Angry Birds was initially seen as "boring"

Ville Heijari talks about transforming a game into an entertainment brand

Rovio's rare feat with Angry Birds is galvanizing enough of a following around a piece of entertainment to set the foundation for a global franchise. Hearing the company talk about what it takes to pull it off, it's clear that there's more to it than the entertainment itself.

When Star Wars first gained mass appeal, everything seen in the first film short of interstellar bodies was on store shelves less than a year after it released. By the time Darth Vader and his Empire were striking back, children had spent years living in that universe through toys, lunchboxes, t-shirts and enough other nick-knacks to fill a bedroom.

If there's a direct model for what Rovio has done with Angry Birds, that's it. About a year after Angry Birds became a bona fide hit, the Finland-based company was already drawing 30 percent of its revenues for the IP from licensing, merchandise and other areas outside of game sales, including theme parks. Late last year it hinted that there's a film in the works. Earlier this week, it announced plans to develop a cartoon for television.

Rovio senior VP of brand marketing Ville Heijari retraced Angry Birds' trajectory to worldwide phenomenon in a fireside chat at [a]list summit New York. Surprisingly, initial reaction to the game when it launched in Finland was lukewarm.

"The characters are not interesting, sound design is boring, everything is average," Heijari said of the first sentiments Rovio heard about the game.

That makes the story of how Rovio embraced this brand that much more interesting. Seeing that initial reaction, the company turned to a territory by territory approach, targeting press and game forums. Despite the disappointing launch, they knew they had a fun, polished experience on their hands.

"You have to have the goods to share," said Heijari. "There has to be that magic X factor so whoever plays it gets hooked."

They eventually made Angry Birds number one in the iPhone App Store in Finland, then Sweden, then other European countries. According to Heijari, UK was the "turning point." Once it showed up there, Apple started to take notice.

Once Apple takes notice, Heijari said, "The product has to be really, really polished."

For a Finnish company that started when three guys left college in 2003, and grew to twelve developers over the next six years, getting Angry Birds noticed by Apple was a big deal. Three years later, Rovio employs 540 people in offices in Finland, Sweden, China, New York and Los Angeles, and it's looking to expand into Japan and Korea. It's no longer just a mobile game maker. Of those locations, only two are game studios and developers make up less than half of the company at a total of 220 people. The rest are there to nurture IP, develop them into brands, license, market, strike deals and drive the kind of expansion around entertainment IP that Star Wars and even its new parent Disney can appreciate.

Read the full story on [a]list.

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Latest comments (17)

Jade Law Senior concept artist, Reloaded Productions9 years ago
Angry birds IS boring.
I cant think of anyone I know who doesn't own it on their respective smartphone. However i also cant think of any people who completed it, or even got close. Its very easy to get bored and move on to games that do have that 'magic x factor' like doodle jump or minecraft.

Its an exercise in fantastic marketing strategy and brand awareness, not game design.
I typed this while enjoying a cup of tea from an angry birds mug...
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Jamie Read 3D Artist, Neon Play Ltd9 years ago
^ Agreed.
It's even more boring after twenty (or how ever many) versions of it, that is pretty much just re-skinned. People will keep buying it though for some reason, so as long as they are doing that and Rovio is making a ton of money, they won't leave it alone.
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Pier Castonguay Programmer 9 years ago
It is very boring, but it is an easy game you can play without thinking or much efforts. I actually completed the first one on PC playing all night long once. Never bothered playing any sequel though, it's pretty useless.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Pier Castonguay on 9th February 2013 8:44pm

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Show all comments (17)
Matthew Hardy Studying Multimedia/Game Design, ITT Technical Institute9 years ago
To say Angry Birds is "boring" and "bad game design", I think says more about our sour grapes ethos than it does the validity of a billion times downloaded piece of entertainment. I feel that like Pac-Man and Tetris, AB is pure gameplay and design, that sweet spot we all search and strive for. It's immediately accessible and comes without pretense, has a mechanic that's fun and becomes more fun with repetition, and is wrapped in a pleasing aesthetic. It's simple and doesn't get in it's own way - it's perfect.
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Mathew, the mechanics and design of angry birds is hardly revolutionary, much comes straight from games such as Crush the Castle.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Todd Weidner on 10th February 2013 12:51am

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Adrian Herber9 years ago
Angry Birds is certainly a simple game for casual players, but I think it does show off good touch-screen controls in a highly polished package.

Also, although some of the first sequels were boring re-skins, Angry Birds space has some substantial new game mechanics that I think make it a better game than the original. Also, Angry Birds Star Wars has combined ideas from the original, Space, and the Star Wars franchise in a very clever way.
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Adam Coate CEO & Founder, Coate Games9 years ago
I have no problem with Angry Birds. As Adrian said, Angry Birds Space is quite good and innovative for its genre. My problem is with Apple. With their 'Hand of God' they get to choose which games are hits. For every Cut the Rope, Fruit Ninja, Angry Birds, etc, there are probably 100 games that are just as deserving of their success. But Apple doesn't allow fair visibility, and also doesn't allow games to be sorted by user rating (I would love to know the real reason, and suspect it's nefarious). They also block games with controversial content in games yet not in books, movies, or music. They said, "If you want to criticize a religion, write a book not a game". Um, what? To all of you reading this, please stop giving Apple your money. /endrant
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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 9 years ago
There are two things in this article, the product and the brand.

