Seeing someone wearing the typical red Angry Birds hoodie isn’t particularly surprising. Yet this changes dramatically when it is being worn by Nick Dorra, Head of Animation at Rovio. When he addresses the audience of ExpoPixel in Bologna, he goes out of his way to say that this hoodie is his company uniform. This is what Rovio is like. Just one uniform and four pillars: storytelling, smart marketing, cooperation and planning.
Dorra gets through his first slides quite quickly, and not before long, you encounter Rovio’s motto: “We build business with fans, not features”. Of a company like theirs, it is to be expected. Angry Birds’ figures include 263 million active users per month and 1.7 billion total game downloads. It is a battleship that seems unsinkable. Yet to make it work, you have to top up with fresh fuel every day.
Dorra, Finnish producer aged 32, joined Rovio in July 2011. He was there for the second boom of the company and its recent entrance to the world of cartoons. Angry Birds Toons was launched on 16 March 2013: 52 scheduled episodes each week and a remarkable animation team. Just take a look at the end credits of one episode to see what a huge amount of work goes into it.
It’s pure storytelling. Usually the entertainment industry makes the jump from the animated series to the video game. Rovio, which already knows a thing or two about mobile gaming, went against the grain. It can afford it – thanks to their financial results of 2012, with a revenue of 152 million euros – and it is not afraid to try. The Toons distribution channels are already guaranteed. You can see them by simply clicking on a link on the game’s home page.
At first glance, broadcasting Angry Birds Toons on Angry Birds and not on YouTube seems like a risky choice. Yet it isn’t, solely thanks to the marketing team who has consolidated the brand over the years. Dorra retraces Rovio’s developments before he joined the company and tells us how, in 2009, when the first Angry Birds came out, hitting the top of the Finnish AppStore charts was a piece of cake.
What next? Going to Sweden to present the top mobile game of their neighbouring market. The magic repeats itself. The strongest communities of players are currently in USA, UK, China, South Korea and Germany. The viral spread of the game is undoubtedly thanks to the enormous focus on the graphic and audio interface rather than text menus. One image translates it into hundreds of languages at zero cost.
Keeping the attention on Angry Birds is not easy. The game itself works, but if you don’t feed it with fresh impetus, in the long run, it wears out. This explains the release of four new versions of the game and the Bad Piggies spin-off, launched in the space of just two years. In 2012, Rovio aimed for the stars and released the Star Wars version, developed side by side with LucasArts (acquired and later shut down by Disney).
Without ambitious joint projects, the Angry Birds team runs the risk of draining their creativity. Dorra explained that the development of new characters in the game is a long and challenging process. Rovio has to balance out the new entries (such as Stella, the second female character) in terms of gameplay, marketing and animation. Making a deal with LucasArts to introduce lightsabers, Jedi powers and the Death Star is much more effective.
The last pillar of the success of Angry Birds – and perhaps the most important – is its planning. Rovio has produced dozens of games, but only one has made it big. Failure is not a bad thing, it is much worse to have treasure fall in your hands and not know how to use it. When your game rises up through the world rankings, you need to have a strategy in place to keep it at the top. Otherwise, you lose everything.
This explains the extensive merchandise (45% of the 2012 revenue, whereas according to Gamesbrief the app itself would have generated little profit), as well as the constant commitment of its players (Rovio has 24 million fans on Facebook) and the copyrighting of its characters. There are things you can’t handle with one week’s notice. Then there’s the future of the company, including a potential listing on the stock market. According to Wall Street Journal, the IPO would be estimated at around 2 billion dollars. Is the game worth it?