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Angry Birds broke all of the records on the Apple App Store in the past 10 months, selling more than 7 million copies. Soon, it will be available on phones running Google Android software.
Rovio, the Helsinki-based developer of Angry Birds, is launching the Android version of the game on GetJar, the indie mobile app store.
Peter Vesterbacka, who goes by the title Mighty Eagle at Rovio and runs the U.S. office, said in an interview that Angry Birds is now used more than 65 million minutes per day on just the paid version of the iPhone. With Angry Birds launching on Android, Vesterbacka predicts that the game will shoot to 100 million minutes a day in short order, which is more than your typical prime-time TV show.
To put that in perspective, DeNA bought Ngmoco for $400 million this week. And Ngmoco said that its games are played more than 50 million minutes a day. Rovio can beat that already with one game on one platform, not counting other platforms such as Palm, Symbian, and now Android, as well as the free version on the iPhone.
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It certainly looks like this game, in which a player uses a smartphone’s touchscreen to launch bird characters with a slingshot at a bunch of green pigs, is becoming a business empire.
Vesterbacka said that GetJar will have a 24-hour exclusive on the Android title, and then the game will be available on Google’s Android Market over the weekend. For now, Angry Birds will be free on Android, with support for ads from Google-AdMob. He said that the company will likely announce soon that its paid downloads have surpassed double-digit millions. He also said Rovio will come out with 20 plush toys of its bird characters by the holidays.
As we noted in a previous story, Rovio got started in 2003 as Relude. It was started by three students from the Helsinki University of Technology: Niklas Hed (Mikael’s cousin), Jarno Vakevainen, and Kim Dikert. They had participated in a mobile game competition sponsored by Nokia and Hewlett-Packard. Vesterbacka, who worked at HP, was one of the judges, and he suggested the trio start their own mobile games company. They did so. Digital Chocolate published the game, which was called King of the Cabbage World, a multiplayer real-time game on the now vintage GPRS system. They started doing work-for-hire games, creating titles such as Need for Speed Carbon for Electronic Arts.
Now they have produced 52 games that have been installed more than 250 million times. They were so successful that Vesterbacka (pictured, left) joined them. Most of those games were designed for others. They made hits such as Real Networks’ Collapse Chaos, but always on a work-for-hire basis.
Mikael Hed (pictured, right) joined as CEO in early 2009 and started the team thinking about making internally produced games that it could own. The company took on more work-for-hire projects, but hired its own subcontractors to make them. That freed up the internal team to make its own games. Of the 52 titles the company’s created, it owns 16.
The team’s leaders started contemplating how to do the perfect iPhone game. They wanted to exploit the iPhone’s hardware, create memorable characters, and do a fun game that people would play over and over again. They conceived Angry Birds and targeted it at everyone: men, women, girls and boys.
“We wanted to eliminate luck from the equation,” Hed said. “So we focused on every detail.”
There were other catapult games that had become popular, so they decided to use that familiar mechanic. The game they created has players shoot angry birds with a slingshot to destroy structures. The game used physics, giving people the joy of knocking out items strategically, as if they were bowling. And while many games have the same kind of catapult mechanic, the Angry Birds characters are funny to look at. And it’s fun to shoot at the evil green pigs who have stolen the birds’ eggs. The pigs mock you if you mess up.
Ten of the company’s developers (only a few of them full-time) worked on the game. They chose Chillingo as their publisher because it had numerous other hits on the iPhone and they felt Chillingo could market their game best. Angry Birds debuted on the iPhone in December, catching on in Finland first through the team’s own social circles. Friends showed it to friends. The title took off like a virus and spread to Sweden. Then it became the No. 1 hit on the App Store in the United Kingdom, selling for 99 cents.
Apple featured the title, making it easy for users to discover and try out. The company started a Facebook fan page, uploaded a video to YouTube, and started its own Twitter account. All of them were successes. The YouTube video and other fan-generated videos have been viewed more than 6 million times. On Twitter, celebrities such as skateboarder Tony Hawk, musician Pete Wentz, and Frankenteen tweeted about their addiction to the game. Hawk said, “Recently finished Angry Birds on iPad and now I’ve lost my sense of purpose.” Jimmy Fallon joked about it on his NBC show. Somebody now tweets about Angry Birds about once every minute.
As it became a cultural phenomenon, Angry Birds gathered steam in the spring and then finally hit the top of the charts in May in the U.S. As Apple launched the iPad, Rovio launched a $4.99 version.
Now the company’s pursuing what it calls the “Tetris strategy,” which is to find new users across many different platforms.
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