Angry Birds is one of the few mobile games to transcend its origins as something you use to kill time when you have no phone signal and become a bona fide phenomenon. “It’s probably the most widely distributed piece of content ever,” creator Peter Vesterbacka told Mumbrella Asia at last week’s All That Matters conference.
Angry Birds has now been downloaded a staggering two billion times. To get a little perspective; the previous generation’s gaming obsession, Tetris, took twenty years to reach 100,000 users. Angry Birds got there in just fifteen months.
While Angry Birds has gotten under the skin of mobile gamers the world over, snowballing into a franchise that includes clothes, toys and even an upcoming movie, Asia remains the game’s largest market. “It’s difficult to say why,” states Vesterbacka, “other than to presume that the characters really resonate with people in this region who are also big users of mobile technology.”
What, then, can brands learn from Angry Birds when it comes to creating mobile games? Vesterbacka’s advice is to look beyond the short term. “Everyone wants to get into mobile gaming, but games without a lifespan do nothing for a brand,” he says. “Of course, marketing people will always say that you need to think for the long term, but that thinking is not being seen in practice with branded games.”
That isn’t to say that it can’t be done: “It’s the same principle behind product placement in movies. Think about what a brand stands for, link the nature of the brand to the game, and try to do it in an organic way. This is what we did for State Farm car insurance with Angry Birds Go. In the game, State Farm repairs the racing car… it’s not a perfect fit, but at least there’s a link there. I think there is a future in branded gaming, but we’re still some way off being a mature market.”
It was recently announced that Blanca Juti would be replacing Vesterbacka Rovio’s CMO, leaving Vesterbacka (or the ‘Mighty Eagle’ as many call him) to focus on a series of undisclosed special projects. In addition to a distribution channel, ToonsTV, Rovio has also developed an early learning platform centred around its successful characters, where “children will have access to Angry Birds learning materials such as activity books, toys, physical games, educational posters, mobile math, reference books, a five string instrument, game cards, and physical activity games on an interactive whiteboard.”
With nearly 50% of revenue last year coming from merchandise, it is clear that Angry Birds is much more than a game. The sky, as they say, is the limit.