Shainiel Deo tells Develop where he think the major growth areas in gaming and social are

Social is the future, says Halfbrick CEO

At the recent Game Connect Asia Pacific developers’ conference in Melbourne, Halfbrick CEO Shainiel Deo gave a keynote address in which he declared that social functionality was the future of mobile gaming.

With Halfbrick’s most pioneering and bestselling games not being inherently social in nature (Fruit Ninja, Jetpack Joyride), it seemed an odd statement to make. While all the requisite bells and whistles are arguably there in most of Halfbrick’s newer mobile titles, they’ve never before been the selling point. Fish Out of Water, Halfbrick’s latest game fish-physics-em-up for mobiles, took a leap with pushing for players to create ‘leagues’ which compete with one another (similar to clans).

Still, with such an open statement about the importance of social, Develop spoke to Deo to find out just where he thinks the major growth sectors are.

In Fish Out of Water, you included the ability for people to form ‘leagues’ right out of the gate. Is that evidence of the sort of thinking that you’ll be using to drive the social elements of your games moving forward?

The Leagues in Fish Out of Water were a cool feature – they were different to just standard leaderboards and achievements that we’ve previously had in our games.

But the thing that I really want to do is innovate in social, and that means taking a big leap away from something like leaderboards. I think, if you look at the leagues, it was cool, but it was a small step, and I want to take a giant step forwards.

We’re doing a lot of R&D right now into interesting ways to share the experiences and content that people are discovering or creating within our games, but not just stuff within the games. We want people to be able to pull in things like fan art, music and viral videos into our games so people can share content really easily, can like various things and connect with friends that have similar interests.

There are things like that, but then it goes even further. We want to do something interesting with allowing people to send things to each other, send gifts to each other and find new people. [In my GCAP keynote] I touched on the Nintendo 3DS and Street Pass functionality and some of the cool things that enables. Maybe extending things like that to mobile devices which everyone has (so it’s not just a specific group of 3DS enthusiasts in a corner doing this thing), we can extend it to people with an iPhone, Android, Windows Phone and whatever else.

There are countless apps which use location services already, but those are usually their own beasts rather than non-location apps using that functionality to their social advantage.

Exactly, so we want to push barriers and help people meet new people, get to know them better, share things with them, exchange information, find like-minded people. Also we just to re-engage people and make them want to come back.

Phil [Larsen, CMO of Halfbrick] is a junkie on the 3DS stuff. He’s shown me how many people we met yesterday, and then he’s playing these games with it, and there’s just so much engagement right there. And it’s not necessarily direct social interaction, it’s more passive, but we’re looking at passive and active things as well.

It sounds like you’re pushing for a combination of the 3DS Street Pass and the Playstation 4 share button. Is that a fair summary? Sure, sure, I think so.

We also want to do cool things (and this is more sort of location-based stuff) like setting a geo-fence in a particular area and sending out a push to everyone and ‘Hey, go to this place to get special content on a particular day’ and drive people to get together as well and interact.

There are so many possibilities, but what we want to do is move away from just simple things like leaderboards and sending a gift to your friends and the other standard stuff that we have to do. We want to use the fact that everybody has these devices, they’re location-aware, they’re mobile, they have cool tech (like Bluetooth 4 where you can detect when you come into contact with someone else), and put it into our games, and across all our games.

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