Anatomy of a Blockbuster: Angry Birds
Monday, 11th April 2011 at 12:23 pm
Develop's monthly dissection of a recent hit game
Developer: Rovio Mobile
Format: iOS, Maemo, webOS, Android, Symbian, PSN, Windows, Mac OS X
It’s almost difficult to remember a time before the Prime Minister jokingly referred to his obsession with it, but the mega-fame avalanche of Rovio’s Angry Birds began life as a little rolling snowball. Released at the close of 2009 with a relatively tiny 63 levels, the game grew in size, renown and distribution over 2010.
Its availability flowered from iOS to include platforms like Android, Symbian and PSN before the year’s end. By the one-year anniversary of its release, Angry Birds had been downloaded in its free and paid versions on its many different available platforms over 50 million times.
The exploits of the eponymous furious fowl have been used to parody the Israel/Palestine conflict, world leaders play the game on the toilet and seasonal updates have been released for Christmas, Halloween, Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day. There’s no stopping the avalanche now.
Green pigs have stolen and eaten the eggs from a nearby flock of apparently flightless birds. The birds want revenge. They seek it by catapulting themselves at the shakily built houses the pigs hide in, hoping to crush them beneath their own creations. The birds also explode, just to make sure.
Plot is thin on the ground then, but plot has never really been the point in casual and mobile gaming. The fun is in the process, in sending manic, suicidal birds careering through the sky and down onto the fragile fortifications of the pigs.
The repetition of missions, with the only varying factor being the strength of pig defenses and the number of birds and pigs on the ground, is what has lead the game to be so universally described as addictive. People want to take out every pig on every level, and get every available reward star in the process. Angry Birds is a true completionist’s dream.
Back in 2003, Niklas Hed, Jarno Väkeväinen and Kim Dikert took part in a mobile games development competition at the Assembly demo party; a mass annual game development event in Finland.
At the time all three were still students at the Helsinki University of Technology, but on winning the competition with a title called King of the Cabbage World, the group set up a company called Relude. That game was sold to Digital Chocolate and became the first real-time multiplayer mobile game in the world.
A round of business angel investment in 2005 coincided with the company changing its name to Rovio. It was four years later however, with the release of Angry Birds, that the company achieved international fame. In March of this year Rovio raised $42m in funds from venture capitalists, and now seems poised for world domination.
UNIQUE SELLING POINT
There are several reasons people pick Angry Birds over the near-endless equivalents available. Firstly, familiarity. The Angry Birds craze begets the Angry Birds craze, and word-of-mouth is still the most powerful sales tool in the world.
Of course, a game doesn’t open to such acclaim. Angry Birds is unique in that it is truly accessible to everyone while tapping in to a universal level of entertainment that everyone can appreciate. The process of continually disassembling teetering, pig-populated structures by way of projectile avains is dumb fun of the finest quality.
Angry Birds is unique because it does exactly what it sets out to do where so many other titles have failed.
WHY IT WORKS
The pigs ate the birds’ children. Motivations don’t really get more motivating. You’ll want to make those pigs pay, or you’ll want to take down the next castle of wood and glass, or you’ll want to do both. The success of Angry Birds lies in its reduction to the very essence of what makes gaming engaging as a pastime.
You have one destructive challenge to complete within a massive number of variations. The simple, rewarding thrill of watching structures shatter under the pressure of your exploding feathered ordinance works as catharsis on several levels, and presents enough of a challenge that everyone can feel like they have achieved something while nobody is excluded from being able to play.
TRY IT YOURSELF
The trick here is not to assume that because Angry Birds is a simple game, it’d be an easy one to replicate. Any fool can tell you that iOS is swamped with terrible titles that are cut from a similar cloth to Rovio’s casual giant. Don’t think you’ll get away with releasing ‘Tetchy Fowl’ anytime soon.
The draw of gaming lies in personal achievements. Take knocking things down, to steal a little from Angry Birds and make the link more obvious. What if you made a game where players take the role of God trying to stop humanity from completing the Tower of Babel? Leaving aside the potential for getting in religious hot water, it could work as a sort of God Finger-mixed-with-backwards-Missile-Command-like title.
Every level could see humans building towers of greater strength, and God being granted special moves like ‘Make Everyone Speak A Different Language’. It wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it could work. Probably.
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