part about going indie?

There is a lot of worry in being independent. First, you worry if the game is going to be good, then you worry if anyone will like it, then you worry if it will ever come out, then you worry if something bigger will come out right on top of it, then when it's finally out, you worry if it will sell well enough to let you do a second one. Thankfully, Bastion has done that for us and lot of the initial fears have subsided. I'm looking forward to worrying about something new.

Reminder: GDC 2012 Call For Summits Ends October 31

GDC 2012 organizers have issued a reminder that the Summit call for submissions will close Monday, October 31, leaving just a few days to submit proposals for the San Francisco show submarket-specific events.

The Summits will kick-off Game Developers Conference 2012 during the first two days of the conference -- which runs March 5th-9th, 2012 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco -- and will cover pertinent topics in key sub-markets of the games industry, particularly focusing on broadening the scope of the medium to encompass new audiences, new platforms, and of course new gameplay ideas.

This year, the Summit lineup will cover topics such as AI, Education, Localization, Independent Games, Smartphone & Tablet Games, and Social & Online Games, all of which return from GDC 2011.

New to the show in 2012 are two new summits: Games For Change @ GDC and the Game IT Summit. As previously announced, Games For Change @ GDC is an event hosted in partnership with the Games for Change non-profit organization, which facilitates the creation and distribution of games that exist for humanitarian or educational purposes.

This new GDC event, which complements the annual Games for Change Festival in New York, will allow funders, educators, governmental agencies, and other organizations to interact with indie and commercial game developers to help leverage interactive entertainment for social good.

GDC China Reveals Brian Fargo Keynote, Trio Of New Sessions

This week, GDC China has revealed a new keynote from industry veteran and Interplay founder Brian Fargo, as well as a trio of new talks featuring CrowdStar, Flurry, and PapayaMobile.

Fargo's keynote, titled "Making RPGs That Stand the Test of Time," will examine the last three decades of role-playing games, detailing the ways in which story, character development, balance, and production must work in unison to create games that players remember for the rest of their lives.

Fargo himself has a storied history in RPG development, and played a key role in classic Interplay titles such as The Bard's Tale, Wasteland, Baldur's Gate, and Fallout. Currently, he leads the California-based inXile Entertainment, which is working on the upcoming multiplatform action title Hunted: The Demon's Forge.

In addition to this keynote, GDC China has debuted the following lectures from the show's Main Conference and Summits:

- In the Social Games track, CrowdStar director of business development Randy Lee will host, "The Importance of Multiplatform for Social Gaming," offering a look at how the It Girl and Wasteland Empires developer uses multiplatform games to expand its reach into global territories.

- Over in the Mobile Games Summit, Jeferson Valadares of the mobile analytics firm Flurry will delve into what it takes to develop a hit game for both the U.S. and China. His talk, "Win in the World's Top Two Mobile Gaming Markets: The U.S. & China," will use data from over 120,000 apps to illustrate key differences between these markets, and will outline some key tactics for approaching user behavior, game design, and business models.

- Also in the Mobile Games Summit is a talk dubbed, "Domestic Small Teams Design, Develop and Operate Games for European Markets," featuring Liang Zhang, founder of PapayaMobile. Here, Zhang will draw from the company's experience operating a developer incubation program to help small teams make it big in European and American markets.

GDC Vault Debuts Game Ratings, Shadow Complex, Far Cry 2 Free Videos

This week, the GDC Vault service has debuted specially picked free videos from previous Game Developers Conferences, including talks on the problems with game ratings, reflections on Chair's Shadow Complex, and design lessons from Far Cry 2.

These talks come from various GDC events from the past few years, and cover some particularly notable games and issues, providing just a glimpse of what the Game Developers Conference has to offer.

The following are the newest free video lectures to be made available on the GDC Vault:

- In the GDC Europe 2011 talk, "Game Content Rating Systems Must Change," Quantic Dream's Guillaume de Fondaumiere (Heavy Rain) contrasts video game ratings to those of film and other media, arguing that video game ratings are far more strict than they should be.

These restrictions, de Fondaumiere says, are hurting the industry, and this session explains why game developers need to do a better job of protecting their creations.

- During GDC 2010, Chair Entertainment's Donald Mustard reflected on the studio's hit XBLA title in a session titled, "Designing Shadow Complex." Here, Mustard points out the key pitfalls the team encountered during the game's development, and how the team learned to embrace the limitations of the platform to streamline Shadow Complex's design.

- This week's final talk comes from GDC 2009, and features Ubisoft's Jonathan Morin as he outlines the ways in which the critically acclaimed Far Cry 2 strove to support player expression in its game design. The session, dubbed, "Player's Expression: The Level Design Structure Behind Far Cry 2 and Beyond?," explores the game's open design and explains how lessons learned from this project could apply to other games.

GDC China Speaker Spotlight: Double Fine And The Kinect 'Melting Pot Of Ideas'

Following Double Fine's recent announcement of the Kinect-exclusive Happy Action Theater, lead technical artist and upcoming GDC China speaker Drew Skillman discussed the studio's experience working with Microsoft's depth-sensing hardware, noting that it required the studio to re-think its approach to game design.

