Rovio’s Angry Birds game quickly exploded into an entertainment phenomenon that spread to merchandising, board games, comic books, TV commercials and even the new Angry Birds Land theme park at Särkänniemi Adventure Park in Tampere, Finland.
Even if you don’t consider yourself a gamer, the odds are pretty good that you’ve played a round of Angry Birds
somewhere or seen the myriad T-shirts, hats, iPad covers, plush toys and endless other merchandise (including a new Mattel board game and a cartoon series) featuring the characters. If not, at the very least, you’ve seen them in commercials for companies like Google and Wonderful Pistachios — even if you weren’t sure why angry red birds with furrowed brows were flashing across your TV screen.
The ubiquitous game, which is available on just about every platform out there (and is soon coming to home consoles), has already surpassed one billion downloads worldwide. Rovio Entertainment, the 12-man development studio that launched Angry Birds
back in 2009, made more than $100 million last year alone off of what has become one of the biggest game franchises in the world. Today, Rovio employs 400-plus people in various cities, including Los Angeles, Shanghai, and Espoo and Tampere in Finland. More than 200 million minutes of Angry Birds
— which involves nothing more than catapulting rotund, cross-eyed birds through the air to attack the pigs that have stolen their eggs — are played each day.
© Rovio Entertainment Ltd.
That such a simple game could be the turning point for one company is baffling. Yet that’s exactly what’s happened. In fact, if it weren’t for Angry Birds
, Rovio Entertainment might not exist today. After several years of working on their own titles, as well as doing work for partners (including Nokia), the Finland-based company had created 51 titles. Unfortunately, though, the small studio wasn’t turning much of a profit, and its funding was in danger of running out. As a last-ditch effort, they decided to go all-in to develop a game for the iPhone, which Apple had launched in 2007, sparking an explosion of mobile gaming. If they didn’t succeed with this title, the studio would likely be forced to close.
For weeks, game designer Jaakko Iisalo pitched game ideas to the team at Rovio, but each one was shot down for either being too complicated or too simplistic. One night, while his wife was out, the 30-year-old sat down, booted up Photoshop and sketched out a flock of round, angry, cross-eyed birds with thick eyebrows and no feet racing toward a castle. There wasn’t a gameplay concept at this point, only a cast of characters. However, when he showed the angry birds to his bosses, there was an immediate connection — and development commenced on building a story and gameplay experience that could accompany the comical creatures. What resulted was a game revolving around catapulting an array of birds, each with its own special attributes, through the skies to get their eggs back from a villainous group of pigs who stole them. It’s a game so easy even a 3-year-old can play it. But there’s a also lot of depth involved in taking back those eggs from the bad piggies.
“We knew that we wanted to create a game with broad, long-term appeal,” Mikael Hed, CEO of Rovio, says. “After careful market research, we decided to focus on a physics-based puzzle game for touch-screen smartphones. We were looking for something that would be intuitive to use but provide a challenge that kept people coming back to the game — something easy to pick up but hard to put down.”