Interview

Angry Birds’ unexpected decade-long success

Angry Birds’ unexpected decade-long success

It is often said that nothing is truly finished and it’s a saying the games industry has taken to heart in recent times.

Long gone are the days of developing and publishing a game without the need to tweak, adjust and patch it after launch, with new titles requiring constant operation and updates to keep them at the forefront of consumer thought.

Here at PocketGamer.biz we want to take the opportunity to highlight games that have bucked the trend and found an audience that has kept them thriving long after launch.

In this entry of our Live and Kicking series, we spoke to Rovio Chief Marketing Officer Ville Heijari regarding the Finnish studio’s tenth anniversary of the original Angry Birds.

PocketGamer.biz: With Angry Birds now more than 10 years old, how do you reflect on its performance?

Ville Heijari: It feels like we’ve reached a huge milestone with the 10th anniversary approaching, but at the same time it feels like the last 10 years have flown by very, very fast. As with any entertainment products, the most popular thing one-year can sink into oblivion the next.

For the past decade, the people at Rovio have worked very hard at planting sturdy roots to provide long-lasting, evergreen gaming entertainment. Having first joined the company in 2010, I can personally say it’s been an incredible experience to see the firm - and the entire mobile gaming market - evolve at this remarkable pace.

How big is the team currently handling live ops on Rovio?

We have three studios that each handle various titles, so our live ops are not centralised to one team. In Espoo, we have the Battle and Puzzle Studios which specialise in midcore and puzzle games, respectively. Both handle games such as Angry Birds Match, Angry Birds Dream Blast, and so on.

As with any entertainment products, the most popular thing one-year can sink into oblivion the next.
Ville Heijari

Then our Stockholm studio handles Angry Birds 2, as well as developing other new and unreleased titles. In total, the company today has over 400 people and aside from the company’s central functions, the majority work as part of these three studios.

How important do you consider customer support and updates to be?

Player support is the first touchpoint with our players. As such, it’s hugely important for identifying bugs and other issues in our games but also for interacting with our fans.

We often get messages from players about how they or someone they know has been impacted by our brand. So, we try to share those stories as much as possible and give back to the players when we can.

One recent example is a young fan who sent us some really well-made Angry Birds level designs. We were able to get the levels into Angry Birds Friends a few weeks later. It’s really great that our teams can identify opportunities to delight fans like this and that everyone is onboard when opportunities arise.

What steps have you taken to ensure that Angry Birds maintains a sizeable and active player base all this time after its launch?

Many of our key titles are several years old: a key example is Angry Birds Friends, which is over seven years old and continues to be up there as one of our best performing titles.

We’re doing things more small-scale today with new events happening weekly instead of a big content update happening once every three months.

To what do you attribute Angry Birds’ consistently impressive grossing performance, and how do you sustain it?

The brand strength has obviously been integral. Angry Birds grew quickly from its mobile gaming roots to be one of the most widely recognised entertainment brands in the world.

That equity goes a long way with players looking to find excellent games on the app stores. Angry Birds’ performance is also largely attributed to our dedicated live ops teams, who are consistently releasing fun content at such a relentless pace.

This is naturally not a catch-all answer but brand and dedicated live ops are two key pillars.

What would you consider Angry Birds’ biggest achievement?

It’s a much different world out there than it was in 2009, but we’ve still been able to navigate the industry changes with Angry Birds and find success.

When the game started climbing the charts, it was absolutely thrilling and it electrified the whole studio.
Ville Heijari

I’m also proud that we’ve managed to evolve that trademark irreverence and playful humour you see in everything Angry Birds, whether games, licensed products or our content.

It’s a constant which has underpinned the brand throughout the decade and speaks very much to the people who have made this all possible, past and present.

Are there any particular unexpected moments that stand out over the last decade?

It was surprising at first that Angry Birds even got off the ground. Angry Birds was Rovio’s first foray into this brand new “iOS” platform, after developing dozens of games for various other platforms, so there was some nervousness around how Angry Birds would be received.

When the game started climbing the charts, it was absolutely thrilling and it electrified the whole studio.

It has been such a wild journey with a lot of surprises but one of the greatest things was seeing how Angry Birds blossomed into a pop culture phenomenon, with celebrities casually name-dropping Angry Birds or seeing references in TV shows or movies.

The Angry Birds Movie 2 is currently the highest-rated video game film on Rotten Tomatoes.

It has grown into this widely recognised brand, allowing us to work with people and do collaborations we never thought possible.

Any KPIs such as downloads, DAU or retention you’re willing to share?

To date, the Angry Birds games have reached over 4.5 billion downloads, so a significant chunk of the world’s population.

We’ve even recorded a whopping nine downloads from our fans in Antarctica - we’re particularly proud of that fact.

Angry Birds as an IP has crossed over into several different media - including film – can you tell us how these opportunities came about?

From various brand collaborations to different marketing partnerships all the way to cinema screens, it would take quite a few pages to elaborate on all of it.

In short, it has been equal parts relentless experimentation, diligent business development, and a massive amount of creative work. And of course, some very, very serendipitous connections.

Did the Angry Birds films meet expectations?

The first Angry Birds movie was a blockbuster success that opened at number one in 50 countries, so that’s a pretty big deal for the first animated film based around a mobile game IP.

To date, the Angry Birds games have reached over 4.5 billion downloads, so a significant chunk of the world’s population.
Ville Heijari

The second movie box office numbers have been a bit softer than we’d hoped, but the critical response and the reviews from fans have been awesome.

People always seem surprised by the Angry Birds, and the movies are a perfect example of this.

What lessons have you learned from Angry Birds? 

One thing we focused on early in the Angry Birds life is the global launch. We prioritised getting a lot of attention around game and update launches, launching Angry Birds Space from space being one example. But once the initial interest for that stunt or video or campaign dies down, then what?

What happened was that we saw huge spikes in downloads that trailed off quite quickly. One thing that we’ve been continually improving is keeping players engaged with amazing content at a constant clip, hence what was mentioned above regarding the treatment of games as long-living services.

That’s not to say there isn’t the need for a spectacular global launch celebration, however it’s fair to say we’ve more of a marathon mindset these days.

Finally, how has your experience with Angry Birds informed what you’re working on now?

Right now, we are temporarily steeped in 10th-anniversary nostalgia, looking back on the brand over the last 10 years and celebrating all of the best moments with our fans.

One thing that stands out is how Angry Birds has always partnered with organisations that seek to do social or environmental good. That idea, turning anger into positive action is at the core of our ‘Bring The Anger’ campaign to mark the anniversary.

The campaign kicked off with deploying a fleet of anger-powered scooters to influencers and continued with the Venting Machine event in Times Square where people could cash in all of their anger for fun prizes.

While this campaign is framed as a celebration, I think it’s also apparent that such investments are about looking ahead to the future of the Angry Birds brand.

As for the future, our industry is fast-moving and ever-evolving, so I’m sure it won’t be boring!

Rovio recently committed to utilising machine learning to create individualised games by 2022.

Staff Writer

Matthew Forde is the staff writer for PocketGamer.biz and also a member of the Pocket Gamer Podcast. You can find him on Twitter @Forde999 talking about Smash Bros. and everything pop culture related - particularly superheroes.

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