Last week, Rovio released Angry Birds Reloaded on Apple Arcade. It's a throwback to the franchise's original games, given a new coat of paint and offered as part of Apple's subscription service without ads or in-app purchases.
It's also, as we learned speaking to Rovio's head of Angry Birds brand strategy Ban Mattes, the tip of the spear in a new plan for the acrimonious avians that seeks to unify the "diaspora" of Angry Birds games, the movies, comics, TV series, and so on.
With the launch of Angry Birds Reloaded, Rovio is starting to pull it all back together, making each part of the franchise puzzle more closely related to the others.
"What we're trying to do moving forward is to honor and acknowledge the fact that this is all part of the same story world," Mattes says, adding, "Trying to put that all into a single cohesive story world is a challenge, but it's one we're very excited about."
Rovio's hope is that it can create ties between the various Angry Birds treatments so that people who may have really enjoyed one piece of Angry Birds media can see the elements they liked about it in other Angry Birds offerings. At the same time, the company isn't in a rush to make everything conform to one specific version of the characters.
"By definition, we're going to have lots of different components for lots of different audiences," Mattes says. "But what we take extremely seriously -- and I think you're seeing the beginning of this in how we engage with our community -- is fandom really matters to us. Engaging with that fandom really matters to us, and we haven't always done a great job with it, and it's something we want to do better."
That's supposed to start with Angry Birds Reloaded, but when we speak, Mattes isn't ready to spell out exactly how the game builds toward that goal.
"I'm going to have to be vague there because how we roll out this -- you can call it 'canon' -- is part of our plan for the next year or two," he says. "But even in the preview trailer we released, there are things fans picked up on that had them scratching their heads."
"We believe our brand has demonstrated that it can evolve toward a deeper brand engagement, a deeper kind of connection"
One such head-scratcher is the game's inclusion of Zeta, one of the characters from 2019's film The Angry Birds Movie 2. How does the anthropomorphic character fit in the world of the original game, where there aren't so much characters as there are various types of ammunition with attitude?
"We have an answer to that question, and the answer is going to be rolling out over the course of the coming months," Mattes says. "And obviously I'm biased, but I'm really excited to see how the community starts connecting dots once we tip this first card. Because this is the first play in our strategy."
For anyone expecting a decade-long build-up to Angry Birds: Endgame after that last answer, Mattes insists this isn't that.
"It doesn't have to fit into one timeline, or one story," he says. "Obviously, that doesn't make any sense. And at the same time, we're not trying to build the Marvel Cinematic Universe of Angry Birds, where there's a huge, rich narrative bible where every word that's said by every character is hugely resonant and you have to watch 20 movies or play 20 games to see all of the interconnectedness of it. That's not our goal either. But we do believe there's something in between, and we believe our brand has demonstrated that it can evolve toward a deeper brand engagement, a deeper kind of connection.
"I'm not saying it's [about] making people cry and they're going to name their first-born after Red the way they might a Game of Thrones character, but I think we've shown the brand can transition into a world where it's more than physics, explosions, pigs, birds, and eggs. There's more than that."
Of course, disparate products referencing one another isn't going to do much if people don't enjoy those products in the first place, and Rovio's trying to keep that in mind.
"Rovio has shown a strong willingness to launch and cancel games in the Angry Birds brand that weren't good enough, that didn't meet our expectations"
"If the game's not great, it doesn't belong in the brand," Mattes says. "And I think Rovio has shown a strong willingness to launch and cancel games in the Angry Birds brand that weren't good enough, that didn't meet our expectations.
"Moving forward, I think you can expect to see that strong focus on quality experiences and innovative experiences increasing significantly while also trying to pay homage to what has made this brand great over the last 11 years. How do we do both? How do we have those classic games people have that strong nostalgic connection to, and at the same time move the game forward in terms of the experience and have a cohesive brand where it feels like if you like this [product under the brand], you might like that one?"
The mention of nostalgia is interesting, because Angry Birds is one of the few mobile franchises that has survived long enough to really make a proper appeal to nostalgia, to have had such a sizable amount of players that there now exists a base of disengaged users who are worth courting again.
To do that, Mattes says the company is thinking about who played it before and why they may have lapsed. Perhaps a child who adored Angry Birds when it debuted in 2009 is now in their teens and finding that the franchise didn't quite "age up" with them. Mattes believes an Angry Birds "with a twist" that feels a bit older could be appealing.
Or perhaps someone who was already an adult when the first game launched was drawn to the lack of ads and in-app purchases, but fell away when the entire franchise shifted toward free-to-play models. Angry Birds Reloaded should speak directly to that lapsed player.
"If we can bring them in, because we've made something that interests them, it can be the sort of onboarding to a much larger brand portfolio, lots of other products they might enjoy engaging with once they've connected or reconnected with the brand," Mattes says.