Halfbrick Studios' Phil Larsen is a happy guy. Not only has his company scored a huge hit with Fruit Ninja (with over a million copies sold on Xbox Kinect alone), but the studio's Jetpack Joyride is a hit as well, garnering over 19 million across various free and paid incarnations.
Halfbrick, says Larsen, is working on a new IP for iOS that we'll see by the end of the year. Until then, the group is working Jetpack Joyride version 1.3, which introduces an entirely new feature: Gadgets.
Gadgets are perks that can be added to Barry's jetpack. They're purchased with coins picked up during play (which ties in to the game's in-app purchase system) and tweak the gameplay in several ways. For example, the "Freeze-o-matic" allows Barry to slide farther when he dies. The "Flying Pig" turns slot machine coins into pigs that explode into fireworks of rewards, and a gadget called "Gemology" converts coins into gems, which give five times the reward when collected. You can have three gadgets running at a time, and when they're all combined, they can either help a lot (by making some very challenging missions relatively easy), or make the game crazier than ever.
Gadgets aren't just add-ons to the jetpack. They affect the game in several ways, which Larsen says will allow Halfbrick to expand the game a lot going forward. Fifteen gadgets will be introduced when the update goes live, with more coming after that. "We can definitely support this game lots more."
I asked Larsen about the Jetpack Joyride knockoffs on the App Store. Larsen shrugged them off. "They're not as good as Jetpack Joyride, so why bother?" he asked with a smirk.
Halfbrick is an independent company, though obviously it's been growing, even as the Australian game economy is in a downturn. Larsen says the developer has about 57 employees right now, and given the games' popularity, they could stand to grow a bit more. But Larsen also says Halfbrick isn't interested in being purchased by a larger developer, either. Of course there have been offers, but in the end, he says, "We like what we do." Taking a deal with a larger developer might upset that, so it definitely seems like Halfbrick is more interested in making its own games than pitching in, no matter how big the potential payoff may be.
As for that impending new iOS title, Larsen won't say much more than that he "...would love to release another iOS game this year." Certainly Halfbrick is working on something (and maybe even more than one thing), but the current focus is Jetpack's update. As for whether a new game would be paid (like Fruit Ninja has been) or freemium (like Jetpack Joyride has been for most of its success), Larsen said both strategies are still valid, depending on the game. "We've made more money on Fruit Ninja paid than we've ever done" selling Jetpack Joyride's in-app purchases, says Larsen. "We can sell games and we can do freemium. Does that mean Fruit Ninja's more universal? Probably yeah." Larsen admits that Jetpack Joyride could probably have skewed more towards a casual audience. It originally started paid and then was sent free to find its audience.
But it's hard to second guess Larsen and Halfbrick given all of their company's success, and Fruit Ninja and Jetpack Joyride still set quite a few bars for app quality on Apple's App Store. The company has done really great things so far -- we're intrigued to see just what's coming next.