Interview: Rovio’s million dollar Angry Birds comeback

In its native Finland, Rovio means pyre. And for many years, thanks to the success of its Angry Birds brand, the company burned bright.

Following the smash hit success of the original game, the firm has launched another 14 Angry Birds titles, spin-offs and tie-in releases, resulting in three billion downloads.

Rovio also diversified and expanded into the toys, education, book publishing and theme parks.

But even the most fantastic flame fades eventually. And Rovio’s success was no different.

In 2013, its profits were slashed in half. In 2014, the firm sacked 16 per cent of its workforce in Finland, and then a further 110 employees lost their jobs. Last year, an additional 473 roles were axed.

But, speaking to MCV, Rovio is in high spirits. It has a Hollywood film hitting UK cinema screens on May 13th.

Its new game – Angry Birds Action – launched on mobile devices last week. It has licensing deals with huge global brands including LEGO, McDonalds (which nearly resulted in the fast food chain’s Happy Meals being rebranded Angry Meals) and H&M.

Rovio is doing all it can to resurrect its iconic brand.

We are experiencing a big resurgence with the movie coming out and appealing to a broader audience than purely the games, though they are still core to our business,” chief commercial officer Alex Lambeek says.

The movie will make everyone interested in Angry Birds and we’ll become relevant to everyone. And of course, we have ambitions beyond the movie as well. What we can do with Angry Birds will go to completely new areas.”

He continues: The film is taking the brand to the next level. That’s how I would put it.”

The Angry Birds Movie is one of four game films coming out this year, alongside Ratchet & Clank, Warcraft and Assassin’s Creed. And it arguably has the widest appeal of all four. Rovio, at the very least, has high expectations of its cinematic debut.

The Angry Bird Movie is going to be one of this year’s biggest blockbuster animation films,” Lambeek says.

It’ll be right up there. Whether it is the biggest or not is hard to predict in the movie world, but the feedback we’ve had to the trailers and from the few people who have seen the film has been fantastic.”

Rovio’s brand new game Angry Birds Action – along with the film – is central to its plans for the coming year. It is a pinball arcade-style game, and is in keeping with the physics-based gameplay the series is known for.

In addition to the pinball, two dozen other mini-games are available and consumers access these by scanning Angry Birds-themed QR codes. More than one billion of these are going to be available around the world – many of these will be found on products from the likes of LEGO, McDonalds, H&M, Ravensburger, Peperami and Walmart. Users can even access a special secret ending to the film using Angry Birds Action.

It just makes so much sense to link the game and real life,” Lambeek says. The codes are very easy to put onany product, whether it’s in a retail store or on a box. It’s incredibly easy through the game just to scan these codes. It’ll help the enjoyment of the consumers. Just imagine, you are busy assembling a LEGO product and see a Bird Code on the instructions – you scan and see the part-built model in front of you come to life. Can you imagine what that’ll be like for a little kid? What else will they want to buy in the future to get more of this kind of content, and continue to play with their toy?

"Retailers are also very important in getting the product to the fans and can let the consumer experience the item before buying it.

It’s also very cost effective. You don’t have to do traditional TV ads. We believe what I call ‘gamification of retail’ has a great future. It’s a first step and we think it can save retailers in the future, if they get into this gamification space. If they get into it in a big way, it can make a big difference to their business.”

"Angry Birds can be as big as it was. But now we’re looking to be a hot property in entertainment rather than just games."

Alex Lambeek, Rovio

Over its lifespan, Rovio has moved from premium to the free-to-play business model, and Angry Birds Action will continue with the microtransactions.

The premium model is not really there on mobile anymore,” chief marketing officer Ville Heijari explains.

It is there for a product like Monument Valley where you have this individual beautifully crafted item that warrants that model. They can find success in their right. Finding that kind of product-to-market fit is incredibly hard.

The sad truth for the majority of developers is the premium market just isn’t there anymore. If you get your game featured on the App Store or Google Play storefronts as the editor’s choice, you may only end up with 5,000 paid downloads in your week.”

Lambeek adds: It’s really moving games from being products to being services and we are a long way down the track in terms of understanding consumers, how they behave within the games and how to keep them engaged.

After the initial success of Angry Birds, Rovio found itself involved in all manner of areas. It was opening a book publishing arm and even getting involved in education, but now the Finnish company is focused on games and media.

Rovio believes that all of this – the film, the game, the licensing deals – can help Angry Birds once again be a blockbuster success.

Angry Birds can absolutely be as big as it was,” says Lambeek. But now we are moving from being really hot
in games to being a hot property in entertainment. It is a much broader space. We will have a wider appeal than we have ever had before. In that sense, we will be bigger than we have ever been before.”

He concludes: The ambition is to evolve into an entertainment company. We are building our brand to have much broader appeal and we believe by doing that, which the game and film enable, will allow us to grow.”

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