Angry Birds will be bigger than Mickey Mouse and Mario. Is there a success formula for apps?

Authored by Erik Holthe Eriksen and Azamat Abdymomunov

Also posted at (MIT entrepreneurship review). Translated from article in Dagens Næringsliv.

Angry Birds is the largest mobile app success the world has seen so far. The concept is simple. Angry birds use each other as slingshot ammunition to crush smiling pigs. It captivates people who have never played computer games and brings forward “destruction lust” in even the nicest of people. The success comes from Rovio, a company from Finland. The man behind the success walks into our meeting in a blood-red hooded sweatshirt with the company’s world-famous brand on his chest – an angry bird. “Angry Birds is going to be bigger than Mickey Mouse and Mario” says Peter Vesterbacka.

Success is not easy
But how do you get to a place where you can dare to be so ambitious? Vesterbacka denies that he and Rovio stumbled upon the success, though he admits “shooting a golden bird”. “We did not lack experience. Rovio created 52 games before the success of Angry Bird so had gone through the steps before. Today we have 50 employees, making us relatively small. We came through tough competition and received support. I believe it is important to support entrepreneurs with technology and sales channels,” he said.

Angry Birds received a great deal of free attention through celebrities who announced that they were hooked on the game. The favorite Swedish skier Anja Pärson, for example, said that the game helped her fall asleep at night. Studies show that people are particularly occupied with Angry Birds on the weekends, when they have more leisure time. A scary fact is that Angry Birds is played 200 million minutes a day all over the world. This is 1.2 billion hours a year. How is that for cognitive surplus!

Angry Birds is not a sophisticated game, but that it is partly the key to its success.
“The simplicity and addiction factor of Angry Birds is somewhat reminiscent of Tetris,” says Vesterbacka, referring to the successful computer game that had its heyday long before the millennium. One of the secrets behind the success is that the game is not completely predictable. You can try the same level many times without success, and then suddenly you are able to complete the level.

But Rovio believes the greatest credit goes to the Apple’s App Store: “It has opened up for innovation and given us a huge market. The game itself is made possible by the touch technology, which hit the market at the right time with the growth of smartphones and the launch of the App Store. The key is to offer it for free and reach volume. You need to get the game out to the masses,” says Vesterbacka.

Being on top is a must
“It is important to continue being number one in the app store. When you manage to do this, the challenge is to build an even greater audience,” says the man who has demonstrated this best of all. Rovio initially focused on the local market in Finland. His goal was to become number one in the domestic market, then expand further. This strategy has certainly showed its success.

Happy Meals and Angry Birds
The game has been downloaded 75 million times and has 200 million followers. They have even started the production of toys and clothes, and will likely launch Angry Birds Happy Meals at McDonalds soon. Now that the birds have become more and more popular all over the world, Rovio is working on the next version planned to come out before the summer. In this version, the pigs have a more active role and can possibly take revenge on the angry birds that have plagued them.

The courage to pursue
Angry Birds has opened the game universe to people who typically do not spend much time or money on these types of activities. The game is available for both iPhone and Android phones. It has also been launched on the IPad, where users can enjoy larger versions of the angry, but funny birds.

Vesterbacka thinks it’s important that people with ideas are brave enough to bet on them. “There are too many people who work for large telecommunications companies today,” said Vesterbacka. “Go do your own thing!” His experience is that entrepreneurs have endless amounts of energy, but that they also need a good dose of patience to succeed.

Analyzing the audience
Entrepreneurs should dare to do new things. “Think about how you can do things differently. Dare to stand out. In the future, people will have more leisure time which creates opportunities for the entertainment industry,” says the gaming guru.  Vesterbacka also recommends future game-makers to analyze their users and continue to improve their product. Vesterbacka knows how important it is to communicate with your audience when you’ve got their attention. “We are good at responding to users and keeping contact with them on Facebook and Twitter. We are developing the game all the time. When the game Cut the Rope (a Russian game) passed us in October, we responded by creating a Halloween version of Angry Birds. It pushed them out of the top spot,” explains the entrepreneur.

Why are the birds so angry?
A final word from the man who hatched the app: “the pigs eat their eggs”.


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