Updated: 2011-10-07 12:02
By Yan Yiqi (China Daily European Weekly)
[Shainiel Deo, CEO of Halfbrick Studios, says China is the No 1 market for Fruit Ninja going forward.] Yan Yiqi / China Daily
The Creators of Fruit Ninja want to attack the Chinese market
Imagine a ninja. He isn't cloaked in black, wearing a mask, or hiding in a dark corner waiting to attack his enemy. This 21st century ninja uses technology to attack his target, which is fruit. He simply uses his fingers to slice at pineapples, bananas and other colorful fruits on the screen of his mobile phone.
"I can score 1056 (points) in arcade mode," says Shainiel Deo, CEO of Halfbrick Studios, the company that created the popular mobile application Fruit Ninja. "Yep, I'm a ninja."
The game, which made its debut last year in Apple's App Store, has been downloaded more than 60 million times.
The name of the game reveals a little behind the object of the game. The player takes on the persona of a ninja who wants to destroy fruit. On a smart phone or tablet, the gamer touches the screen when a piece of fruit appears, using his or her fingers to slice it in half. If three pieces of fruit are missed, or a bomb is touched, the game is over.
Halfbrick Studios, in Brisbane, Australia, has just released a free Chinese version of Fruit Ninja through the Mobile Market of China Mobile.
"We built the game to be accessible to a wider audience, and I am grateful that Chinese players love Fruit Ninja so much," Deo says.
He says he is aiming for 70 million downloads in China in the next six months, a goal some people think is unachievable.
"When you see the rate of downloads per day - and the rate is increasing - I don't think it's going to be a big deal to hit that target," he says.
The company says the game is downloaded more than 600,000 times a day.
"The Chinese market is our No 1 market," he says, adding that China already contributes to 30 percent, or 20 million, of the game's worldwide downloads.
In order to appeal to more Chinese users, Deo says the company will release five or more updates designed especially for the Chinese market.
Though Deo is vague about the details, he says the updates may include fruit or blades with Chinese elements, and at least two of those will be released by the end of this year.
The Chinese version of Fruit Ninja already differs from other versions because the background contains the 12 Chinese zodiac signs.
"Localization in China is our priority now, and since the product has proved popular, marketing is what we need to emphasize."
Apart from Chinese-themed elements, Deo says the company is also considering enabling Chinese players to share their Fruit Ninja scores on Renren.com and Weibo, Chinese social networking sites.
Halfbrick Studios is now cooperating with iDreamSky, a Shenzen digital game company also in charge of the marketing in China of Angry Birds, another best-seller.
Deo says cooperating with local companies is the best way for his company to expand into the Chinese market.
"I won't leave Brisbane, and we are not considering opening Chinese offices or branches in the foreseeable future. We are very mindful of not growing rapidly, and we want to make sure each new person we add to the team adds a lot of value."
Although Deo is confident about the future of Fruit Ninja in the Chinese market, Halfbrick Studios is still worried about the rampant piracy in the country.
"Almost 50 percent of the Fruit Ninja games played in China are pirated version," Deo says, adding that the company is now working with iDreamSky to find solutions.
"We are offering free downloads for Chinese players, and all users can download Fruit Ninja through official channels. And since our version has better user experience, I believe Chinese players will make the right choice."
Zhang He, chief operating officer of domob.cn, a Chinese company that provides advertising services on smart phone apps, says that the biggest challenge for Fruit Ninja in China is how to make a profit with free downloads for a game that used to cost $1.99 (1.5 euros).
Zhang's company is working with Halfbrick Studios to insert ads between games.
Deo admits that it is almost impossible to insert advertising without degrading the gaming experience, but he says the company is committed to not being overly aggressive and working on how to best deliver the ads.
"We do want to monetize, but we don't want to upset our fans."
In fact, Halfbrick Studios is working on other ways to make money, and merchandise is one of them.
Deo says Fruit Ninja is following the steps of Angry Birds, but also hopes to chart its own path.
"There are a lot of products in development right now, and we are working with an Australian animation studio that is creating short films and a TV series based on Fruit Ninja."
Deo points to the shoes of Su Meng, chief operating officer of iDreamSky, a pair of orange leather shoes with an artistic letter "F" on one side. The shoes will be among the future Fruit Ninja products.
Halfbrick Studios has released seven other games, with names like Blast Off, Age of Zombies and Monster Dash. But a recently released version of Fruit Ninja for the Xbox Kinect will possibly continue its popularity streak.
Fruit Ninja can be played on Apple products and systems that use Android, Windows and Symbian, the last one largely run on Nokia phones.
To satisfy users without smart phones, tablets or other similar devices, Halfbrick Studios is also developing a PC version of Fruit Ninja.
Deo says the PC gaming experience will not be degraded because a mouse is required to play instead of simple finger movements.
"A mouse is exactly what we used while developing Fruit Ninja, so there won't be any problems using a mouse to play the game."
"One of the keys to making a great game is that anyone can play," Deo says.
Another good reason for developing the game for so many platform is fast growing mobile game market.
The market has grown rapidly since 2008, with more than 23 million users in the first quarter of this year. The market value has exceeded 255 million yuan (30 million euros, $40 million), with 18.1 percent year-on-year growth.
The Japanese market is another target for Deo and his company.
Ironically, although the ninja is a figure of Japanese origin, the game is not as popular in the Japanese market.
"I think a lot of that stems from localization issues, because English is not widespread in Japan. And the market is very different too," Deo says.