Angry birds has in spades the three qualities that every game should have and that most don't. It is compelling, it is polished and it is fun. Hence well over a billion downloads. I would like to see those that criticise this do better.

As for the brand, this is part of the industry growing up at last. For too long we have relied too much on other people's brands. EA especially have made so many games that are nothing except merchandising for a non game brand. A film, a sports personality or series, a book etc.

Angry Birds has proven that gaming brands can be extended in the same manner that other brands are. For years Ferrari has made more money from licensing its brand than it has from making cars.
It is not just Rovio who have woken to the possibilities, Bobby Kotick has his Skylanders.

When I was at Codemasters I told them that they could build a company bigger than Codemasters around just one brand, Operation Flashpoint. But now that is an opportunity lost.
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 9 years ago
One thing to say about whether Angry Birds is "boring", "compelling", or "something else entirely" is to remember that quality of games is subjective, and large sales/download numbers do not necessarily signify quality. Neither myself nor my girlfriend (a definite casual gamer) find Angry Bird's compelling. No-one in my social circle plays it, or has bought it, and the only reason my girlfriend has it is because I downloaded it for her because I thought it might appeal (it did, for a couple of days, but no more). So we must be careful when pronouncing such definite arguments as "It is compelling, it is polished and it is fun," or "Its very easy to get bored and move on to games that do have that 'magic x factor' like doodle jump or minecraft."

Moreover, saying that it must be good because it's got over a billion downloads is like saying "Star Wars is better than Citizen Kane, because more people have seen Star Wars." It's an argumentative leap that has nothing to do with logic or objective quality, and everything to do with assumptions.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 10th February 2013 9:46am

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Angry Birds IS boring, but its also very playable, easy to learn, and accessible. And its fun. Its just a balance between the fun and boredom for me - I used to play it to kill time, then the fun wore off completely and I can't play it anymore.
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Robin Clarke Producer, AppyNation Ltd9 years ago
While it's true that no amount of brand recognition and marketing can save a bad game, it's pretty obvious that the brand can account for most of Rovio's revenue in the years since the original game became a pop culture phenomenon. They're retreading the path Pac-Man, Mario, Tomb Raider, Pokemon, Final Fantasy (in Japan), Moshi Monsters (in the UK) and a handful of others have trodden before them over the past thirty years - becoming for a time synonymous with gaming for the average person.

If you subtract the free downloads they've racked up over a plethora of formats over four years (and compared this to the size of their licensing and merchandise business) you would get a much more revealing figure.

I wouldn't go as far to say that AB (and its sequels) is boring, just blandly inoffensive to appeal to the absolute widest possible audience. It's also extremely accessible. It fits the same function as Solitaire and Tetris.

Aside, I can't believe people are still calling AB a 'rip off' of Crush The Castle (which itself was a clone of an existing game). Nothing was stopping CTC's devs putting the time and effort into solving the control scheme for the game on touch screens and marrying it to a highly polished, casual-friendly, exhaustively playtested game in 2009. But they didn't, and Rovio did.
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some people arent saying anyone rip off anyone else merely that angry birds was not an new or original game design. Crush the Castle and Castle Clout did come before it. So with that being the case, angry birds success lies elsewhere, mainly polish, marketing, and tie ins.
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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 9 years ago
@Todd Weidner

All novels are derivative. In fact there are said to be only 7 different main plots.
Movies likewise.
So it is hardly surprising that every game since pong has been derivative of other video games to a lesser or greater extent. (And even Pong was derived from table tennis).
Zynga are very honest about this. They say that "this is our version of.........." And they put all their effort into making the best possible implementation.
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Andrew Animator 9 years ago
Zynga are very honest about this. They say that "this is our version of.........." And they put all their effort into making the best possible implementation.
Haha, that has made my day, cheers Bruce. Never seen plagiarism justified in quite that way.
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actually there is thought to be over 20 main plot devices, coupling that with many more subplots, it offers an incredible numbers of variations and mixtures in which we see thousands of years of written creations.

Point remains Angry Birds success was not because of its originality, because it wasn't new, so it had to be something else, like a marketing machine behind it.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Todd Weidner on 11th February 2013 3:02pm

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Aside from being polished and accessible, I think the early appeal of Angry Birds was the sillyness of flinging angry birds at pigs. As opposed to, say, rocks at castle walls. The game was early to the platform, it was quick to play, it played great & gave off a sense of fun rather than pain/failure. Its not much more deep than that imo.
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Farhang Namdar Lead Game Designer Larian Studios 9 years ago
It's a useless and outdated game, there is no shame in liking it. But there is shame in saying it is amazing design. Please don't compare it to Tetris and Pacman. Its just that the mobile platform has a lot of useless games that are extremely successful due to their tedious simplicity. It's a mystery to me why all these pointless games are hits and the more enjoyable games on the mobile platforms don't sell as much as they cost to make.
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