It was easy for me to pick Jami Laes out in a crowd, even among the 150,000 attendees at the 2014 International CES tech tradeshow last week in Las Vegas. He was the guy wearing the bright red Angry Birds hoodie. And why not? Angry Birds has given his Helsinki-based company, Rovio Entertainment, a path to instant recognition.
The mobile game series has been downloaded nearly 2 billion times, and a video cartoon series has seen more than 1 billion downloads in just seven months. It falls on Laes, Rovio’s executive vice president of games, to keep this juggernaut going. Many in the game industry have questioned whether Rovio can do that, given the popularity of other mobile games that are making good headway in dethroning the birds, like Supercell’s Clash of Clans and King’s Candy Crush Saga.
But Rovio is a company with more than 800 people, and less than half are making games. What are all of those birdies doing?
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview with Laes.
GamesBeat: The Angry Birds movie seems like an interesting project.
Jami Laes: Of course. Storytelling has always been at the core of Rovio — telling stories, building worlds and characters. Animation and video have been at our heart since very early on, using cinematic trailers to show what this is all about, this epic battle between the pigs and the birds. Once we saw how well our fan base responded to our in-game video channel, the Angry Birds Toons series we created, it was a no-brainer.
GamesBeat: You said you got more than a billion views in a very short time.
Laes: About seven months. The Toons validated it for us, that we want to take the birds and the pigs to the big screen, the silver screen, and check that box as far as becoming an entertainment company and breaking out of the mold of just being a mobile games developer, although we’ve been more than that for a number of years.
GamesBeat: You haven’t broken anything new out for a while in terms of financial performance, but I take it that the merchandising and other parts of the brand are a big part of your business.
Laes: No, we haven’t broken any financials per se. What we announced at Slush is that we’ve passed more than two billion downloads combined for all our games, and we’ve continued to draw more since then. We haven’t broken out anything big because we’ve been building a lot of things in 2013, and in the previous years. We’re building the organization, building new capabilities, new processes, so that we can have a bigger emphasis on fulfilling that dream of becoming an entertainment powerhouse.
You’re going to see a lot of things this year and next year, leading in to the movie, where we take the birds and the pigs to the next level. There will be more variety to what we do with them, in games and in other business areas we operate in. It’ll validate Angry Birds as a long-lasting franchise.
At the same time, the bedrock of the company is our focus on building new stuff. In the next couple of years you’ll see new things come out of Rovio. We want to have a balanced diet — birds, pigs, and more. The way we see it, there is no brand, and yet there’s nothing but the brand, in a Zen type of way. Angry Birds is the most important thing for us, but it can’t be the only thing for us.