Lessons from Fruit Ninja Developer Dojo

By Dony Sukardi

Editor’s Note: Fruit Ninja Developer Dojo was a 2 day seminar organized by Microsoft Singapore and e27. This session gave local game developers a rare opportunity to learn about game development practices and marketing techniques from the founders of Halfbrick Studios, the makers of one of the world's leading casual games - Fruit Ninja - which is played by millions around the world and is available on Microsoft platforms such as Windows 8 and Xbox Kinect. 

The Fruit Ninja #DevDojo proved to be a great evening with interaction amongst the participants, sharing their passion on game development. Everybody, including me, was looking forward to getting to know the success story of Halfbrick and its famous game with more than 300 million downloads: Fruit Ninja.

At Microsoft Singapore Auditorium, Shainiel Deo, Chief Executive Officer of Halfbrick, took the stage to give an opening speech where he shared two main points on how to be successful in the industry. First, nail what you’re trying to do. You ought to try to be the best and carefully pick your team. Second, make sure that with every product you build, you learn something from it.

Fruit Ninja might be the game that made Halfbrick known to the world, however, it wasn’t at all their first game. In fact, it was the 15th ever since the company was established in 2001. There is progression and refinement from one product to the next.

The opportunity is here again, even bigger than ever, with the release of Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 (WP8). With the very same base code (with very minimum tweaks for WP8), you can now target tablets, laptops, desktops and mobile phones.

Shainiel then passed the baton to Phil Larsen, Chief Marketing Officer of Halfbrick, to present some of Halfbrick’s marketing strategies. The best game marketing starts with the game. Believe in your game when you market it to the public.

He also stressed that we needn’t be 100% innovative. Many times, developers crack their heads trying to come up with something totally new. That is not to say that new innovation is not important. We can also build on existing concepts and add fresh twists to them.

Highlighting the necessity of getting universal, he advises to reach out to as many players as possible, hence targeting different platforms. Such can also be achieved by getting partnerships with other companies while staying true to the gameplay.

Several marketing techniques that contributed to the success of Fruit Ninja were game trailers posted on YouTube that generated millions of views and taglines such as “Ninjas hate Fruits”, and bringing the game to people by organizing Fruit Ninja Master, a competition to find the best Fruit Ninja in Australia.

Phil also brought attention to the games by branding them to increase relevance. Recognizing the effort that Microsoft has put into marketing Kinect for Xbox360, Halfbrick decided to name the Fruit Ninja’s title for Xbox360 as Fruit Ninja Kinect. These things might seem insignificant, however, without knowing it, we buy into them, contributing to the overall success of a product.

For developers who are releasing a title and don’t know what to do, he advise them to try finding a mentor, which has proven to be beneficial. Phil summed up his presentation by reminding us that huge successes are possible. We ought to make every single point of contact count and there is no one secret to be successful.

Phil Larsen, CMO of Halfbrick greeted the audience and introduced Fruit Ninja Dev Dojo.

After a short break, it was time for a technology talk by Richard McKinny, Chief Technology Officer of Halfbrick. Richard demoed Fruit Ninja and Jetpack Joyride on Windows 8. He praised the features that Windows 8 has to offer, starting with Snapped View. It is not immediately apparent on what to do with snapped view for games. Many developers might do nothing more than just place a splash screen or screen saver on that space, waiting for the user to come back to the game, if ever.

Thinking that Microsoft has added Snapped View for a purpose, the team thought of a brilliant idea. Realizing that players of Fruit Ninja love fruits, the team decided to give an unlimited supply of fruits on a conveyor belt. So, if you’re working on your Word document and feel bored or stressed, you can slash the fruits on the side of the screen.

And there are Live Tiles, which might be regarded as normal icons on your Start screen. Halfbrick did not know what they were for at first, but soon fell in love with them. Live Tiles provide re-engagement with users. Halfbrick implemented them on their Windows 8 games: on Fruit Ninja by showing stats on a vertically rotating tile, and on Jetpack Joyride by showing current game missions.

Social is built into the very core of Windows 8. Game developers can code what they want the user to share on different parts of the games by using the default share functionality. In Jetpack Joyride for example, players can share their points or screenshots of the game.

After elaborating on the awesome features of Windows 8, Richard moved on to discuss some game development technologies. With so many platforms to target these days, game developers should try to create their own game engine and avoid platform specific implementations for things that can be done in a cross platform way.

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Dony is a developer, designer and tech enthusiast. He loves gadgets, simple-clean-yet-sophisticated stuff and great food.

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