After some 50 developed cell phone games Finnish developer Rovio hit the jackpot. They came up with the idea of having a flock of animated birds destroy evil pigs. The birds use slingshots to destroy the structures that the pigs have built in order to protect the birds´ eggs they have stolen.
The game, “ Angry Birds,” is simple and it is addictive.
Rovio had a long journey before striking a goldmine. At the start the company focused on themes such as horror and action. “The Darkest Fear,” “Cyber Blood,” “Paid to Kill,” and “Desert Sniper” are all high-quality games developed by Rovio from 2005 to 2006. The titles and the genres were ambitious, but none of the games were particularly successful. The download figures could be counted in thousands a month.
Currently, 40 million active users play Angry Birds monthly, and the game has grown from an App Store success to become one of the most recognized entertainment franchises in just over a year. A Hollywood movie featuring the Angry Birds is planned as well as TV-cartoons. Toys are already out on the market. It is a success story not very often seen and it is already a multimillion-dollar franchise. There are many Angry Birds years to come with different versions and editions of the game.
In March 2001 the company received a $42 million dollar capital injection. The investment—led by Accel Partners, the venture capital firm known for working with fast-growing companies including Facebook, and Atomico Ventures, the venture capital firm created by Skype co-founder Niklas Zennström—will secure the strategic expansion of Rovio. The New York Stock Exchange is now in sight for Rovio.
Rovio changed its strategy and realized cell phone games should not compete with computer and console games. They are differentiated products and markets. The Darkest Fear is a well-suited title for a console game, not so much for a cell phone game. Even though the latest high-end cell phones are full-fledged computers with high-speed Internet connections, gamers don’t use them for the ultimate gaming experience. It is also different time consumption. We play cell phone games while waiting for a bus or sitting in the waiting room to a dentist. We do it when we have these small bits of free time, more known as micro-moments. Games developed for micro-moments should be simple, just like “Angry Birds” or “Bubble Ball,” a successful iPhone game developed by a 14-year-old.
When we look back to 10 years ago all major brands in the world believed in the mobile revolution. Brands such as Disney, NHL, NBA and Formula 1 analyzed potential revenue streams from mobile services. The prediction was often mobile games and mobile services would bring in millions in revenue a year. But many of these major brands are still waiting for the mobile revolution to happen, and the revenue. They are still waiting, even though touchscreen smartphones and tablets have lead to a huge growth in demand for mobile entertainment.
How is it possible that a couple of angry birds and greedy pigs outperformed world-class global brands such as NHL and Disney?
From the start Rovio choose not to use an external brand for their games. They developed their own brands. This was an important strategy decision. It proved to be very challenging until the angry birds nested at Rovio.
One reason to link a brand to a cell phone game or a service is the effect of recognition. A brand makes the game or service recognizable and therefore captivating. Fans are loyal and they are ready to spend money. These are good reasons to use brands.
But there is a risk. What if the consumer or user doesn’t like the brand? A brand then becomes a liability.
There are many successful branded mobile services, but it seems that some of the neutral brands are the most successful ones. I believe strong brands can be successful as well, yet “Angry Birds” is an exception. It is one of those phenomena’s that is difficult to copy—it just happens.
Yes, a non-branded game or service can easily drown in the competition. But I have a feeling—and it is also based on analysis—that distributors prefer to put an effort in and push well-designed and good non-branded games rather than branded games. A brand is in it for the business, the revenue. This perception tends to have a negative effect on how both distributors and consumers react on a branded mobile service.
The emotional strings attached to a brand are for good and bad. When asking games developers and publishers what kind of brands they prefer the answer is globally or locally A-class strong brands. These are the ones with the highest upside.
What are then the chances for a non A-class brand to become really successful on the mobile service market? Limited, I would say. But not impossible.
“Angry Birds” is simply a good and fun game to play. My friends play and talk about it, so I need to download and play it too. There are no further emotional strings attached to the decision.
Brands, both A-class and B-class need to rethink their mobile service strategy, just like Rovio did. My suggestion is make it simple, think in micro-moments and differentiate!
When the mobile revolution started I was involved in a research project where we developed a pilot application for Formula 1. It was a very sophisticated mobile service idea. Sensors attached to the car and driver collected data from the cars running on the track and from the driver behind the wheel. The data was then transferred to a mobile device. The user could follow the car and get live and online information from driver and car during a race.
As of today these kinds of mobile services are still very rare. Those developed are restricted by rights, not at least TV-rights.
Years ago, Nascar ace Juan Pablo Montoya developed a caricature figure named Little Monty. If I was to decide how to develop a mobile service portfolio for Montoya I would for sure use Little Monty for games and perhaps some other services too. It would be a perfect tool to, yes, differentiate.
I know many strong brands, especially in sports, have been disappointed with the revenue from cellphone services. I think and hope that Angry Birds will inspire and convince brands that it is possible to make money, big money. But to make it happen it is necessary to be creative and think outside the box.