Paul Chen, General Manager China of Rovio @ StoryDrive China, photo: C.Y.Schmidt

"Angry Birds are part of current pop culture."

By Maja Linnemann on June 1, 2012

While some companies talk about their customers, for the game developer Rovio Entertainment they are “fans”. The mission statement of Rovio, as Paul Chen pointed out in his presentation at the StoryDrive China conference which was held on May 29th and 30th, 2012 in Beijing, is “Delighting our fans!”

Rovio was founded in 2003 by three young Finnish guys. Until 2009 they developed 51 games but all for other people and none of them really took off the ground. In 2009 the company was close to being shut down, when the first version of Angry Birds was released on iTunes on Dec 11th. By February 2010 it became number one on the iTunes charts in the UK and the US.

Since then, Rovio has released three more versions, the last one Angry Birds Space as recently as March 22nd, 2012. While the classic version took 167 days to hit the 10 million download mark, the latest one took only three. Today, there are 25 million active users daily. While the games are free, there is advertisement built in, which generates 10 billion monthly ad impressions.

How does Paul Chen explain the tremendous success of the game? “It is very easy to play and does not take a lot of time. For example, you can play it during a short cab ride. And it is based on a very simple story about something everyone can relate to emotionally: “protect your offspring”. And this story happens in different places and venues.”

While at the beginning of the Angry Birds story the focus was on the game, today it is more on the story and character development. “We engage very much with our fans, we are active in getting quick feedback through social networks and so on, we also mix animation styles… “ New characters are introduced through short animation films.

In order to raise brand awareness, Rovio partners with all kinds of other companies, among them airlines and retailers. For the third version of the game, it entered a partnership with the US film studio 20th Century Fox and developed a story around a film which was – obviously – about birds. The film titeled “Rio” was set in Rio de Janeiro and the release of the game and an animation one month before the film release turned out to be strong marketing for the film.

Other innovative partnerships include NASA. The space agency helped with the development of Angry Birds in Space. And even the TV cartoon series Simpsons featured Angry Birds in a recent episode.

Since China is the second biggest market for Rovio with 120 million downloads, it is not surprising that Rovio also started integrating elements from Chinese culture into the game, in order to “delight” its Chinese fans. So in 2011 there was a moon festival version and, as Chen pointed out, “through this story, tens of thousands of people outside China heard for the first time about this important Chinese holiday.” In 2012, Rovio followed up with a dragon version celebrating the year of the dragon and introducing a new character – the mighty dragon.

Of course, revenues from advertisements are only one part of the story. According to Paul Chen, to date 30% of company revenues come from merchandising and franchising and Rovio aims to raise this percentage to 50%.

So what will 2012 bring for Angry Birds?

“We will take the birds to places where they have not been before, this year there will be four new versions of the game. At the same time, we also develop a new game, called Amazing Alex. The launch will be in June”

As for the developments in China, right now, several hundred fan shops are in the planning phase. The first are to be opened in July 2012 in Beijing and Shanghai. as well as the first of several theme parks based on the Angry Birds theme. “We want these parks to promote a healthy living style, where children are encouraged to be active and exercise and not just queue for rides.” Of course, there will also be interactive screens to play Angry Birds.

So with the fan base distributed very evenly across the sexes and different age groups, Angry Birds has become part of pop culture.