March 12, 2011


In depth: How Rovio made Angry Birds a winner (and what's next) (Tom Cheshire, 07 March 11, Wired)

Angry Birds is the first waste of 75 millions people's time that can be accurately quantified. Every day, users spend 200 million minutes -- 16 years every hour -- playing the mobile game. Three trillion pigs have been popped. It has filled billions of those interstitial moments spent riding the bus, on a plane or in important work meetings, and it is or has been the number-one paid app on iTunes in 68 countries, as well as the best-selling paid app of all time. It went straight to the top of the new Mac App Store in January, selling 150,000 copies in its first week. Sixty thousand Angry Birds soft toys have been sold. In January, the trailer for the new Angry Birds Rio racked up 500,000 YouTube views in a weekend; on official videos alone, Angry Birds has had 27 million total views. In total, the "brand" has taken more than €50 million: not bad for a game that cost €100,000 to make. On the first anniversary of its release, 2,405 people in 756 cities worldwide wasted even more of their time holding events in celebration of "Angry Birds Day". David Cameron and Justin Bieber say they are fans. So do Paul Gascoigne and Salman Rushdie.

On an island in the Pacific, the goal is to fling a squadron of kamikaze birds at gormless green pigs. The birds have just cause: the pigs stole their eggs. The swine took refuge in, and on, easily collapsible structures. The game is physics-based -- you adjust the trajectory and power of the slingshot with your finger -- and very, very addictive. Rovio, the Finnish developer behind the title, certainly got lucky. But Mikael and Niklas Hed, the cousins who run the company, also realised in early 2009 that the smartphone was about to become a new mass medium -- just one without the mass-media economics. So they methodically set out to create a new type of blockbuster, one with universal appeal, and use it to build an entertainment empire that would extend far beyond the iPhone. It would be Disney 2.0. "We set out to minimise the amount of luck that was needed," says Mikael Hed. "We felt we had done our best game so far. But the idea always was, this is the first step."

First they had to save a company in crisis: at the beginning of 2009, Rovio was close to bankruptcy. Then they had to create the perfect game, do every other little thing exactly right, and keep on doing it. The Heds had developed 51 titles before Angry Birds. Some of them had sold in the millions for third parties such as Namco and EA, so they decided to create their own, original intellectual property. "We thought we would need to do ten to 15 titles until we got the right one," says 30-year-old Niklas. One afternoon in late March, in their offices overlooking a courtyard in downtown Helsinki, Jaakko Iisalo, a games designer who had been at Rovio since 2006, showed them a screenshot. He had pitched hundreds in the two months before. This one showed a cartoon flock of round birds, trudging along the ground, moving towards a pile of colourful blocks. They looked cross. "People saw this picture and it was just magical," says Niklas. Eight months and thousands of changes later, after nearly abandoning the project, Niklas watched his mother burn a Christmas turkey, distracted by playing the finished game. "She doesn't play any games. I realised: this is it."

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 12, 2011 5:01 AM
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