Photo: Business Insider / Matthew Lynley
Angry Birds is boldly going where no other game has gone before.Rovio, the makers of Angry Birds, is releasing Angry Birds Space next week. It’s the latest version of Angry Birds, which will feature gravity-based gameplay that will make you bend the trajectory of your bird around planetoids.
But this isn’t just a game — it’s the launch of a new franchise just ahead of Rovio’s next intellectual property release.
We caught up with Peter Vesterbacka, chief marketing officer of Rovio, to find out just how important this game is. Here’s what we found out:
- Rovio plans to launch FIVE new Angry Birds titles this year. Angry Birds Space is just the first, and there are another four planned.
- Angry Birds Space is launching simultaneously with a line of merchandise. Vesterbacka will tell you it’s a big part of Rovio being an “entertainment” company, and not just a game company.
- The first non-Angry Birds game from Rovio in three years is coming this year. Vesterbacka was scarce on details, but seems confident it will be as big as the Angry Birds franchise.
- Rovio now has 300 people. It’s a big bump form last year, when the company had around 100 employees.
- Rovio isn’t giving up on Angry Birds just yet. Even though the company is working on a new franchise, it still wants Angry Birds to be as big as Hello Kitty and Mickey Mouse, Vesterbacka said.
BUSINESS INSIDER: How did you guys get the idea for Angry Birds Space?
PETER VESTERBACKA: It’s a completely new angry birds game but there are some familiar elements. It’s a fun game, we’re of course hoping it will do well, but we aren’t leaving anything to chance. That’s why we’re teaming up with NASA.
The Angry Birds space program, the whole thing started about a year ago. I was handling Twitter and all the tweeting on behalf of Rovio at that time because I wanted to work with our fans. One day, I got a tweet from NASA, asking if we’d send some pigs in space. We exchanged a few tweets with the NASA guys. One thing led to another, so I thought, what if we build a space game.
So the whole thing started with a twitter exchange with NASA. We’ve been working with NASA very closely. We went to the last shuttle launch. We handed out t-shirts that said “shoot for the stars.” NASA and stars and Angry Birds go pretty well together.
We also want it to be educational somehow, We want to have realistic gravity — we have planets, microgravity. What we did with a video form the space station, we want to introduce gravity for Angry Birds practically. We want to make science pulse around Angry Birds.
It’s been great working with NASA. Sometimes I feel they are more excited about the game than we are. It’s the kick-start of our space program, there will be more stuff around space later in the year.
BI: Where does this stand compared to Rio and the original Angry Birds? Is this a completely new franchise?
PV: Absolutely, we view space as a new franchise for us. The birds, they have these superhero capabilities, they have new personality and there are new birds. It will really take on a life of its own, and what’s really cool about this is we have a full merchandising lineup that is launching in sync with the game. Plush toys, a National Geographic book, a bunch of other books, candy, everything will be available when the game launches. It’s really similar to a movie launch.
BI: Do you think Angry Birds Space will cannibalise some players from other Angry Birds games?
PV: What we think will happen is the opposite. When we launched Rio, we got a lift on all of our games. We’ll get a huge lift in merchandising: more toys, more T-shirts. Just like a movie launch gives a huge boost to merchandising, we think that will happen with Angry Birds Space.
We’re not really scared of cannibalization because Apple has had 25 billion downloads in the app store. If you just look at our games, we haven’t had 25 billion downloads. There’s plenty of room to grow, there’s plenty of people who haven’t downloaded Angry Birds. It’ll be very good for the whole Angry Birds franchise and we expect all our games to keep growing.
One example, if you look at AppData for Angry Birds: we just hit 13 million monthly actives and 3 million daily actives on Facebook, with the launch of Valentine’s Day. We’re growing extremely fast on Facebook and I think that is something that helps us bring angry birds to new audiences, just like our cooperation with Nokia and feature phones helps us bring angry birds to all the emerging markets.
I think we’re probably in the single digits of the market that we can capture. We’re not a games company, we’ve said that many times, we are in the business of entertainment. Entertainment is much bigger than just games, that’s why we bought an animation studio, that’s why we announced a cooperation with Samsung in January at CES for Samsung TVs. Samsung smart TVs will come with not only the game but with the Angry Birds channel. We’ll be on millions of TVs by the end of the year. Because of the distribution platforms, one can build these franchises much faster than what used to be the case, and it’s much faster than making a movie. Not even the expensive moves are growing as fast as we can. I don’t even know who John Carter is.
If you look at the market and look at entertainment, it’s a huge market. We capture less than a per cent of the entertainment market. There’s massive opportunity.
BI: Seems like production was way faster for Angry Birds Space, and it still looks great. How did you guys pull that off?
PV: Every game we do, everything we do, we are always learning. The result is what you see in the Space game. It’s really taking things to the next level, and you can expect to see that on some of these other platforms that we’re building on. You’ll have richer graphics, more power.
What is very interesting is that last year at South by Southwest, exactly a year ago, I was on a panel here and I said I think the tablets will be bigger than game consoles for games, then I got a lot of crap for that. They said consoles were for video games, but I think what we see now, compared to consoles the graphics capabilities are pretty comparable. I was saying before you see the Playstation 4 or the Xbox 720 or whatever they call them, the next generation consoles, you will see at least 2 generations of tablets. On the gaming side, the centre of gravity has moved to smart connected devices — smartphones, tablets, connected TVs. You can build the processing power of a tablet into a TV, and your TV will have more processing power than your PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360.
BI: We’ve heard you guys are working on some new intellectual property this year.
PV: We will launch more Angry Birds games this year and we will launch a new franchise in the not-too-distant future. We are, basically on all fronts, we are very far in development of the next game software. We’re very happy with our road map and we think this year will be absolutely amazing for us. We’re bringing out Space, it really plays great, and also we’re really psyched about the next one and the next one and we will know that we will have some amazing things for Christmas.
BI: Is this going to be the last Angry Birds game?
PV: There will be more Angry Birds games — we can’t give too much detail on that. The games we’re working on, what’s very important, we are doing frequent updates to all our games. Then we’re also going to have Space and that’s going to get updates. you can expect to see some amazing things coming to Space. And there will be new Angry Birds franchises, totally new games and products coming this year. A much, much bigger line-up this year. Last year we only did Rio, this year we’re doing 5 games, new platforms and launching a new franchise. We’re keeping pretty busy.
We also have, like, 300 people, so we should be able to do a few more things than 12 months ago.
I think that our senior focus is we really want to make Angry Birds a permanent part of culture. We want to make stuff that is sustainable and will be there for a very long time. Not for a year, but for 20 years. Hello Kitty, since 74, Mickey Mouse, I don’t even remember. We want it to be around that long.