Angry Birds has toppled competitors on the iOS and Android leaderboards. But can it do the same on Facebook?
In an interview, Peter Vesterbacka, from the game’s maker Rovio, stressed that the company is taking a very deliberate approach with bringing its smash hit to the Facebook platform. It’s been working on the game, which is set to launch in May, for about a year and it’s one of the largest internal projects in the company.
The title will have new social and viral mechanics and likely extend the company’s experiments with virtual goods. Angry Birds currently offers a Mighty Eagle virtual good, which users can pay for to pass challenging levels in the game. He wouldn’t reveal exactly how the game will be different, but it will be in beta in mid-April.
Like many social gaming companies who have tried to move from the Facebook platform to mobile, going in the reverse direction is also challenging. Popcap Games has been the one exceptional success with Bejeweled Blitz, although others like Bolt Creative have tried with titles like Pocket God. Glu Mobile is a more recent entrant; it brought its popular action title Gun Bros to Facebook earlier this year.
“You can’t take an experience that works in one environment and one ecosystem and force-feed it onto another,” he said. “It’s like Zynga. They can’t just take Farmville and throw it on mobile and see what sticks. The titles that have been successful for them on mobile are the ones they’ve built from the ground up for the platform.”
In the long-run, Rovio, will be move to HTML5 like other game developers. Interestingly enough though, Vesterbacka said Angry Birds is now making as much money from Android as it is from iOS. (You can read more about that here.)
Extending The Franchise
With its recent $42 million round of funding from Atomico Ventures, Accel Partners and Felicis Ventures, Rovio plans on deepening the Angry Birds franchise with everything from new games to movies, books and plush toys (of which 2 million have been sold). They’re also building PC and console versions of the game for Xbox and PS3; they recently completed a deal for Intel to bring Angry Birds to its netbooks.
One of the reasons Accel was appealing as a partner, Vesterbacka said, was its ties to the entertainment industry. Accel’s Jim Breyer, who also sits on Facebook’s board, saw comic book giant Marvel through its acquisition by Disney.
“We’re looking at every type of entertainment,” Vesterbacka said. “We don’t view ourselves as a gaming company. It’s like how Apple dropped ‘Computer’ from its name.”
The company may use of some its funding for acquisitions, but they might not be in the gaming space. They might be targeted more at helping Angry Birds cross over into other forms of entertainment.
Even if Rovio doesn’t create entirely new intellectual property, there are plenty of ways to extend the Angry Birds universe, including, for example, games from the pigs’ perspective.
“It’s like Mario. He drove a car into space and that became Super Mario Galaxy,” he said.
Making A Platform Play
They’re also embarking on significant platform play with a series of virtual goods, identity and in-app payments products.
Already there is a Mighty Eagle SDK, which the company launched at GDC last week. It’s an extension of the Mighty Eagle virtual good, which about 40 percent of new players pay for on iOS, Vesterbacka said.
Third-party game developers can also offer the Mighty Eagle virtual good in their games to gives users hints or help them pass challenges. In Remedy’s remake of Death Rally for iOS, players will be able to pay to have the Mighty Eagle swoop in and kill off an opponent. If the player has also bought the Mighty Eagle in Angry Birds, it will have even stronger powers.
“Other games will help us promote the Mighty Eagle on our behalf. It’s a bit of a game changer for us and more of a platform play,” Vesterbacka said.
The company also announced an in-app payments solutions for developers last year called Bad Piggy Bank. With Google set to launch its own in-app payments system, Bad Piggy Bank won’t work in the officially sanctioned Android Marketplace. But it will in others, like Amazon’s forthcoming Android store or independent app store Getjar, which shares an investor with Rovio in Accel Partners.
There are also plans to build a federated identity or gaming log-in that would tie in Facebook Connect and Apple ID. They would also open up any kind of internal leaderboard system they build to third-party developers, which would make them a competitor to mobile gaming networks like OpenFeint and Scoreloop.
In terms of marketing and advertising, Rovio will probably do four to five premium brand advertising deals a year. They recently did one with Microsoft’s Bing where they created four animated shorts that extended the storyline: the pigs used the search engine to look for and steal the birds’ eggs.
Vesterbacka said the company doesn’t want to pigeonhole the brand to just children. “We’re going after a four quadrant strategy, meaning we want to reach men, women, boys and girls. We want to be for everyone from 2 to 99-years-old,” he said.
Focusing on China
Rovio is also focused on expanding in China, the company’s second largest market after the U.S. While the U.S. accounts for more than half of the company’s revenues, China has just recently emerged as a significant market.
They plan on bringing Angry Birds to all the big social gaming platforms there including Tencent and RenRen. For now, the monetization strategy there is still similar with paid downloads and advertising. Their most popular mobile platforms there are Android and Nokia.