How Fruit Ninja is taking over the world


On target for 70 million downloads, this mobile game app is taking over. But how did it do it?

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Fruit Ninja

Source: Apple store

When an editor at the New York Times ecstatically publishes her Fruit Ninja results on Facebook as though it were a lead story hot off the press, you know something big is happening.

Yep, there’s been a lot of talk about fruit lately – and it ain’t got nothing to do with your five a day.

In fact, judging by its number of downloads and media hype, mobile phone app Fruit Ninja is taking over. If the NHS’s “five a day” campaign was half as successful we’d be all be skinny and glowing.

For those of you still in the dark, Fruit Ninja is a computer game born to Aussie developers Halfbrick Studios. It’s not yet two years old and is played on touch screen mobile devices (iPhones, etc). The essence of the game is basically this: players slice falling fruit in half to win points.

Over here it costs 69 pence to download, and in the US $0.99.

In March last year, Fruit Ninja hit the 20 million downloads mark. Halfbrick, a onetime small, independent developer from down-under, has been laughing its way to the bank ever since.

So how did it do it?

Fruit Ninja was patient

Halfbrick had been developing computer games for ten years before Fruit Ninja arrived, but had been doing so for clients such as Play Station Portable and Game Boy. It was only after the team gained extensive experience creating titles for other platforms that they began thinking about releasing its own independent range.

In an interview with the games website, GameSpot UK, the company’s chief marketing officer Phil Larson describes how the firm waited for the right moment before taking the plunge.

“We knew digital distribution opportunities were arising so we started doing our own prototypes, [made sure we]owned our IP. The Halfbrick Fridays initiative, allowed us to take our own time and get some ideas out there.”

This experimenting took place for two to three years. Meanwhile the iPhone app market was growing and releasing an iPhone app was becoming an ever more straightforward and cheap process. Halfbrick studied the process, studied the market and waited.

Fruit Ninja trusted its instinct

As soon as we made Fruit Ninja we knew we had something special admits Larson in the interview. And so this is where the patience ends, because so confident of its new app was Halfbrick, it fast-tracked the app through the development cycle, determined to get it ready to download as quickly as possible.

Halfbrick knew their users would be impatient too. Whereas a product is typically previewed for critics before release, the Fruit Ninja creators decided to release the game for download without any reviews whatsoever.

But what about building up hype, a marketing strategy? Well this was the strategy. Making the app available to download while simultaneously being reviewed meant gamers could read the review and then instantly download the game.

The creators knew they were onto a winner, so why wait for critics’ reviews to sell the game when the game could sell itself?

Fruit Ninja keeps clients wanting more

And sell itself it did. Fruit Ninja is currently listed number five in the official iPhone paid App chart, making it more popular than the other big hitters Angry Birds and Cut the Rope. What’s more, the Chinese love it; last year thirty per cent of downloads came from the China – prompting Halfbrick’s CEO Shainiel Deo to announce a new 70 million download target.

So how to keep up the hype and keep users interested? The answer seems to be the constant stream of updates released by the developers, and the game’s reincarnations into new platforms such as Facebook. As one reviewer put it:

“Fruit Ninja has been nothing short of spectacular, and over time this title has grown from a fun time waster to something you can share with friends, either by sniping high scores or by challenging them directly online with a multi-player mode.”

Indeed, it was only last month that the games blogosphere was once again all ablaze over the app. This time because Fruit Ninja’s latest incarnation, Fruit Ninja Frenzy, (the app’s Facebook version), had amassed another one million players to its following. And just days after that, Halfbrick hit headlines again. This time because Fruit Ninja for the XBox Kinect console sold half a million copies. 

Still not convinced? Two months ago a video of a cat playing Fruit Ninjas was uploaded onto YouTube. One and a half million hits later and the cat is a viral sensation. And if that doesn’t impress you, then you’re just not ninja.