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14Jun/12

Fruit Ninja: Freemium with no barriers

By Huel Fuchsberger

In most cases we see a transition from social to freemium mobile. The Australian developers of Halfbrick demonstrate with Fruit Ninja that the other way is also possible and a premium mobile game can work as a free social game as well.

Fruit Ninja launched on the 20th April 2010 on in the Apple App Store for iPod Touch and iPhone. Now it is available for 8 Platforms which includes all relevant Smartphone operating systems, Xbox 360 and Facebook.  Up to its 2nd year anniversary last month, the game was downloaded more that 300 million times. The social version, named Fruit Ninja Frenzy, has 4.9 million MAU and about 430,000 DAU and ranks # 34 of all Games at Appstats.eu. With those numbers it marks the most played social game produced in Australia. What could be is its formula of success? It is simplicity in gameplay and barrier free gaming.

Title: Fruit Ninja
DeveloperHalfbrick
Genre: Arcade
Languages: English
PlatformsFacebook, iOS, Android, Ovi, Windows 7 Phone, Bada, Xbox 360
Active users (Facebook): 430,000 DAU 4,900,00 MAU

How to Play
The goal of this 3D Arcade game is to slice as many fruits as possible. Players do that with their finger tips, by swiping over the touch screen.  To add a little challenge also bombs are thrown at the player. Slicing them will end his game. Also letting three pieces of fruit fall uncut to the floor means game over. For higher scores the player tries to cut several fruits with one slash to get extra points and build up combos.  It’s a game easy to learn but hard to master. This is the classical mode of the game. For variety other modes are included in the game.

In those modes the core mechanic of the game is not change, the player still tries to cut as much fruit as possible. But in the “Arcade Mode” he only has 60 seconds, and bombs only diminish his score and don’t end the game. In the “Zen Mode” there are no bombs and the player only tries to get the most combos in 90 seconds. Also a “VS Mode” is available, to compete in real time with others. On the iPad on the same device. To this core game other features are added.

Players can unlock new swords and backgrounds for the game by unlocking achievements. Also Power-Ups to enhanced chances for higher scores can be purchased with star fruits that are earned with every game or can be bought as In-App purchase. Interesting is, that Halfbrick doesn’t try to cash in on this feature.

Even though the Power-Ups are very useful, you get plenty of star fruits to acquire them. As a regular player you will never feel the need of buying star fruits with real money, a benefit of the premium model for developers and players.  Since players already paid for the game the designer doesn’t have to constantly interrupt the play sessions asking the player to buy something and disturb his experience of the game. The mobile version of Fruit Ninja started as premium game and has not changed its model. But more interesting is, that this philosophy has also made it into the free Facebook version of the game.

Facebook game with no barriers

The Facebook version, called Fruit Ninja Frenzy, only offers one mode to play, which is the arcade mode of the mobile version. At first it seems like a drawback, that only one mode is available – it is not. Every other mode doesn’t really make sense with a mouse input.  Since the slashing is not longer controlled over a touch screen but with the curser a lot of the accuracy is gone missing with this new input device. If for example the full screen mode of the game is not turned on, players are constantly clicking on banner and links surrounding the game window, when the curser leaves the game window in the heat of slashing fruits. To make up for the inaccuracy, in this version the amount of fruits thrown at the player has been increased significantly to make it easier to get high scores and a satisfying experience.

As mentioned there are no barriers limiting the numbers of games – which normally is designed into social games to get players buying more sessions and financing the game. Players in Fruit Ninja can keep playing for hours and don’t have to worry about any hearts, stamina, energy or anything else diminishing. There are two currencies available for purchase, juice and star fruits. But like in the mobile version, there is no real need to do so. You can earn them by just playing the game. Different then in the mobile version, Power-Ups are bought with juice and star fruits are on Facebook only spent to unlock new things. Sure, unlocking everything just by playing would take hundreds of plays, but you could “beat the game” in one session and without buying anything.

Fruit Ninja is a good example, how  premium mobile games can also work well as a free social game, without limit itself with freemium design dogmas. It established itself when mobile games on smartphone’s where rising. On mobile devices the players don’t need other players and can enjoy a game  on and offline, on their own or with others. On Facebook they can compete with friends for the highest score, in a game that primarily is meant to be played and secondarily should monetize. The Fruit Ninja brand stays fresh, even after two successful years and keeps its Indi-Spirit.

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