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25 developers, 8 newborns, two years, no crunch: How Rovio Stockholm made Angry Birds 2

We go behind the scenes
25 developers, 8 newborns, two years, no crunch: How Rovio Stockholm made Angry Birds 2
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Oskar Burman is a very busy man. In the past month he has helped 23 indies make games in a cabin in the Swedish woods, and whipped the cloak off Angry Birds 2 – a game so eagerly anticipated it was ravaged by a million downloads within hours of launching.

So Burman’s affably apologetic opener that he has been “very short on time” is immediately nominated for 2015’s “Understatement of The Year” awards.

As the studio head of Rovio Stockholm during Angry Birds 2’s development, it’s a wonder the man isn’t accompanied by a drip sluicing a constant stream of coffee into his system intravenously.

Of course, his good-humoured tranquillity probably has something to do with the working environment of Rovio Stockholm.

Tucked inside an old tobacco factory in the center of the city, the studio is all high ceilings and massive windows - with a hearty sprinkling of beanbags and birdy plushies thrown in for good measure.

“When we looked at this space we just agreed upon this being the perfect spot,” Burman says.

Rovio Stockholm is decorated with plenty of <em>Angry Birds</em> paraphenalia
Rovio Stockholm is decorated with plenty of Angry Birds paraphenalia

“I think we’re pretty much a typical game developer, in that we aspire to do great games, and work hard to get there, at the same time we try to celebrate success (and failure!), and have a lot of fun in between.

“We aspire to do great games, and work hard, celebrate success and failure, and have a lot of fun in between.”
Oskar Burman

"As we’re a Finnish company, we have a sauna in the office, and it’s been used more than once during our parties,” he grins.

Burman joined Rovio from the world of console, still clutching the hot iron of creativity he’d used to help craft titles like Just Cause 2 and Battlefield.

Don't put all your eggs in one basket

It’s a background that he drew upon when constructing the new studio’s team – which coincidentally is 25 percent female.

“it’s still far from a 50/50 split,” Burman notes sadly, “but at least we’re better off than any previous studio I’ve worked at.

“Many of us come from the console/PC space. It’s definitely helped us in terms of pushing the production values for our games, with high fidelity art and sound not normally seen in mobile.”

This is seen clearly in Angry Birds 2, which was critically applauded for packing graphics so slick you could slip on them.

“It’s still been a challenge for some of us though,” Burman admits.

“There are still severe constraints in terms of memory/download budgets. Plus there’s the fact that most business models on mobile are F2P, whereas on PC / console we’re still mostly finding pay-before-you-play – so those of us with a console background have had a lot to learn in that department.”

Over 25 people worked on <em>Angry Birds 2</em>
Over 25 people worked on Angry Birds 2

Still, the lessons seem to have stuck. Angry Birds 2’s audio director Jonatan Crafoord, for example, approached the game like a PC title, but was still able to shrink the game’s entire sound down to under 10MB.

“I found the difference in interface [between mobile and console] challenging in a good way,” says Burman. “You need to re-think what game genres you go after, and how they fit for touch.

“Also, just being able to reach billions of players instead of millions was a big driver for me. If you want to make a big cultural impact, mobile is where it’s happening. And that argument is even stronger when looking at the developing world; they now grow up with smartphones instead of consoles like us here in the western world did.

“In the future, people in China, India and Brazil will have fond memories of playing Angry Birds, Minecraft or Clash of Clans when they grew up, not Mario, Zelda or Elite, like we did. It’s a different world.”

Change the conversation

This different world is one that embraces free-to-play business models, much to the chagrin of some critics. For Burman, it’s an irrelevant discussion.

“For me the whole F2P vs premium discussion is starting to feel really tired, and most consumers I speak to don’t care if the business model is premium, arcade, F2P or episodic content, a good game is a good game, regardless business model.

“Personally I really like spending money in good F2P games, and usually I feel like I’m getting a lot out of that money. And rarely does my investment surpass the $50 I need to pay for a console/PC game.”

Indeed whether it be monetization, design, or just a question of whether its sauna time, Rovio Stockholm employs an open door policy of ideas and expression.

“We try to be really open for new ideas, and listen to all opinions in the studio, but I don’t think that’s specific to Rovio Stockholm, most Swedish studios I’ve worked in works like that,” says Burman.

“Anyone can make themselves heard, and the best ideas win. But obviously there are always limitations here and there. We could easily have added ten people more to Angry Birds 2 to create even more features, but it was hard to push that through when we didn’t have any previous track record as a studio.”

Rovio Stockholm encourages a relaxed working environment
Rovio Stockholm encourages a relaxed working environment

Burman nods to the fact that Angry Birds 2 was in development for two years before launch, meaning that his team began work on this colossal project just a year after the studio was formed.

With niggling whispers that Rovio was losing its touch (and revenue at the same time) that’s a lot of pressure.

Once more, Burman seems unfazed. “I’ve been surprised how much trust we’ve gotten from the core team in Finland. The truth is we’ve been an unproven mobile team up until now, and despite that we’ve gotten the chance to build pretty much what we wanted, and try out loads of ideas.

"I’m extremely satisfied with the amount of freedom me and my team has enjoyed at Rovio.”

Family friendly

That freedom meant that Rovio Stockholm could encourage a supportive working environment. During the development of Angry Birds 2, Burman says that in the team of around 25 people, eight took time off to have babies.

In Sweden both men and women take leave of between three and nine months following a birth. For Burman, that they were able to do this is something to celebrate.

“I count it as a great success we managed to get Angry Birds 2 done in our set timeframe, with a lot of people being on leave, without any massive crunch period.

“Sure, we had weeks we had to work hard, but no longer crunches as so common in the rest of the industry. This makes me really proud, work/life balance is super important to make people deliver their best while at work.”

So now that Angry Birds 2 has been catapulted onto the app stores, is Rovio Stockholm rolling back operations?

“Oh no!” Burman counters, “there’s plenty of post launch updates to be coming to Angry Birds 2, so we’re keeping the full team working on the game.

"Expect a full packed autumn with great new features and content!”

And with that, Burman leaves. Presumably in search of more coffee.