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GDC 2011: Backflip Studios' Boss Battles, Army of Darkness Defense, and more

Backflip Studios' Julian Farrior was here in attendance at GDC 2011 this week. His company has been doing quite well lately, and he tells me that they've recently hit 85 million downloads across all of their free apps, with over 23 million monthly active users. In plain terms, that means that tons of people have downloaded Backflip's apps (like Paper Toss, Ragdoll Blaster and the popular NinJump), and they're playing them often as well.

As I heard at last year's conference, Farrior is all about experimentation, using paid downloads, freemium apps and a large, well-organized network of in-app advertising to drive traffic around and monetize his company's users.

He has a relatively large slate of games due out in 2011, including four social games that we'll be hearing about later in the year, and a few games using various models that I got to see in action. Boss Battles was the first -- it was still in an early stage of development, but the idea is that Farrior wants to try to marry a scrolling arcade shooter (like Gradius) with the freemium business model.


The game will be a free download, and it will allow you to configure your ship and guns however you please in a series of the game's namesake boss battles, earning up XP and gems as you play. In-app purchases will offer ship customization and XP boosts, so you can pay nothing and grind your way up, or if you want to progress faster, you can put a few bucks in and go that way. Farrior is surprisingly candid about the game's prospects -- "I want to see if this is interesting," he says. "I don't know if it is." It seems like a good idea, though players will have to decide if the game or the extras are worth their attention or money.

I also saw a licensed game from Backflip -- the whole studio is a big fan of the Evil Dead movies by Sam Raimi starring the great Bruce Campbell, so the team jumped at the chance to make Army of Darkness Defense. It's a reverse tower defense game of sorts -- you can summon minions to help you block out undead castle invaders, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, and you also play as Ash himself, boomsticking and chainsawing his way through the invading army. The game's really goofy and really fun, and of course, it has all of the famous lines and funny gore that you'd expect from a good use of this license. The price wasn't quite settled yet, but Backflip says it'll be around one to three dollars, and should be out in April.

The company is also working on a third Ragdoll Blaster sequel, which is due out sometime this summer. The game will improve on the physics based formula, adding individual attributes for the various ragdolls, including ragdolls that can flame up or electrocute things as they fly.

Finally, I asked Farrior about Backflip's future as an independent studio, or if he wanted to maybe sell the company to a bigger publisher or take on a big financial partner, as a few other studios with a big audience like his have done. He said that nothing was off the table, of course, but also that "I don't think we're there yet." Certainly Backflip has that large user base, and "there's a lot of interest in the market," said Farrior. But the company seems to really enjoy what it's doing now on the scale it's working on, and "we love mobile, and we like to design for the medium," says Farrior. In other words, Backflip will likely stay where it is for now and continue to experiment and play with all of the various models and game options that the App Store offers.

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