Ask Me Stuff: With Guest Phil Larsen

Every Wednesday I ask you to ask me stuff. But at our Kotaku meeting a while ago, you put forward the idea of a guest Ask Me Stuff - and here it is! This week we're joined by Phil Larsen, Marketing Manager over at Halfbrick Studios in Brisbane. They're responsible for local success stories Fruit Ninja and Monster Dash. Leave a question for Phil in the comments, and he'll pop by throughout the day to answer.

In case you've been living under a rock (or Android), Halfbrick is a studio of 35 or so people that for the last few years have concentrated on cute new IP to take the app store by the reins and steer it to profitable pastures. Just last week they announced Fruit Ninja had sold its second million, laughing off the likes of Veggie Samurai.

Phil is across all areas of the business, and assures us you can ask him anything. Now, fire away with those questions.


Comments

    How do you come up with such unique ideas? I'm a student studying Games Development in uni (Software Tech major), and I just find it so hard to get some unique ideas for any sort of game. Is there a certain way to come across ideas in this industry?

    I'd like to know who it is in the Monster Dash trailer - is it a couple of guys from the studio?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tn3WxhAoUvI

    Hi Daniel - coming up with great ideas for games doesn't come instantly. Fruit Ninja was one of many games we explored, and it was the overall vision and execution that made it successful. We go through many ideas, so don't be afraid to scrap them and take a new approach if it's not working out for you. Brainstorm, research and play your way to a good idea. It's a lot of hard work!

    As for the Monster Dash trailer, they are all part of the studio. Artists, programmers, and even the devil is the creator of Fruit Ninja and Monster Dash!

    Nice easy one for you Phil...

    When can we expect Raskulls to arrive in AUS?

    Hey, Phil! Three questions, hurled at you like fruit! 1) How early in the development process do you start marketing and pushing your games to industry people? 2) Who do you market it to during the process, to hype it up before release? And 3) how much of the game's details do you withhold at this stage, to avoid any copycats? Thanks for your time!

    Isn't fruit ninja just a blatant knockoff of a minigame in Wario Ware Smooth Moves?
    Have you guys been sued yet?

    I would like to know how the bad/good the video game industry in Australia is at the moment. There's been a heap of lay offs at Krome, and there's only a couple of successes at the moment, you being one of them. Is there a lot of pressure, finance wise?

      Also, I just checked out your site, and you're bringing Age of Zombies to the App Store! Sweeeeeeet! Even though I have the mini, I'd buy it again. You guys make awesome games, just thought you should know :)

    Not a question, just a comment. Thanks for giving us your time and answering questions. I often think about software developers like i do my employers. If they give me some additional level of personal attention (just talking to us), then they are held in much higher regard in my eyes. I have supported quite a few relatively small devs because of this. I fend the experience much more personally engaging and therefore enjoyable. Good on you for reaching out to the community in such an open manner. Cheers,

    @ Ollie - We're working on it! Expect to see some news shortly, and you can follow all updates via our blog at www.halfbrick.com

    @ Blitzkreeg - It depends on the platform. Bigger scope games with longer dev cycles definitely benefit from long lead marketing, whereas iPhone games need a big, strong and sharp push to hit the App store with a bang. As our portfolio grows, so does our communication network and we can cross-promote all of our games when we choose. Fruit Ninja has definitely helped with that.

    @ NotoriousR - I see the Australian industry as re-emerging, as studios who have embraced news platforms, social media and digital distribution channels are enjoying good levels of success. It's even easier nowadays to live here but distribute games on a world market!

    @ Anonymoose - Nope, to both questions. Sorry to disappoint you.

    @FatShady - Thanks! That's part of who I am and what Halfbrick does now. We engage with communities as often as possible, and development/updates is a two-way street. We want to give you guys what you want and make a living doing so, and thankfully we have achieved that!

    Thanks for your answers, Phil! Behold, another question: It seems that good marketing is just as important as good game design, especially in the incredibly populated iPhone/App Store environment. What’s the best type of person for this type of marketing – a game enthusiast or a marketing graduate? Also, I’m assuming the marketing of these games would be a full-time job, getting onto blogs and reviews and game sites every day... is that fair to say? I only ask, because you have clearly done well with pushing your games into the spotlight!

    Halfbrick Studios seems to have a strong focus on simple, yet addictive themes that have a strong presence among the community.

    Is this a trend we will see continue in the near future, or will we see HBS branch off into new directions?

    How are you finding Apple's Game Center versus existing services like Open Feint? Are there pros / cons, or is it a case of simply making your games as available as possible?

    Hi Phil, thanks for your time! Personally, I find out about most iPhone games/apps through enthusiast press podcasts and word of mouth. Do you find that this is the most common way for people to find out about your games? If so, how do you target that market? If not, what do you find is the most common way that people find your games (especially pre- Fruit Ninja). Thanks!

