In our regular Mobile Masterworks feature we take an in-depth look at the story behind the biggest mobile franchises and apps around. What led to their creation? What made them such a success? And how might these enduring hits inspire today’s creators to make their own mobile megagames?
Last month we covered decade-long mega-hit Subway Surfers, and this time we’re touching on another enduring classic of the mobile genre. Jetpack Joyride is a simple, side-scrolling endless runner that nonetheless marked the birth of many elements we now commonly associate with mobile gaming, such as the shift from premium to “freemium.” So how did Barry Steakfries, the Jetpack Joyrider himself come to embody the endless runner genre? Let’s find out.
Halfbrick studios was founded in 2001 and is one of the oldest studios that we’ve covered so far. Having always had its roots in portable play, it developed titles for the GameBoy Advance and Sony’s PSP before making the jump to mobile. Their first major hit was the perennial Fruit Ninja, a simple game where users swiped on the touchscreen to slash fruit as it bounced across the screen, while avoiding slashing bombs. Alongside games such as Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja became one of the “go-to” games for bored adults, hyperactive kids and proved to be the perfect showcase for the bigger screen of the newly launched Apple iPad.
However, although Fruit Ninja itself has remained a strong brand, with the last entry for VR in 2016, the game was somewhat of a one-trick pony. Halfbrick Studios’ next game would come to define the kind of addictive and long-lasting gameplay experience you can get from mobile.. If Fruit Ninja propelled them to mobile stardom, then Jetpack Joyride would be the game that cemented it.
Halfbrick Studios is also a perfect product of the vibrant state of the Australian game market at the time, and the heights many are hoping to match again. As we reported back in 2019 after a significant slump, the Australian games industry has begun to bounce back in recent years.
Development and release
Jetpack Joyride’s development cycle is not as well documented as other smash hits such as Angry Birds. But the critical reception of the game is most certainly well documented. One of the earliest mentions from PocketGamer.biz was the game hitting high on our Quality Index, a feature which racked up the most popular games. Jetpack Joyride followed on from other games published by Halfbrick Studios such as Age of Monsters and Zombie Dash by featuring their – now iconic – Barry Steakfries, a stereotypical brunette action hero type.
Jetpack Joyride also marked a subtle but major change for Halfbrick Studios and perhaps for mobile gaming as a whole, being the first of Halbrick’s games to incorporate IAP’s, while Fruit Ninja had been a paid upfront game, albeit for a very cheap price. Although other titles such as Angry Birds which was released a year later continued to use the premium pricing, albeit temporarily, Jetpack Joyride showed that a game which incorporated this method of monetisation could prove to be a financial success.
Regardless of your thoughts on in-game monetisation, and whether it has gone too far, the arrival, and success of Jetpack Joyride did give hope to many smaller studios that they could follow suit, create a popular game, have the confidence to price it as a ‘steal’ and still receive a consistent income stream.
Within half a year, Jetpack joyride would pass 500k downloads on mobile, however it was when the game went free-to-play – at the time a an unproven and – to many – crazy way of delivering a mobile game – that it really shot into the stratosphere. Receiving 13 million downloads by 2012 as the game switched to a zero price for entry with money only being made from in-app purchases for continues and certain upgrades to let players accrue a higher score.
Jetpack Joyride would go on to receive multiple awards, including game of the year, best iPhone game and best action/arcade release from the Pocket Gamer Awards in 2012. Jetpack Joyride cemented its place as being one of the biggest mobile games of the past decade and still a major fan favourite, thanks partially to a slew of constant updates. These constant updates themselves were a new innovation to continuously build up a game, which has now become de facto standard practice in mobile gaming.
So why was it successful?
From a gameplay standpoint, Jetpack Joyride embodies one of the purest examples of how an endless runner should work. Simple mechanics, varied locations to dash through and a variety of obstacles placed in your path. Compared to games such as Temple Run – which invented the endless runner but has aged somewhat poorly in the graphical and gameplay department department – Jetpack Joyride’s pixel-art aesthetic and simple gameplay remains impressively evergreen.
From a monetisation standpoint, Jetpack Joyride truly began to popularise the endless runner genre, as well as the use of free-to-play games with in-app purchases (then referred to as “freemium”) as a feasible alternative to upfront payments. This was a model that many other games, such as Angry Birds and other endless runners like Minion Rush would follow.
It’s interesting to note that this was a model that Halfbrick Studios would dump nearly ten years later when the game made the jump to the Apple Arcade. If history is anything to go by, does that mean subscription models will be the way of the future for mobile games. Or at least after a healthy ten years doing great business? Maybe in another 10 years time we’ll be looking back on Jetpack Joyride 2 as another shift in the gaming landscape just like its predecessor. But right now, it’s a little too early to tell.
- 2001: Halfbrick Studios founded
- 2010: Fruit Ninja released, Age of Zombies – first game to feature Barry Steakfries – released.
- 2011: Jetpack Joyride released
- 2021: Jetpack Joyride 2