Anger Management – How a start-up in Helsinki brought the app world to its knees
When a lowly iPhone game called Angry Birds was released at the back end of 2009, nobody batted an eyelid. There was no fanfare, no multi-platform blanket advertising; nothing. It crept quietly onto the app market and it went straight to number one in Finland. But gradually news of this charismatic game spread across the globe.
It took another three months for Apple to take notice and feature the game – once they did Angry Birds went VIRAL. Our irascible feathered friends flew immediately to number one in the UK, shortly followed by the US where it stayed until where it remained until October 2010.
In fact, Apple recently announced that there have been 350 million Angry Birds downloads since the game’s launch in December 2009. That’s an enormous 150 million increase from June and more than three times the number of downloads reported in March 2011. Like I said; VIRAL – like bacteria multiplying under a microscope.
Apple recently announced that there have been 350 million Angry Birds downloads since the game’s launch in December 2009.
A quick check with Apple’s App store shows the game selling at just £0.69 per download. Developers are free to set any price for their applications to be distributed through the App Store of which they receive a 70% share. And with the mega-multiples we are seeing here, that adds up to one enormous pile of change. One industry insider reckons Rovio receives US$1 million per month in revenue from the advertising that appears in the free Android version alone. But it doesn’t stop there – and why should it when you’ve got the new Mickey Mouse, Super Mario, and Sonic the Hedgehog all rolled into one?
Rovio the Finnish development company behind Angry birds is shifting a million cuddly toy versions of their avian creation – as well as another million T-shirts monthly. The company have now developed more than 25 ways to get it across multiple platforms, including iOS, Android, Nook, Chrome Web app. Not bad for a game made for just €100,000.
In March 2011 Rovio raised $42 million in Venture Capital Funding from Accel Partners, Atomico and Felicis Ventures. The company is clearly committed to taking their golden, goose to its logical conclusion. Skype founder Niklas Zennström has also backed Rovio, who recently snapped up Helsinki-based animation studio Kombo. Could Angry Birds, The Movie be next? Well, the fact that Rovio’s General Manager for North America, Andrew Stalbow, is busy drumming interest in Hollywood should go some way in answering that question.
Mikael Hed, CEO of Rovio says that simplicity is the root of the games universal appeal. “It had to be easy to pick up and play but hard to master and it had to be expandable so we could bring it to the iPhone and other platforms,” he explained in a recent interview.
“When you see one screenshot of the game you know what you have to do. Angry Birds is simple, but it still has depth. It has to be so much fun that players want to return to the game over and over again. Angry Birds achieved precisely that.”
In March 2011 Rovio raised $42 million in Venture Capital Funding from Accel Partners, Atomico and Felicis Ventures.
Rovio started from humble beginnings – and actually with a staff of just 23 people it’s still pretty humble considering what the company has achieved. In fact, Hed points out that one staff member’s sole task is to answer Angry birds fan mail. He started the company with his cousin, Nicholas Hed in 2004, doing hand-to-mouth games development for mobile phone companies. Rovio received backing the following year and expanded to 25 staff, but Hed left to pursue other projects before returning to the camp in 2009.
“The company was doing stuff with some of the biggest companies in the mobile space for a few years including Electronic Arts and Digital Chocolate, but none of the games were really big enough to sustain the company,” he says.
Rovio began development on Angry Birds in March 2009 – approximately two years after Steve Jobs had unveiled the iPhone. Of course, there had already been something of a gold rush on apps by this time and Hed admits he was feeling pressure – the company being mere months away from folding.
“I remember coming back from my summer holidays and thinking that this is really not where I want the game to be. We went back to the original screenshot and asked ourselves where is the spark,” he says.
“Everybody loved the characters, even though there was no clear idea what the game was going to look like. As the concept evolved and the Birds needed some opponents, the pigs were born. This was around the time the swine flu pandemic scare had reached its highest level – the sickly green pigs were born out of that!”
Not to mention another global pandemic in the process…