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How did Angry Birds become a blockbuster? Rovio video interview and transcript

September 3, 2010 by MobileWebGo

Article text: 

Related article: What does the maker of Angry Birds plan to do next?

Om Malik at GigaOM, did a terrific interview with the leaders of Rovio, the Finnish firm that created the enormously successful iPhone game called Angry Birds.

The game has had 6 to 7 million paid downloads, and about 11 million free downloads.

It is currently the number one paid app in Apple's App Store.

The video has much information that is very useful.

Here are 4 takeaways.

1) It is very interesting that this blockbuster hit resulted from careful screening of proposals, and was not simply a rags to riches hit from out of the blue, as was the case with J.K. Rowlings and the Harry Potter books. She did not go through dozens of book plots, and test them with potential customers, and pick the one that resonated.

The Rovio process was more like a venture capitalist process that weeds many proposals, and then invests in one.

2) Rovio has spent hundreds of thousands of U.S. dollars on the game.

3) They began by reaching the Top Ten and the number one position in small countries (such as Finland). This is an interesting marketing strategy for app developers to try.

4) The advice they have for app developers is this -- you have to be terrific at making the game, and you have to be terrific at marketing. You have to be great at both. An excellent game is not simply going to get their by viral. You have to work on your marketing strategy.

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So that you don't have to listen to the video over and over again to get the important insights, we have provided a transcript below.

Embedded: 

This interview was done by Om Malik at GigaOM.
The interview is with CEO Mikael Hed, and Mighty Eagle Peter Vesterbacka.
The video interview was published on Sep. 2, 2010 at
http://gigaom.com/2010/09/02/angry-birds/
It is embedded into this web page.

Note: "The transcript has been edited for readability while preserving the character, meaning, and flavor of spoken expression. This means that cosmetic changes have been made in the verbatim transcript to eliminate unintentional repetitions, misspoken words, non-words, small talk, and miscellaneous filler." Style guide from
http://millercenter.org/academic/oralhistory/styleguide

Angry Birds is the Word: Rovio tells how they built
a global game franchise.

Mighty Eagle:
The starting point was really the characters.

CEO:
We were somewhere in early 2009, and we were going through various proposals for game designs. And one of these was a mock screenshot that had some really angry looking round bird characters with no wings and no legs. And they were trudging along the ground with a cloud of dust trailing behind them. And they were heading for a pile of blocks. We didn't really understand very much about what the game mechanics were like there, but everybody in the room really liked the bird characters. So we set out to design a game around those birds. The initial cost must have been somewhere north of a hundred thousand euros. (100,000 euros = US $128,000 on Sep. 8, 2010) Not much more than that. Since then we've sunk many times that into the game, with all the updates and everything that we were doing.

Mighty Eagle:
One very important thing if you look at the game is that it's one of the first games that is really, really built for touch devices. And that's a big part of the playability and the success. It's not like a game that was already out there and that was taken from a console or PC and ported to the iPhone. It's really built for touch, and that's why, just like the iPhone has many services, in general, very easy to use for all ages. It's the same with Angry Birds, it's a very approachable title. What is very important actually is that the starting point was really the characters, the birds and the pigs and the backstory. So a lot of work was put into the character development. And obviously we're not like Pixar, but Pixar is a big role-model for us so we really, really try to spend a lot of time looking at the characters and what they do, you know, characteristics of the red bird, blue bird and so on. So that's something that's very, very important and if you look at the cinematic trailer that we have in the game, [it] tells the story about the birds and the pigs and why the birds are angry, and all of that, and that helps draw people into the game. And that's something that's very important besides optimizing it for touch.

CEO:
So when we launched it, we launched it globally to start with but, perhaps telling very much about the iPhone marketing in Finland at that time, all of us, at the Helsinki studio bought it, we told our friends and family to buy the game, and it went to top ten in Finland with a handful of purchases. That was not so remarkable but what was remarkable was that it then continued to go to number 1 and stayed there for weeks. And the same happened in Sweden and then at some point we realized that, OK, something's, there's something different about this game than all the others, because typically we would see that games would get to the top ten and then it would quickly peak and then come back down.

Mighty Eagle:
One of the things that is very important is that no matter how big the number gets, we try to reply to every email, every tweet that people send our way. So that's very, very important, and I think that's also a big reason for the success. If you look at Angry Birds, we did none of the traditional advertising or any of that. Doesn't really make sense for a 99 cent game. Can't make the numbers work. We did a lot of word of mouth. The whole game, it's all organic growth. So the seven million (well actually six and a half officially, but okay it's over seven million. There you have it) the downloads we've done, they're all organic, you know, And that's something also [that] tells you about the game, that it's the most social game out there, because everybody's telling their friends about Angry Birds and you know like asking "Which level?" and like "Found any new golden eggs?" [and] "Which birds are you using?" and all that. So it's a very social thing.

There's a lot of people in Hollywood who seem to think that it would make sense to do movies and TV and all of that. But we haven't really made up our mind on that, I would say. Discussions are ongoing. Not too much more we can say about that actually. We've produced the first batch of toys. And that's actually based on, we have so many fans who have asked for the plush toys, and then of course Angry Birds lends itself perfectly for toys. And these are like functional and we can actually shoot them at you. I'm not going to do it right now because (laughter), but anyways, so they work. They also make nice songs and stuff. So these are going to be available in a couple of weeks. And we're really trying to build Angry Birds into this entertainment franchise and we are big believers in merchandising. We're looking at what people have been doing with like SpongeBob that makes billions a year in merchandising. So in having invested a lot in the character development, we think that Angry Birds work great as toys as well.

CEO:
I would say that the first thing to think about is that there are 250,000 active applications out there. And that's what we did as well. So the question is how do you eliminate luck out of the equation. That was what we were pondering for weeks, and really studying when we made Angry Birds.

And the second thing is to do the game very well, so [a] very polished experience. That's very important. And finally, perhaps the most important of all, is still the gameplay itself. So always focus on the gameplay.

Mighty Eagle:
Yeah, you have to create great games. But [this is] also very, very important -- it's not enough to create just a great game. Already that is hard enough, but you have to know what you're doing when it comes to marketing. Getting the message out and really working with the community. And there are always tools, but all those tools are available for everybody. So even there, it's brutal if you look at the competition. So you have to know what you're doing in that area as well.