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Publisher Spotlight: Ninja Kiwi

Posted Feb 6, 2015

Founded in 2006 by Chris and Stephen Harris, Ninja Kiwi began by creating flash browser games. Their early popular titles included their Bloons physics puzzle game and their Bloons TD tower defense game. Since inception, Ninja Kiwi’s team has grown to over 50 working in two locations: Dundee, Scotland, and their home office in Auckland, New Zealand.

With over 500 million plays, it was clear Ninja Kiwi was onto something. So what inspired them to transition to mobile? As Scott Walker, Partner and Head of Production at Ninja Kiwi tells us, it was the iPhone:

“As soon as we saw our first iPhones we knew we wanted to get Bloons on mobile, and we’ve been fortunate that Bloons, Bloons TD 4, and Bloons TD 5 have been huge hits on iOS, and Android as well.”

ac_blog_ninjakiwi_37milliondownloadsLibrary of Games
Although it’s easy to focus on their Bloons franchise, Ninja Kiwi has released 20 mobile games which have generated 37 million downloads to date. In addition, they’ve also published over 70 flash web games. With a smile, Scott Walker described the lot as “some gems and some stinkers,” which is to be expected with a catalog of their size.

Style & Inspiration
ninjakiwi_3dprinter_captionedPublishing an average of 10 games per year isn’t easy and requires a constant stream of creativity and production, so we asked Ninja Kiwi where they draw their inspiration from. Unsurprisingly, it comes from a lifetime love of games, art, and other media:

Inspiration comes from all over the place, both for games and art. Like game makers should be, we’re devoted gamers and all have our childhood, college, and recent favorites, and then we layer movies, books, and what ifs on top of that.

In addition to the usual AAA suspects, the team also frequently references tabletop and card games such as Dungeons & Dragons and Magic the Gathering. They also turn to games that bring them together as a team, such as Call of Duty, Unreal Tournament, Mario Kart, Smash Brothers, and Starcraft.  Sometimes, this means going out to the forest and shooting each other with lasers:

ninjakiwi_lazertag_bw

For the full story on their laser tag adventure, check out the Ninja Kiwi blog.

Wherever it comes from, the emphasis in the inspiration isn’t on specific elements so much as the experience:

We might reference other games for mechanics or UI, but mostly what we reference is how they made us feel, how they got us so frustrated, or so hooked, or so sleepless.

When reference and discussion leads to inspiration, Ninja Kiwi describes it as pure magic:

New game ideas themselves are pure magic – they pop out of random idle thoughts and conversations, and when you try to give them shape they either fizzle and disappear, or they take shape and open themselves up to more and more ideas.

Industry Accolades
In addition to driving installs and millions of hours played, that “pure magic” has also captured industry attention and accolades. In 2012, SAS: Zombie Assault 3 won “Best Shooter Game” and “Best Multiplayer Game” at the Flash Gaming Summit. In 2013, Bloons TD5 was nominated for “Best Strategy Game” and “Best Coss-Platform Game” at the same summit.

NK Coins & Monetization
ninjakiwi_moneymonkeyPlaying any Ninja Kiwi game, users will encounter an in-game currency known as NK coins. This currency allows users to make in-game purchases. However, this is not the only way Ninja Kiwi monetizes.

Once developers get their games published, Walker asserted that “a combination of interstitial and rewarded ads is essential,” to augment income from cool in-game items, in particular for developers without large publishers to lean on.

One of the reasons Ninja Kiwi is fond of rewarded video is that it allows more users access to more content. As Walker puts it:

“Rewarded video is a huge help to players who don’t have access to an iTunes card or a credit card. We design games so that all players can get all things in game, whether they fast forward with IAP, grind it out level by level, or use rewarded ads to help speed things along. We frequently get emails from players, usually younger ones, that appreciate having a way to get a leg up by watching ads.”

In addition to offering their players more ways to access content, Ninja Kiwi’s use of rewarded videos has also helped them augment their income. In fact, as Walker attests:

“From a revenue perspective, we’re happy to share that we’ve earned almost $2.8 million from Ad Colony ads alone, in key titles like Bloons TD Battles, SAS: Zombie Assault 3 & 4, and Bloons Monkey City. Our business is far more strong and sustainable with a best in class ad partner like Ad Colony.”

Advice to New Developers
Of course, fostering a strong and sustainable game studio wasn’t done overnight, and Ninja Kiwi has learned quite a few lessons along the way. Looking back on their early titles, Walker noted that they “ended way too soon,” offering new game developers the following advice:

“Having a final boss in an epic story based game is a great conclusion, but in a small indie game that’s where most people will move on to the next game, not replay at a higher difficulty or try another character class. Make sure there is lots to do before the player sees anything that looks like a last level or a last upgrade.”

Once the gameplay is plotted out in a way that keeps the users playing without the perception of an early end, it’s time to work out a publishing strategy:

“Start small and use as many platforms as you can – web, steam, mobile. Build and publish, build and publish – you can’t ever have a business if you don’t ship your game.”

Of course, before the games publish, the monetization strategy needs to be ironed out. While Ninja Kiwi recommends thinking about monetization early on, they remind others to keep this in check, as, “t’s more about how can you make your living doing what you love – making games.”

Upcoming Games
ninjakiwi_monkeys_topsecretSo what’s next for Ninja Kiwi? To keep their creative juices flowing, they’re working on a new title called Fortress: Destroyer. It’ll be a battleship action RPG. While we weren’t able to get our hands on a beta copy just yet, Ninja Kiwi will be unveiling more information about the new title in the upcoming months.

Follow the Team
In addition to checking out the Ninja Kiwi Facebook page and following @NinjaKiwiGames on Twitter, you can follow a few members of their team on Twitter at:

Join the Conversation
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