Opinion

Angry Birds creator Peter Vesterbacka on ‘the most widely distributed piece of content ever’

Peter VesterbackaPeter Vesterbacka is one of the brains behind what he claims to be one of the most widely distributed pieces of content in history, the mobile game Angry Birds. 

In this interview with Mumbrella Asia’s editor Robin Hicks at the All That Matters conference in Singapore last week, Vesterbacka, who is CMO of Rovio Entertainment, talked about his plans to grow the Angry Birds brand, why Asia has embraced it more than anywhere else, and why brands tend to suck at making mobile games.

So what next for Angry Birds?

More Angry Birds games. We have several in development, such as the role-play game Angry Birds Epic and Angry Birds Stella, which will come out later in the year. We also plan to create an animated series and more lines in consumer products and merchandising.

Why has Angry Birds been so popular in Asia, which I understand is the game’s biggest market globally?

I honestly don’t know. We can’t measure the geographic split, and can only go by perceived brand awareness – and Asia is by some way our biggest market. It’s difficult to say why, other than to presume that the characters really resonate with people in this region who are also big users of mobile technology.

Did you predict that Angry Birds would be as big as it’s turned out to be?

Angry BirdsWe expected it to be successful. We’re very ambitious. We thought we’d get around 100 million downloads. But we didn’t expect to get more than two billion downloads, which is the latest figure. It’s a crazy number. It’s one of those things that is impossible to predict. It took Tetris 20 years to reach 100m users. It took Angry Birds 15 months. It’s probably the most widely distributed piece of content ever.

Big numbers. But what about making money from the game? Would you have done anything differently if you’d known that Angry Birds would prove to be so popular?

Not really. You can always do better. I’m never entirely happy with anything. We’re not at all content with where we’re at right now. We need to grow faster, and we want to create something that lasts forever. I’m sure we could have made more money, but we want to do the right thing for us, and the right thing for our fans.

How can you be sure that you’ve created a game that lasts, like Monopoly or Connect 4? Aren’t mobile games more fleeting by their nature?

It’s impossible to predict. But I think that angry birds is so much more than a game now. It’s a brand. Forty-seven per cent of our business last year came from consumer products, not games. Even if we dropped everything now and stopped working, I don’t think it would possible to remove Angry Birds from the planet.

But it’s up to us now to keep the brand fresh, offer more and better games and more and better experiences in all shapes and forms. We want to ensure that we’re a permanent part of popular culture. We have the brand awareness and we want to build on that. Ninety-three per cent of the population of China knows of the brand, and pretty much everyone in Korea recognises it. I’d say we have about the same brand awareness as Coke, globally.

What have brands to learn from Angry Birds in how to create a mobile game? And why do you think that so many games brands make aren’t particularly shareable?

It’s partly because of a campaign mentality that agencies tend to have. Everyone wants to get into mobile gaming, but games without a lifespan do nothing for a brand. Of course, marketing people will always say that you need to think for the long term, but that thinking is not being seen in practice with branded games.

We’re seeing a lack of maturity and understanding of the space. There’s a sense of urgency to create a game, but it seems that this is not being carefully followed through in the delivery. For some reason, brands seem to think, hey, mobile games are easy. Would they approach making a movie with the same attitude? I don’t think so. And yet making a good game that people want to share is a difficult thing to do.

What advice do you have for marketers about how to create better branded games?

It’s the same principle behind production placement in movies. Think about what a brand stands for, link the nature of the brand to the game, and try to do it in an organic way. This is what we did for State Farm car insurance with Angry Birds Go. In the game, State Farm repairs the racing car. Ok, so it’s not a perfect fit, but at least there’s a link there. I think there is a future in branded gaming, but we’re still some way off being a mature market.

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