It Doesn’t Matter: Angry Birds is One Game
The story of the success of Angry Birds is enviable and astonishing. With over 100 million downloads, newly secured funding, merchandising, TV and movie deals, and estimated revenues exceeding $70 million dollars, Angry Birds is suddenly a major gaming brand. Personally, I’ve been a huge supporter of Rovio Mobile and its dangerously addictive game. At this point, we all know someone who has been obsessed with the game and it is, without a doubt, the breakout mobile gaming hit for both iOS and Android platforms. It is everywhere and Rovio does an amazing job at supporting multiple versions of the game with regular updates. Frankly, the amount of updates and support is baffling and done to an extent that we had never seen before. It is a business and product model that app developers and game developers are all trying to duplicate. It’s crazy that all of this fuss over a 99 cent game.
That type of success can go to anyone’s head, and it’s looking like that’s exactly what is happening at Rovio. It’s to be expected; its world has changed dramatically in the past year and a half. I don’t get riled up by the “selling out” aspects of putting the game on every platform or the merchandising. I even own multiple plush Angry Birds. What I do take issue with is how Rovio has not only started to separate itself from the gaming industry by choosing to appear at SXSW over PAX, but it has recently began calling out other industry leaders like Nintendo and Microsoft. A ballsy move, but a disrespectful one. On the other side, game development companies are scrambling and some are reorganizing to take more of a focus on mobile app stores and social games on Facebook. This angry gamer thinks everyone should calm the hell down and realize one game does not symbolize anything about the future of our industry. Let’s take a harder look at what the Angry Birds business model has going against it.
14 Minutes of Angry Birds and Counting
Money and success are pretty powerful. A lot of developers survive or fail without them, no matter how great their ideas are. Rovio finds itself in a great position for growing its company and building a bright future. Angry Birds is a recognizable brand and game that transcends a lot of demographics. Adults and kids alike love the game. Today. Angry Birds is set for all kinds of media deals ranging from new games to TV shows. Currently, this is all based on a very simple concept. The battle of birds vs pigs makes for a colorful backdrop to an addictive game, but that’s about it at this point. The depth of that “game universe” doesn’t exactly set itself up to be the next Spongebog Squarepants. There’s a lot of work to be done to build out an interesting world full of characters with personality that the birds don’t currently exhude on their own. It isn’t impossible, but creating a successful show or movie based on this paper-thin concept is far from a sure bet. It will require talent that has nothing to do with Rovio. Even then, who is to say people will still be interested?
This new flock of social, mobile, and casual gamers that are eating up these cheap games haven’t had their loyalty tested. The mobile app stores specifically are reminding me of the early days of the Nintendo Wii. That console couldn’t stay on shelves, it was the thing everyone had to have. We are essentially in the first major generation of smartphone gaming. Most people who bought an iPhone and Android phone, especially in the last two years, are experiencing their first smartphone. Everything is new and exciting and worth trying out. This may be conjecture, but talk to anyone who has owned an iPhone for over two years and see how many apps they are buying these days versus when they first got the phone. This market is new; the interest is now; there are a lot of hurdles ahead as we figure out who the core app buyers and game players are on these platforms. Angry Birds is their first love and the first breakthrough hit. However, if the Wii showed us anything, it’s that this crowd’s hunger and attention changes multiple times by sundown. Betting on one type of game made for new consumers in a new marketplace from an unproven developer is not a bet I would take.
Make something original first
Here’s the other issue that sticks out to me about Rovio and their one game manifesto. The core game isn’t original. The first thing I did after my first gaming session with Angry Birds was to try see if there were any similar games out there. I couldn’t believe how simple and addictive this game was to play. I loved it. However, it’s hard to be completely original in game development these days, and mobile games tend to borrow even more closely from one another than their big brother console titles. I eventually stumbled across Crush the Castle and with one glance you can see the Angry Birds gameplay, but it’s missing a much shinier and friendlier coat of paint. It’s not a complete rip-off by any means because a lot of Angry Birds‘ charm comes from its art style and execution. However, if you’re going to ask me to trust Rovio to make another great original title to follow-up Angry Birds, I think Rovio has its work cut out for it.
That’s where I don’t understand where Rovio’s confidence/the industry’s confidence/fear of them comes from. There is nothing about the development of Angry Birds that leads someone to believe that the company behind it is more than a one hit wonder. I’m sure Rovio is full of talented artists, developers, and executives, but take a back step back to look at what it has actually made to this point. Making the new Tetris does not mean you rule the gaming industry or have any effect on how it does business as whole.
Not your sandbox
Rovio right now is playing its hand alongside app developers and Apple. As evidenced by their trip to SXSW during PAX East, it is not reaching out to traditional gamers or the industry’s leaders. I would say best of luck to Rovio in that marketplace as I have no doubt it will further define how to do business in that sector. However, when Rovio overstepped its bounds a bit by calling out Nintendo and Microsoft for their business practices on digital distribution, it lost me as a vocal supporter and fan.
I love this industry and know we are on the cusp of exciting new developments and distribution methods for gamers to gain access to games of all sizes and price ranges. This industry wasn’t built up overnight, and it’s even crashed a few times. So, to see a new kid show up with one trendy game and try to correct the real companies have gotten us here and that are pushing the industry forward just irritates me. Even though I bristle a bit to hear Microsoft and Nintendo comment on smartphone gaming, they have earned that right for commentary. Rovio hasn’t had its first bruise yet and is just coming across as an ignorant punk that won the lottery and suddenly feels that he has the right to dish out financial advice.
The gaming industry is still struggling to understand the growth of the mobile platform alongside success stories like Angry Birds. Companies are restructuring to try and get their piece. It’s true that not all games require AAA budgets to hit their audience, but that doesn’t mean that audience has gone away from their home theaters to game on a tiny mobile screen, either. There will be some crossover, but traditional gamers are still spending money on the games they love and these new gamers on the new devices are excited to find games for themselves. We are already seeing the lines blur between traditional mobile games on the DS and PSP and smartphone games, but assuming these screens will keep all of their new fans and pull others away from their preferred gaming platforms is false and close-minded. We should welcome them all as gamers but not throw all of our efforts behind a potentially fickle fan base.
No one is going away
I don’t see smartphone gaming and traditional gaming as rivals. I see them as expanding the definition of gamers and coexisting quite beneficially for the industry. For either side to assume they know the future at this point is foolhardy. I look forward to seeing new leaders emerge to take gaming to more people than ever before, but we are going to see more of them fall on their faces first. So I have some advice for all sides:
To Rovio: Your game is fun, you do right by your fans, but you got lucky with one game. Shut up, keep your head down, and make something else worth playing, and then do it again before you start handing out the secrets to an industry you know nothing about.
To mobile app/game developers: Keep it up, keep creating, keep iterating, keep borrowing, keep improving, keep evolving this amazing new mobile marketplace. I want to want to play your games, I want to see you redefine games, and I hope you get to make games for your preferred audience and game platform.
To the gaming industry: There is a place for these new game developers and their audience. It doesn’t fit with your current business model and you are going to have to adapt, like you always have. However, this is just another piece to the industry that isn’t going away, but it also isn’t taking over. Don’t shun all of these developers, as the stars will only help push you forward, but don’t be afraid to remind them how we all got here.
It Doesn’t Matter – We bring the gaming industry and media coverage back down to reality when they overanalyze or miss the point of a particular story or game.