The last year has seen Rovio soar to new heights.
Overall revenues for the Angry Birds developer grew 34% in 2016. Its games business recorded its strongest year ever as gross revenue increased 40% to €159 million.
Last year also saw the release of the Angry Birds Movie, which has reportedly grossed around $350 million worldwide.
Rovio is off to a stellar start in 2017 too. Its games business nearly doubled Q1 revenue year-on-year, bringing in €56.6 million for the three months ending March 31st 2017.
Overall revenues for the quarter were also up to €66.3 million for Q1, a rise of 94.4% year-on-year.
Live ops is king
The key to this growth has been a new focus on live operations by serving fans daily and over an extended period of time.
This cultural shift has paid dividends for older titles, with Angry Birds 2 halting a declining trend in its revenues in 2015 to early 2016, rising comfortably to the US App Store top 100 and top 50 grossing rankings since then.
Other titles such as Angry Birds Friends, released in 2013, and the more recently Angry Birds Blast, have also been cited as key performers.
But to simply put the new-found success down to live ops would perhaps not tell the whole story.
“In all honesty, it’s down to hard work - this is an industry with no silver bullets - and a relentless focus on day to day operations and serving fans in the upmost best way possible today,” says Rovio Executive VP of Games Wilhelm Taht.
“That is something we try to do everyday and that the cultural and focus change that we went through last year, where instead of always thinking about what is next in the road map, we rather think about: what are we doing right here and right now?”
It’s down to hard work, this is an industry with no silver bullets.Wilhelm Taht
When asked if Rovio has become more selective about which new games get full releases, Taht says that each title that reaches the market is something that will ultimately likely be around for a long time.
So from an operational point of view, he says, “the more you have on the market the more challenging it is to keep your operations nimble and as small as possible”.
“But that said last year we discontinued quite a few games both during the development phase and during the soft launch phase. And we have discontinued a few this year as well.
“Yes, it's a change from where we were before, it is true. And it’s a positive change. Every game you discontinue represents a boat load of learnings for your teams, and that's always great.”
Rovio’s first launch of 2017 is a completely new, and perhaps unexpected, title from the developer.
The Espoo studio’s real-time mobile game Battle Bay is an ambitious new IP - there are no Angry Birds in sight – which sees players take to turbulent waters in 5v5 battles as they try to blow their enemies out of the water.
It’s a game that’s been in various stages of development for almost four years, and the result is a fun, well received game that was rewarded with a gold award from Pocket Gamer and passed our own IAP Inspector analysis.
“It was a team of individuals that had very high ambitions in creating something unique and different for the market place,” says Taht.
“Two of those individuals were part of the very original Angry Birds development team. This is actually their second game now, the next game after the original Angry Birds.”
Angry Birds is the first mobile game originated IP that ended up being a big blockbuster movie.Wilhelm Taht
With a new IP in Battle Bay and Rovio’s new London studio aiming to do something different with its MMO project, Rovio appears to be relying less on the Angry Birds IP as it moves forward.
Though of course, it still has numerous games using the license, and the Angry Birds Movie 2 is already underway.
With this expansion of Rovio’s portfolio outside the license, does this perhaps show it has relied too heavily on Angry Birds in the past? Taht says it’s difficult to say – but highlights its unique position in the industry and the brand’s ability to appeal to different demographics.
“The Angry Birds IP has been such a tremendous part of Rovio's success and it's a great story,” says Taht.
“It’s also been a challenging story [for Rovio] in terms of first missing the trend of free-to-play and relying a bit for too long on the premium business model. It’s been a great ride with Angry Birds and it will continue to be a great ride. It's a phenomenal IP and it's phenomenally versatile.
“This is the first mobile game originated IP that ended up being a big blockbuster movie, so it's quite unique and I don't think we can really compare it to any other things in the market form that point of view.
"So it's hard to answer whether we relied too much on it or not, since it is such a unique aspect of the whole industry.”
Following a stellar 2016 and record start to 2017, Rovio’s cultural shift and focus on live ops looks like it’s paying dividends already.