Angry Birds merchandise is infinitely increasing the game’s shelf life.

Coming to terms with the Angry Birds phenomenon.

FAIRYTALES for some include tales of sleeping maidens, dashing princes, a little over half a dozen dwarves and other assorted characters. For the team of Rovio Entertainment Ltd, their fairytale came in the shape of small, round birds with anger management issues, sold in 99c increments as the main focus of a game for smartphones. Going on to become one of the most successful ever, this winning merger of birds and green pigs has produced revenues previously unheard of in the app world.

In 2003, three friends from Helsinki University of Technology, Niklas Hed, Jarno Väkeväinen, and Kim Dikert, founded the gaming company Rovio after having won a contest from Nokia. After releasing a number of moderately successful games, things really took off in 2009 when they launched the Angry Birds app for the iOS operating system. Today, the markets in which Angry Birds are flying reach far beyond the app itself, having launched a playable version on Facebook this spring and thoroughly saturating the market with spin-off merchandise. More than 22 million fans on Facebook, half a million followers on Twitter and numerous blogs hint at the huge fan community this game has. Such is the reach of these characters, NASA was on board when Angry Birds Space was released earlier this year, and they served as the official mascots of the International Ice Hockey World Championships. Even perennial Finnish fave Conan O’Brien recently thanked Finland on his show for bringing Angry Birds into our lives.

Angry facts
• Released: December 11, 2009.
• Versions until now: Angry Birds Seasons, Space,
Rio and Friends.
• Besides the app available for Apple, Android and
Windows Phone, it can be played on Facebook,
PlayStation Portable, Windows, Mac OS X,
Playstation 3, Nintendo 3Ds and the Blackberry
• 1 billion downloads of Angry Birds on all platforms
by May 2012.
• In 2011, Rovio had revenues of €75.4 million.
• And next? Bad Piggies, landing on 27 September
for iOS, Android and Mac.

Making people angry

Ukrainian Denys Iablonskyi, currently doing his PhD in Finland, is one such fan who has been bitten by the Angry bug, albeit in ways that may come as a surprise. Although he denies playing the game himself, his car is decorated with Angry Birds stickers that he bought online. So, why the birds fixation then?

“Because they are so cute,” is his simple answer. “When I wait for the green light, I watch people in the cars behind me. Usually they are smiling – so, let’s make this world a bit happier!”

The availability of stickers is just the tip of the merchandising iceberg, with all manner of Angry Birds-themed items on the market. In fact, the Daily Mail Online in May stated that Rovio seeks to establish a brand as big as Disney. Theme parks, more merchandise and even a movie are said to be in the works. The Angry Birds hype seems far from being over, at least when it comes to the visions of their creators.

Angry Birds branded lemonade, produced by Olvi, can be found in fridges all over Finland. Soft toys, candies, t-shirts, phone cases and much more are now widely available. Specialised online shops (with names such as “Angry Birds Addiction”) as well as big retailers like Walmart that offers Rovio products. The Birds have achieved a lot in their three years, reaching out beyond the younger generations. While the candies find their targets mostly among youth, fans of every age seem to be willing to buy everything else that’s available.

Flying globally for the winter

“I would not buy candies, I prefer more sustainable things,” German Lydia Steinhauer, 23, explains. “I have a piggy pillow and a cooking book, although I won both. But I would definitely buy a t-shirt if they were more easily available in Germany.”

The Birds’ reach has been truly global. Surprisingly, the first Angry Birds Theme park opened in China, months before journalists from 70 different countries flocked to the grand opening of Angry Birds Land in Tampere’s Särkänniemi Amusement Park earlier this year. However, this was not affiliated with the Angry Birds brand, merely the result of some quick-thinking entrepreneurs, unfazed by issues of copyright. Rovio does not seem to be too bothered by the fact that a huge amount of bootlegged products find their way to Chinese fans. As reported on brandchannel.com, Rovio does not confront the brand thieves, in fact they are “happy about the fact to be the most copied brand in China”. Amidst this feverish pirating, their official Chinese website was only recently launched in June.

The Angry Birds store in Helsinki offers fans a wide variety of Angry items.

A glimpse into the future

But what exactly is it that has gotten the world into such an Angry frenzy? In 2011 Charles L. Mauro published a study about the Angry Birds phenomenon. In Why Angry Birds is so successful and popular: a cognitive teardown of the user experience, he investigated which factors of the game itself make it so successful, and how the combination of simplicity and engagement makes its users addicted. Indeed simple factors combined with strategic thinking, as the fans themselves have figured out already, seem to be the key issue. He determined all features of the game and broke them down to a possible key to success, if correctly applied.

Today, over one year and many millions of downloads later, Mauro still believes that the game will remain successful. However, according to him, the impact of the newer versions will not be the same as before as “negative transfer” was not considered in their design: “The designers changed the game-play mechanics in ways that will build strong follow up utilisation,” Mauro explains when asked for a brief prediction.

Rovio’s team itself believes that they will not lose their popularity in the near future. They refer to the strong base of fans they managed to acquire until now who “continuously ask for more” and thus prove that Angry Birds is not just a perishable trend. Therefore, Rovio focuses strongly on R&D to keep their brand fresh.

Playing with anger
IT may be hard to imagine, but before commencing
this article the Angry Birds phenomenon had passed
me by, having only known it by name until a couple of
days ago. In order to understand what all of the fuss is
about, I will have to break my moratorium and finally play
it myself. But will this reveal the secrets of the worldwide
cult that has derived from simply one app?

It soon becomes apparent once I finally sit down to play
the game for the first time. After the first ten minutes of
throwing birds with a slingshot at pigs (why can’t they
fly, if they are birds?), I already have to force myself to
stop playing and continue writing. Also now I seem to
understand the sympathy for the characters. They are
simple, yes, but it’s enough. And the pigs stole the birdies’
eggs, so we have to react!

And after the next ten minutes (there are more birds, and
they have different features!). I even understand the need
to find out more about the birds’ enemies now. The poor
piggies that remain after a failed level, bruised and groggy,
smile at me, happy to have survived. I feel for them and
decide to follow them on Facebook, Twitter or both, until
the release of their own game. And maybe I need a new
phone case…

Arguing their ongoing relevance is one thing, but their newest development suggests that they are only halfway there. The next set of steps definitely lead back more to the roots of gaming, for once. At the end of September, also owners of other platforms like Xbox, PlayStation or Nintendo Wii can enjoy the birdies; the app returns to the “real” gaming environment. Also a launch of the counterpart of the birds, the pigs, is planned for the end of September. That those characters deserve a viewpoint as well is stated in a confusing quote on Rovio’s webpage itself:

“There’s so much more to these pigs than what is seen in the Angry Birds games, and Bad Piggies is the first glimpse into what’s going on in the imaginative and ingenious minds of the pigs.”

It seems that the sky’s the limit for these Birds.

Bianca Beyer