In particular, Skillman notes that it takes a lot of experimentation with Kinect to get things working as intended, and Double Fine had to take some unusual measures to reliably test its latest title.

At next month's GDC China, Skillman will delve further into the implications of working with Kinect in a session titled, "Rapid Prototyping Techniques for Kinect Game Development," which will focus on the studio's process for creating its motion-controlled games.

In anticipation of the talk, Skillman discusses the challenges of working with the Kinect's depth-sensing technology, offering tips on how to best make use of the hardware's strengths, and to design games around its weaknesses.

Considering Double Fine's history of making games with traditional gamepad controls, what has it been like for the studio to work with the Kinect hardware? Are there any particular challenges you or the team have encountered?

The biggest challenge has been adapting to the different types of input you get from the Kinect. A gamepad controller is quite literally a handful of very precise inputs, but the Kinect is a continuous stream of video and depth data. Even after processing that data into player joints and segmentation IDs, you will still never be able to pinpoint the exact frame when a character is supposed to jump, for example.

That difference has informed our designs at the deepest levels. We want to leverage this new technology for the amazing new interactions it allows, and not just try and use it as a calorie burning substitute for a gamepad.

What tips would you offer developers looking to start working with Kinect or other motion control hardware?

One great way to start is to check out all the phenomenal Kinect hacks that are flooding the web right now. If you do a Google search for "Kinect Hack," you will see a massive number of inspirational and creative applications, many of which are already in game form, or translate to games naturally. One reason for this rampant experimentation is that programming languages like Processing and Open Frameworks make the hardware accessible to everyone with a computer. This open source approach gives it traction in disciplines like science, education, interactive design, student games, etc. Kinect is definitely a melting pot of ideas right now.

Also, consider investing in life size, cardboard cutouts of your favorite characters. A member of our team made a genius purchase early in the project, and as a result cardboard cutouts of Dumbledore, Darth Vader, and Elvis have been invaluable testers throughout development. The Kinect detects them as very patient players. Another late arrival to our "test team" was actually a Yoga ball, which the Kinect recognizes as well.

GDC China Debuts Trio Of Social Talks From Zynga, DeNA, AdParlor

This week, GDC China has debuted a trio of lectures in the show's Social Games track, featuring talks from Zynga China on localization, DeNA on top monetization strategies, and AdParlor on the current state of social game ads.

Taking place November 12-14 at the Shanghai Exhibition Center in Shanghai, China, the event will once again serve as the premier game industry event in China, bringing together influential developers from around the world to share ideas, network, and inspire each other to further the game industry in this region.

This year, the show's Main Conference will feature three primary tracks, covering Online Game Development & Business, Global Game Development, and Social Games, and two Summits on Indie Games and Mobile Games, respectively.

Here are the latest talks to be revealed for the show's Social Games track:

- Zynga China general manager Andy Tian will break down the essentials of social game localization in "Developing a Localized Social Game Experience for China." Here, Tian will cover the dos and don'ts of effectively bringing a Western-developed social game to the Chinese market. In addition, he will go over several common mistakes designers make post-launch, and will offer tips on how to avoid them.

- Elsewhere, DeNA director Kenji Kobayashi will host "Monetizing Social Games: DeNA's Secrets for Success," outlining the company's core strategy for making money off of its social games. In this behind-the-scenes session, Kobayashi will provide an inside look at how the company develops and operates its titles to maximize sales, and maintain them as long-term services.

- Finally, "Everything You Need to Know about Facebook Ads: How Much do I Need to Pay to Get 1 Million Players to My Game?" will feature AdParlor CEO Hussein Fazal on the current state of the Facebook ad market. As one of the major players in the Facebook advertising industry, Hussein will help developers understand the key metrics they should keep an eye on to help them attract more players with their advertising dollars.

GDC China 2011 Reveals Paul Barnett Keynote, Reminds On Early Reg

Today, GDC China
organizers announced that outspoken industry veteran and BioWare Mythic
senior creative director Paul Barnett will host a keynote for the
show's Online Game Development and Business track.

Barnett's keynote, dubbed "Global Reach and Local Limits - Paul's
Personal Truths about Online Game Development," will examine now online
play has affected game design, focusing particularly on geographic
proximity, how culture matters, and "lessons from the old British

Barnett's experience working with online games extends back to the 1990s, when he helped create the AOL-based MUD Legends of Terris. He later moved to Mythic Entertainment (which eventually became BioWare Mythic) to help design EA's hardcore MMO Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning.

In addition to Barnett's keynote, GDC China would like to point out
that the Early Registration deadline for the show is roughly 24 hours
away. Register for the show by October 19, 2011 to receive special
discounts on the various GDC China pass options.

GDC China will take place in just a few weeks, from November 12-14 at the Shanghai Exhibition Center, so make sure to register soon!