    What’s that? MORE questions? (can you tell that I’d really just like some pointers on how to get an iPhone game off the ground? :) )
    1) What are the main places you target to be noticed by Apple and the public?
    2) Do you need to pay to advertise anywhere, or do you rely on word of mouth alone?
    3) What did you do differently between Blast Off and Fruit Ninja? What did you learn worked better?
    4) Do you have any suggestions for indie developers without marketing budgets? :P
    Thanks again for your time and knowledge!

    Wow, lots of great questions. I'll do my best to get to them all.

    @ blitzkreeg - I am a marketing graduate, former games writer and have been playing games since the Atari 2600. So ideally experience in all areas is a great thing to have. And yes, marketing is most definitely a full time job, it's the one I have :)

    A Chris - You pretty much nailed it. Themes that can resonate well in both mainstream and hardcore markets are what we love. While Fruit Ninja is far simpler than, say, Age of Zombies, we always try to push each game with a clear message about what it is and what value it can bring for the customers.

    @ Seamus - Pros and cons to each, working with App store tech and updates is a hefty task, and we are strongly utilising many aspects of different technologies to achieve the desired outcome. The Fruit Ninja update that come out today is a good example of where we want to be.

    @ JeremyK - iPhone games require a setup. This involves a massive PR campaign to ensure coverage on all the major outlets. You need to build in ways to help promote word of mouth like social media links, competitive features, news functionality, community management. What you're asking in general I could write a novel about (ie. targeting the iPhone market), but in essence you need to cover all bases with iPhone - including making a great game that people are willing and able to talk about with friends! That's always a good start :)

    Do you think iPhone games, and similarly Facebook games, are something of a 'gateway drug' for bringing new gamers toward other platforms? It seems the market, and devs like yourselves, are nudging players ever so steadily toward more complex concepts. From super simple yet addictive gameplay to games that introduce strategy, or inventory, or resource management, etc.

    On another tangent, is a company like Popcap a big inspiration for a company like Halfbrick? Or what other game developers would you point to as inspirational?

    You need a new receptionist?

    Im the king of reception!

    iPhone and Facebook games are definitely a way to get the mainstream population into gaming, in the sense that their perception of hardcore gamers might change to a positive one. I certainly don't think players can instantly upgrade to more complexity with every new game they try, but at least the casual markets help us to instill a greater sense of acceptance and understanding to an activity which is only going to become more popular as time goes by.

    Hey, Phil! Not sure if you'll get time to reply to my earlier questions (at 1.27PM) before you're done for the day?

    Thanks again for taking the time to answer everyone's questions and share some really important knowledge. Halfbrick is a real inspiration, showing us that real success is possible and totally achievable, even in these shaky times for the local industry! Cheers.

    @ blitzkreeg - I'll give you a few quick answers to your questions before moseying! Positive mentions in the media will always turn heads, and you can start getting that together the best places you know how. Building a reputation does take more than one game, but getting that game in a good spot to begin with requires a lot of door knocking. Blogs, websites, anything specific to the platform you are targeting will help the consumers and the platform holder take notice.

    Fruit Ninja was developed from the ground up specifically for the iPhone and touch screen devices, whereas Blast Off wasn't. It's tough to do a port flawlessly, and while Blast Off was solid it simply wasn't the right type of game for the market to do big numbers.

    Paid advertising can help but it needs to be handled correctly. You can't simply buy space and expect sales to go up, even by a little. 99% of the time, it won't even budge. A good marketing plan involves utilising many channels of communication.

    For an indie with no budget, if you have other guys working with you then you need to work closely. Someone contact blogs, someone manage social sites, someone create some good branding images and logos. If you have time, don't just immediately release after finishing. Study and learn trends of the market and when you might have the best chance of getting noticed!

    That's an ultra-brief explanation, but it's definitely a good jumping off point for anyone looking to release a game. By asking about it, you have already made a great leap of progress! Good luck!

    I've got another question Phil, and hopefully your still here! I was just wondering if Halfbrick take in undergraduates for either work experience or an actual job? Because I'm a undergraduate studying Games Development (majoring in Software Technology), and was hoping I could get real life experience, or even a foot in the door. Thanks!

    Hi Phil please help me get started on making a game app as i don't have a clue where or how to start, i have a great game i have designed but now need to know how to di it all,

    hi Phill could you help me to find or nominate a name of a person that could create an app. for me I have an idea and wish to develope it , with not much money to spend.I am on the gold coast ,qld, with not a lot of money to spend. I would really appreciate some help thanks.

    I NEED HELP!

    Hi Phil, I have an idea for an app and I think it's really good but I don't know what steps to take?

    Hey phil pls let me know how I can get my app up & running, server wise (android/apple) Thanks

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