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Interview: Halfbrick’s Phil Larsen on Fruit Ninja and Windows Phone 7

Sunday, 9th January 2011 21:33 GMT By Brenna Hillier

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Independent Australian developer Halfbrick has already seen significant success on multiple platforms with its range of variously sized downloadable titles. Maybe you’ve heard of one of them; Steve Ballmer’s CES 2011 keynote featured three mentions and two videos of the addictive, best-selling Fruit Ninja.

We spoke to Marketing Director Phil Larsen on working with Microsoft, developing for Windows Phone 7, and the sudden highlighting of a little game about cutting up healthy treats.

VG247: I was really excited during the Microsoft CES 2011 keynote to see Fruit Ninja highlighted so prominently.

Phil Larsen: Yeah, definitely!

How did the Windows Phone 7 port come about?

Phil Larsen: We’ve got contacts at Microsoft, and as they were launching Windows Phone 7 they wanted it to compete with the iPhone – it’s the next big mobile platform. We like what Microsoft does, and we were happy to port Fruit Ninja to it. We’ve got a team here that handles that kind of thing.

We brought it over, and we provided a bunch of good assets and information. It was released on December 22nd, so it’s only a couple of weeks old, and it’s done really well so far. It’s the number-one selling game on Windows Phone 7.

What was it like seeing Fruit Ninja highlighted so prominently during the keynote?

Phil Larsen: We were watching it livestreaming, and we were really excited. It’s as big as it gets – Steve Ballmer, talking about Fruit Ninja. That’s amazing.

Did you know it’d be featured so prominently or did you just expect to be slotted into a montage?

Phil Larsen: It’s not like we talked to him specifically, but we provide them with assets and information. The more you do that, the more chance- the easier it is for their team to feature it. We give them builds of the game, we gave them that video. We didn’t know specifically what they were going to do.

Have you noticed any response to the extra publicity?

Phil Larsen: We haven’t noticed anything in terms of sales and downloads, but we definitely saw the response on the Internet. Everyone was tweeting about it. It’s definitely given Windows Phone 7 in general a bigger chance to be in the spotlight – and I’m glad that we’re in the best selling spot on there at this time.

Are there any barriers, as a small indie company, or as an Australian company, to collaborating with Microsoft?

Phil Larsen: Not really. We do everything by email just like everybody else does. It’s good to have the chance to meet your account manager in person, and I guess there is a time difference, but strictly speaking there’s no real barriers. Anyone can do it. They just need to have the best product.

What’s Microsoft’s QA process like, compared to Apple’s?

Phil Larsen: Microsoft, for Windows Phone 7 specifically, have managed portfolios of games. Like Xbox Live Arcade, they only have so many slots that they use to have their featured games. They also have the Indie games, which anybody can release, but if you’re an official Windows Phone game then you have to go through Microsoft certification, dealing with the account managers, they have their team testing, and you communicate with them back and forth. Whereas Apple, you submit the game, it gets passed, and you’re done.

You didn’t have any issues?

Phil Larsen: Issues are relative. There (were) bugs. But it went through. We had to fix things, and change things around, but it’s all standard for game development.

This is Halfbrick’s first product for Windows Phone. How is it to develop for?

Phil Larsen: Windows Phone in general, as you saw during the conference, it has nine different phones. The challenge for developing for Windows Phone – and for Android as well, I guess – is that you need to accommodate for different devices, with different specs. Whereas iPhone is usually one thing.

Do you have plans to bring the whole Halfbrick portfolio over?

Phil Larsen: There’s no reason why we won’t. It’s just a question of time – time and effort. We don’t have a giant team so we have to get everything prioritised. We have a lot of different opportunities in a lot of different mobile areas. We need to make sure we’re doing everything at the right time. We decided yes, we want Fruit Ninja to be out early on Windows Phone.

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