Over the last few weeks, GDC China has unveiled other exciting talks
from some of the industry's top professionals, including talks from Canabalt's Adam Saltsman and mobile developer Booyah, sessions from Square Enix and Kabam, in-depth looks at Fruit Ninja and Doodle Jump, and much more.

For more details on the current lineup for the show, please check out GDC China's official website.

The 25 Most Memorable Quotes From GDC Online 2011

[Here, Gamasutra news editor Frank Cifaldi looks back on last week's GDC Online and presents some of the most notable quotes from the Austin-based show.]

Last week's record-breaking GDC Online conference in Austin, Texas saw so much insight, knowledge, advice, and discussion that even the most ardent attendee missed a wealth of valuable information.

While we couldn't have possibly given proper attention to all 145 lectures, Gamasutra's extensive coverage is a valuable resource for those who couldn't make it out to the show last week.

We've rounded up a few of our favorite quotes from the show -- part of the UBM TechWeb Game Network. Our 25 favorites are presented below, in no particular order.

"A few Kotaku articles and IGN front pages do not make a hit game."

-BioWare San Francisco's Ethan Levy, from an insightful and open talk about how the studio's social game Dragon Age Legends attracted a lot of temporary Facebook likes, yet wasn't a big hit.

"That's bullshit. Are we going to start hiring 10 year old kids to make games for 10 year old kids?"

-Veteran MMO developer and former Free Realms creative lead Laralyn McWilliams (who recently joined iWin) discusses the flaw in thinking the only path to attracting more female gamers is to hire more female developers. Instead, she says, stop making games for yourself and learn to give your audience what it needs.

"What they're doing looks a lot more like e-commerce than game design."

-EA Playfish's Tom Mapham on how analysts and product managers are running usability tests and market research on over a terabyte of daily data generated by players of The Sims Social.

"We like living here because we're wizards!"

-Veteran MMO developer and current Playdom VP of creative design Raph Koster describing game development is like a fairytale. His Thursday talk encouraged the game dev wizards in attendance to embrace their powers and take back control instead of constantly trying to keep up with the real world.

"A community is not a customer."

Reminder: 24 Hours To 2012 IGF Main Competition Deadline

Organizers are reminding that there are 24 hours until the Main Competition deadline for the 2012 Independent Games Festival, being held at the Game Developers Conference 2012 in San Francisco next March 5-9.

The Independent Games Festival is the longest-running and highest-profile independent video game festival, summit, and showcase, and the deadline for the IGF 2012 Main Competition is Monday, October 17th at 11.59pm PT.

Finalists will be announced in January 2012, and will be available in playable form at the IGF Pavilion on the GDC show floor from March 7-9, 2012. The titles will compete for nearly $60,000 in prizes, a significant increase from last year.

This includes the high-profile $5,000 Nuovo Award, honoring abstract, short-form, and unconventional video game development, as well as a $30,000 Grand Prize and a host of other notable awards.

Submissions to the competition are still open to all independent game developers, with almost 260 games entered already, and many entrants waiting until the last minute to polish versions of their game for more than 150 IGF judges. A full list of entrants will be released on the IGF website in the days following the submission deadline.

Important dates for IGF 2012 are as follows:

- June 30, 2011 - Submissions are Open

- October 17, 2011 - Submission Deadline, Main Competition

- October 31, 2011 - Submission Deadline, Student Competition

- January 5, 2012 - Finalists Announced, Main Competition

- January 12, 2012 - Finalists Announced, Student Competition

- March 5 - March 9, 2012 - Game Developers Conference 2012

- March 5 - March 6, 2012 - Indie Games Summit @ GDC 2012

- March 7 - March 9, 2012 - IGF Pavilion @ GDC 2012

Winners will be announced on stage at the high-profile Independent Games Festival Awards on Wednesday, March 7, 2012, at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. The Independent Games Festival Awards are held immediately before the wider Game Developers Choice Awards.

GDC Online 2011 Confirms Record Attendance, Return In 2012

Organizers of the 2011 Game Developers Conference Online, which concluded on Thursday, October 13 in Austin, Texas, have announced confirmed attendance numbers of 3,350, growth of 12 percent over last year's event and an all-time high.

This year's GDC Online, organized by the UBM TechWeb Game Network (which also owns sister site Gamasutra) featured more than 145 lectures, panels, keynotes and roundtable discussions presented by over 225 speakers, and a bustling expo floor with over 100 exhibitors and sponsors.

Gamasutra has been covering the event in full this week, including a keynote from PopCap co-founder John Vechey, as well as signature Main Conference talks from design veteran Raph Koster and from Laralyn McWilliams.

In addition, the show's Summits included a well-attended Virtual Items Summit, a Smartphone & Tablet Gaming Summit, and the much appreciated Game Narrative Summit, which featured a keynote Q&A with notable game-influenced author Neal Stephenson.

Pictures of the event are available at the official Game Developers Conference Flickr page, with lecture slides and video from GDC Online set to debut on the GDC Vault website in the weeks following the show, in both free and member-based tiers.

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