Fruit Ninja dev on new Sydney studio

Q&A: Halfbrick marketing director Phil Larsen talks about the Aussie studio's expansion plans and the future of its franchises.

Last month Aussie developer Halfbrick, the studio behind popular iOS title Fruit Ninja, announced it would be opening up a second studio in Sydney.

Although Halfbrick has been around for 10 years, the critical and commercial success of Fruit Ninja--which was also launched on Microsoft's Kinect platform in August--put the studio in the spotlight, leading it to expand its operations.

GameSpot AU reached out to Halfbrick's marketing director Phil Larsen to ask about setting up shop in Sydney and the studio's future plans.

GameSpot AU: So Phil, why a new studio? And why Sydney?

Phil Larsen: One of the major reasons we're looking to expand is we want to keep our Brisbane studio small. For us, it's all about the culture. If we hired 400 new people we'd definitely lose that...there would be more processes, more corporate stuff, no one would know each other, and communication would be an issue. We want to avoid that because it's kick-ass to work at Halfbrick.

However, we still want to achieve a lot, so what that means [is] expanding. What we've decided to do is open up another studio in Sydney that will operate just like another Halfbrick team. The person who will be running that team used to work here in Brisbane for a long time but recently moved to Sydney and has been working remotely ever since. So it made sense to add a few new guys and kick things off down there.

Fruit Ninja Kinect.

GS AU: Sydney is an odd choice, though, given the game development scene hasn't thrived as well as it has in some of the other capital cities.

PL: Good point. But there are a lot of people in Sydney that are talented who want to get into games and can't without moving to Brisbane. Hopefully, having a presence in Sydney will help to change that.

GS AU: Can you give us an idea of the direction the Sydney studio will take?

PL: The focus remains to be seen. At first, the new studio will just take on some Fruit Ninja work...different games we could be making, additions to current games, etc. We're also looking to get the new studio to branch out and start its own titles. We like to let all the teams have creative control.

GS AU: Halfbrick has also had huge success in the Asian market.

PL: China is a huge market for us. Around 30 percent of our market is there. That's what I've personally been doing a long time now...visiting these markets to promote our games and build relationships. It's important we actually visit these other markets because we don't really know a lot about them, and we can't really understand unless we visit. We're not going to open a China office or anything like that, which is what some people do. We just want to find the best people to work with in those markets.

GS AU: Are you happy with the response to Fruit Ninja Kinect?

PL: Yes, certainly. I read last week that it ended up as one of the most successful XBLA Summer of Arcade games this year. It's still going strong in sales, and we're going to be supporting that with new content soon.

GS AU: What about Halfbrick's future development projects? Will you be sticking with mobile for the time being?

PL: We're never going back to the long development cycles for consoles...it's not likely. We like the freedom of mobile, and we're going to stick with it. It's fast moving and creative. We're never going to be like: "Now we're rich, let's make a AAA console game!" We've established ourselves as the number one developer in Australia and we want to keep it that way.

GS AU: When can we expect to see the Sydney studio in operation? And can you give us any hints of what to expect from you guys in the near future?

PL: Soon! We're in the preparation stage now, and we are hiring and looking at applications. As for the actual content, we're definitely going to be adding new content to existing games, but in terms of new games, there's no new [intellectual property] to speak of just yet. But you know us--we always have things in the works!

GS AU: Thanks for your time, Phil.

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