They say you can’t teach on old dog new tricks, but don’t tell that to Aussie game developer Halfbrick, whose bestselling mobile game property Fruit Ninja continues to resonate, having recently surpassed the one-billion download mark since its launch six years ago.
In fact, the property is more active than ever before on the back of its fifth anniversary in 2015 with the launch of its first educational app, Fruit Ninja Academy: Math Master, and news that its brand-new 13 x 11-minute animated YouTube series will premiere this fall.
In the interim, Halfbrick has revealed more plans to expand the Fruit Ninja entertainment franchise for its 60 million monthly users. On deck is a live-action family comedy feature film (theatrical launch TBD) being produced by Tripp Vinson by way of his Vinson Films banner. There’s also a virtual reality game for HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and other VR platforms that is expected to launch at retail before the end of the year.
Halfbrick also recently partnered with L.A.-based branded entertainment prodco SXM Digital Studio on a first-of-its-kind, real-life Fruit Ninja tournament for Facebook Live.
Taking cues from live, slickly produced e-sports events, the 90-minute promotional special took place in L.A. on July 14. A grueling audition process delivered 12 finalists whose selection was based on their actual fruit-slicing and martial arts abilities in disciplines such as ninja, kendo, fencing and medieval sword fighting.
And to boost the event’s social aspect for Fruit Ninja’s fan base, an online vote determined the winners of the tournament. Additionally, viewers could interact with the competitors and show host in real time, much like e-sports broadcasts found on Twitch and YouTube Gaming. The grand prize winner will also be immortalized as a permanent character in an upcoming version of Fruit Ninja.
Sam White, VP of entertainment and licensing at Halfbrick US, says the event was inspired by popular YouTube videos posted by regular people who act like they are real Fruit Ninja warriors. “It builds on the whole user-generated content trend of people participating in real-life Fruit Ninja,” he says.
“Videos from YouTube user ScottDW are probably some of the best, mostly because of their high production values and the fact that the creator had a great vision.But their popularity is also just a bizarre phenomenon,” says White.
With inspiration in hand, Halfbrick leveraged SXM’s skills in making reality-style television and online programming to up the production value of the special, which ended up including multiple cameras, a rigged set and enhanced sound effects.
And the company chose Facebook Live as its broadcast platform based on the success of Fruit Ninja’s Facebook page, which currently boasts a following of more than six million fans.
As a bonus tie-in, White says Halfbrick also used the event to announce a Ghostbusters-branded update for Fruit Ninja, which is available for free. “We’ve been ramping up support for the game, but it’s a long game now,” he says. “We’re not so concerned with big user base spikes anymore. They will happen around particular seasons and promotions, but it’s more about providing regular updates that are fun and offer some value, like the Ghostbusters integration.”
While it’s too early to gauge the success of the special (it aired as we went to press), White notes that the IP’s move into live-action production will likely see more expansion.
“Fruit Ninja animation is still part of the plan, but making live-action commercially moves much faster than animation, so producing a live-action film makes sense,” he says.
“Because the brand was never rooted in story, it was harder to work with in the beginning, but now that we’ve had some time to let it breathe, we find that having a flexible brand allows us to run in a lot of different directions. We may even consider a live-action web series or a straight-to-digital home entertainment movie.”
The global success of app-based The Angry Birds Movie, meanwhile, has been reassuring. “It’s definitely encouraging,” says White. “I’m really happy it was successful. Because if it wasn’t, it would have made our job a lot more difficult in terms of our film, and around our licensing and entertainment in general,” he says.
“As long as you can still be [relevant] when the film comes out, that helps. Angry Birds was able to do that and they kept the products coming. We’ll do the same and have no plans to stop investing in our brand because the time and effort we’ve put in is all starting to pay off now.”