Angry Birds takes flight as Rovio aims high

Rovio, the makers of the sensationally popular Angry Birds app, have been very busy of late. Apart from tearing down the ever tricky structures of the evil green, egg-stealing pigs with hordes of ‘fowl-mannered’ feathered armament, the company has huge plans to catapult its signature game even higher, starting with a live public offering.

With more than 100-million downloads worldwide and over 40-million active users, Angry Birds is the most popular mobile game to date. Rovio now has plans to launch a real-time, media-rich multiplayer platform level for the addictive puzzler. And best of all, it will be free. Well, sort of.

Recent information, including announcements by Rovio at the recent South by Southwest set of conferences last week, all indicate that the company is pulling all stops in going for the big birds: “We’re aiming to be as large as Facebook or Google,” said Rovio Board Chairman Kaj Hed to Finnish business magazine Talouselämä.

While that may be deemed a rather ambitious vision for a game that involves a pile of pigs and birds, there’s no denying Rovio’s  growth and success within the mobile application sphere.  First off, an announcement by Rovio executive Peter Vesterbacka at a SXSW panel on the the company’s recently acquired US$42-million VC funding from early Facebook backers Accel Partners and two other ventures, places Rovio’s valuation at around US$281-million. Furthermore, the company passed the 100-million download milestone, meaning that at this moment, an estimated one-third of all smartphone users globally have the Angry Birds app on their devices.

Vestabacka also mentions the cross-platform dominance Angry Birds has been enjoying. Apart from the mobile sphere which is largely dominated by the iOS, Android and Symbian versions (and soon for Windows Phone 7), Angry Birds have also shifted into the console market after being added to the PlayStation Network Store as a ‘Mini’ – allowing users to play the game on both the PSP and PlayStation 3 consoles.

While the die-hard touch-screen users may be critical of the console’s controller-based experience for the game, citing the former as ‘much more fun’, there’s no denying the success it has gathered – topping the PSN charts for both January and February as the most downloaded game.

Vesterbacka, nicknamed the ‘Mighty Eagle’ at Rovio, ambitiously went on to take a slingshot at major gaming consoles: “Tablets are killing consoles. Four generations of new tablets come before a new console, if one ever comes.”
In a recent Read Write Web post, information on Rovio’s vision, according to Vesterbacka, indicates that the company is also working on an arrangement with mobile carriers to offer a data-free version of Angry Birds, (similar to the Facebook Zero deal struck with mobile carriers around the world) with features including video play-back, photo sharing and video chat inside the multi-player level challenges.

While partnering with mobile carriers may seem like an awesomely ambitious project, what are the technical implications of live, free, content rich multiplayer Angry Birds app across mobile networks? And what sort of disruptions could occur? And lastly, what’s in it for the phone companies?
Rovio is hoping that an exchange for a cut of revenues from its carrier level e-commerce platform, the Bad Piggy Bank, will help secure deals. The micro-transaction payment system allows for purchases to be paid through operator billing, making it a perfect push for mobile carriers concerned about Apple’s iTune dominance. No credit card is required and confirmation is done via sms with purchases tied to your phone bill.
In December 2010, Rovio introduced The Mighty Eagle, a new special bird which allows users stuck on a level to catapult a ‘can of sardines’ to summon the ‘Mighty Eagle’ – allowing the user to clear any level – and can be purchased via iTunes will now be available to Android users via the Bad Piggy Bank system. Expect to see it soar in the second quarter of 2011.

Not content to nesting comfortably on top of the mobile-only application tree, The ambitious team at Rovio have their sites set higher. Company co-founder and chief executive Mikael Hed, in a prepared statement, said, “Angry Birds will continue to grow, and we aim to create more similar success stories. We will strengthen the position of Rovio and continue building our franchises in gaming, merchandising and broadcast media.”

If and when a live, public, multimedia version ever takes flight, we can all be assured of one thing: the pigs will be cowering even further in their rickety structures because Angry Birds is going to be even more addictive then.



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