Rovio debuts AR and inaudible watermark tech to unite Angry Birds games, film and toy brands

Rovio debuts AR and inaudible watermark tech to unite Angry Birds games, film and toy brands
Matthew Jarvis

By Matthew Jarvis

April 28th 2016 at 9:19AM

Scannable QR-like 'Bird Codes' and 'Movie Magic' content unlocked inside cinema mark studio’s first steps into the realm of ‘toys-to-life’

A new era of Angry Birds is upon us, as Rovio overhauls the mobile franchise with a new look and medium-crossing technology.

Angry Birds Action marks the first mobile game from the studio based upon the franchise’s upcoming movie, which redesigns the iconic fowls with a more detailed and character-based appearance. For example, lead hero Red (that’s the small red ball bird) is now a muscled two-legged creature who runs at his targets, rather than being flung through the air.

Action is also the first Angry Birds app to feature support for Bird Codes, an augmented reality system similar to QR codes that allows players to scan the circular logos found on toys such as LEGO sets, branded clothes and even McDonald’s dinner trays to unlock new content and play 30-second mini-games specifically developed for each partner.

The firm compared the experiences – which include viewing digital versions of constructed LEGO models over real life – as similar to the toys-to-life technology utilised in games such as LEGO Dimensions and Skylanders.

“We wanted to think of what is really in our DNA and what we wanted to do to gamify the products,” recalled VP of games Miika Tams. “Then we went through testing different technologies, ideas and experiences and this type of Bird Code felt the most natural way.

“From a production point of view, how it actually works is that once the game has the tech in, we can just introduce as many as we want of those Bird Codes. There is literally no limit. Then we worked closely with our valued partners – LEGO, McDonald's and all of those – to decide together with them what the gaming experience is that feels best for them.”

Alongside the Bird Codes is the so-called ‘Movie Magic’ experience, which will unlock new content for players who take their phone along to the cinema with them to see next month’s Angry Birds Movie.

The extra video will download during the end credits of the film, allowing players to take it outside of the screening room and show their friends.

“There is an inaudible watermark at the end credits,” explained Tams. “It's listened to by the game. We built a user interface around it and had an idea of what we wanted to do, then tested different ideas. We partnered with a company called Digimarc, which is the one that is providing the technology for us for that.”

While mobile use in cinemas has been a long-debated subject – culminating in the suggestion by US chain AMC that it would introduce phone-friendly screenings earlier this month – Rovio chief marketing officer Ville Heijari says that he expects more and more games to connect with the big screen.

“We're encouraging them to wait until the end credits,” he insists in response to the potential backlash from film lovers. “But that's an interesting change, and it's very telling of the culture and the power of habits for people.

“We have a generation so accustomed to using these devices that they might tweet in the middle of a film: 'I can't believe what just happened.' That's definitely a major shift from just a few years back when phones were just considered for their recording capability and the possible copyright infringements.

“Now, we've had the second screen experience in TV and home entertainment domain, but now it's like bringing a second screen to the movies. That's essentially what we're doing with Movie Magic.”

Tams added that Rovio’s partnership with companies such as LEGO, H&M, Pez and Toys ‘R’ Us could be seen as a precursor to the increasing collaboration between mobile creators and consumer brands in an effort to monetise in new ways.

“This is an interesting thing that we are doing,” he said. “I like to think of it this way: when people think about free-to-play, they might think a bit too much of monetisation – how you actually get money out of people.

“I try to think of two different things. First of all, how you keep people in the ecosystem where you have the products and the brand and where the story is told. Then, how you create events and stories day by day so that people have a reason to come back. If you cross these and are able to get these two things done, then it's easier and easier to go for the monetisation.

“What I'm trying to say is that there are many ways for free-to-play to work in the future and many different ways for people to work with it. We are happy to test out this ultimate Angry Birds experience as how we switch to the whole new model.”