Rovio, the Finnish company behind the insanely popular Angry Birds series of games, announced that they’re working on a cartoon series based on the game that will debut this fall. This was after the studio’s head of animation Nick Dorra said they were envisioning a feature film that won’t be ready for a couple years. And after they’ve released Angry Birds Seasons, Angry Birds Rio (a promotional tie-in with the animated film Rio), Angry Birds in Space, and the forthcoming Angry Birds Magic. I’m guessing you’re starting to sense a pattern here. Rovio seems like a bit of a one-trick pony, right? Well, when that pony has been downloaded 700 million times across various platforms and makes $12 million a year in ads alone, I’d milk the shit out of that pony too.
It’s difficult to estimate how much money the Angry Birds series had made Rovio, but considering how the game ranges from $0.99 in the iTunes store to $6 for Windows PC and how many times this friggin’ game has been downloaded, after doing the math and carrying the one you can accurately calculate that Rovio has a metric butt-ton of money. The games are critically acclaimed, simple, and addictive enough that they appeal to people of all demographics: gamers and non-gamers, kids and adults, men and women. It’s a rare feat to capture lightning in a bottle, and Rovio has managed to do just that.
Some companies follow up a creative and commercial success with a string of follow-ups that are wildly different but a success in their own right–Pixar immediately comes to mind. Other creative minds end up becoming the Right Said Fred of their particular niche, only managing to bust out a single one-hit-wonder before fading into obscurity until your buddy wins an argument by remembering who sang that one song from the ’90s about the catwalk. There’s an immense amount of pressure to follow up a successful idea with more super clever genius-level awesomeness, and with that expectation is a lot of scrutiny about whether you’re capable of cranking out something that’s successful but different.
You’re probably scoffing and thinking that Rovio is nothing but a hack, that you’re sooooo over Angry Birds, and that if you were in their shoes you’d use the attention and success to fuel you to do something imaginative and different and equally lucrative–no, even more lucrative. You’d be Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love, not Adam Sandler in You Don’t Mess with the Zohan or Jack and Jill. I understand that, and I admire it–I wouldn’t want to be pegged as a one-hit wonder several years after the fact, reduced to being an isolated hermit of Â Howard Hughes proportion and curled up in a corner of my house years from now, muttering about how I was once a huge success before my star burned out as fiercely and quickly as it once shone.
But at the same time, if you saw dollar signs and happy faces and you cranked out an identical follow-up that resulted in more dollar signs and happy faces, why would you want to mess with a tried-and-true formula? The churn and burn strategy is working for Rovio, and if I were them, you bet your ass I’d stick with it until it gets as played out as Who Wants to Be a MillionaireÂ airing five nights a week. Besides, it’s not like each spin-off is getting lazier and crappier, The Hangover-style–Entertainment Weekly recently put Angry Birds in Space on their Must List, calling the newest game “just as much of a good time as youâ€™d expect, and certainly well worth the asking price.” So as long as there’s demand, keep providing a steady supply–that’s Economics 101, people.
For now, Rovio is content to keep milking their cash birds for all they’re worth, and they’ve got plenty of fans who aren’t sick of angry birds and smug pigs just yet. As long as people are willing to dress like angry birds, order angry birds cakes, buy angry birds plush toys, and even decorate their city’s landmark as an angry bird slingshot, they’ll keep downloading and playing Angry Birds, whether the heroes are in space, underwater, in the jungle, in prehistoric times, whatever. Rovio is more than cool with that arrangement, and so far they haven’t seemed to run out of Angry Birds-themed ideas just yet–in addition to an animated series and feature film, they’re thinking of releasing some games from the pigs’ point of view. The real test, of course, will be what will happen when the world does eventually grow tired of hurling fowl at green-hued swine and how Rovio will react. Will they come up with another wildly successful game franchise or will they fail to measure up to their one-trick pony? But that’s not a bird they have to dodge just yet, so they’re content to keep on keepin’ on until they get to that crossroad. Wouldn’t you do the same?