Overview of Angry Birds Monetization and Brand Strategy from Casual Connect Kyiv 2011

Casual Connect Kyiv was held for its 6th consecutive year in October 2011.  This is an international game conference aimed at covering cutting edge topics related to the social game i

Casual Connect Kyiv was held for its 6th consecutive year in October 2011.  This is an international game conference aimed at covering cutting edge topics related to the social game industry.  Many of the conference sessions are available as videos on the site, it’s a fantastic resource for talks delivered by industry leaders on current trends related to platforms and monetization, mobile and social mobile trends, and production and design. 

One hour-long session in particular was very interesting, VP of Franchise Development for Rovio Mobile Ville Heijari, gave a presentation covering Rovio’s approach to Angry Birds branding and monetization strategy.  Below is a summary of what was shared.

Popular projections target 1 billion Angry Birds players by 2012.  Besides a staggering player-base, what real implications does this have for Rovio Mobile?  Ville explained his view on various types of players and stages they pass through.  First there are people who have heard of the game and may play it, and discuss it.  Then there are players who pay money.  The 3rd level of players are the engaged players who play regularly and spread the word.  Finally, there is the core player base who love the game.  The objective is to move the existing players through the various levels until they reach that final, loyal Angry Birds player level.  Then there is another objective of expanding reach, finding and engaging new markets.

Ville explained that Angry Birds took 8 months to build and cost about 100k euro, about twice the cost and development time of other casual games.  Rovio released the first Angry Birds as a game developer through a publisher, and later self-published Angry Birds Rio and Angry Birds Seasons as a multi-media entertainment company.  Initially there was a focus on mobile, now the objective is to reach as many players as possible across various platforms.  Angry Birds was initially developed and published for iOS, then released for Android, and now is available for free for Google Chrome users on a PC.  The natural progression from here is likely to release console versions and make the games available through social networks.

The focus has been less on increasing in-game monetezation and engagement, than on creating the most fun game in the world.  Players can purchase t-shirts and other merchandise (plush toys on Amazon selling for between $45 and $159 that make up 10 to 20% of business and are selling at a rate of about 1 million toys a month), and there is an in-game virtual good called the mighty eagle, that was introduced over a year ago that involves a can of sardines that is used as bait to summon the mighty eagle that arrives and smashes everything to pieces.  This virtual good is not only useful when stuck on a certain level, but it also unlocks new game elements across levels, thereby enhancing the overall game experience for the purchaser.  Part of the success of Angry Birds has been a local grassroots marketing approach driving towards virility.  Rovio first focused on making the game popular at home in Finland through word-of-mouth, then did the same in Sweden, then Denmark, and then other European countries.  With demonstrable and increasing popularity they were able to have their game featured in the UK app store, which led to record growth, and then popularity expanded to the US.  The game captures and holds player interest with frequent updates:  new levels that are sold in batches and that are provided at no additional cost to players, new characters, new related media and products.  For example, one update is the Moon Festival update in Angry Birds Seasons, designed to appeal to global markets, and very popular in China.  China, incidentally, is now the fastest growing Angry Birds market, and has Angry Birds retail stores and are represented in a theme park.  As of March 2011 the game had made $70 million, which is not unusual for popular casual games and low in comparison to successful video game revenues.  A collaborative approach with companies like T-mobile (Angry Birds Live in Barcelona),  Nokia, and other large brands has allowed Rovio to benefit from large brand production budgets.  They have released a cookbook, with the intention of promoting the practice of parents and grandparents playing the game on mobile devices together, and incorporating the branded theme during another family-gathering events like meals.

Interestingly, this last example was combined with the comment that while of course there is a lot of focus on analytics and metrics, it’s not entirely clear who is playing the game.  The theory that kids may be playing on their parents mobile phones has been anecdotally supported.  One area where semantic technology can be useful to better understand player demographics (age, gender, race, location) is to mine Twitter and Facebook data to identify player characteristics.  For instance, Mitre Foundation researchers have identified a reliable method for determining gender of a tweeter based on the 140 characters.  Identitext is a Chicago and Israel-based company that mines these type of demographic variables on Tweeters.  Core Analytics (and subsidiary Game Loyalty) is a Chicago and Bay-Area based firm that identifies both demographic and behavioral variables from tweets, Facebook and forum posts.  AppData provides game- level comparison stats and their premium product appends estimates for age and gender of players.  Following the recent trend towards increased emphasis on the applications of player analytics, Angry Birds tapped Seattle-based Medio Systems to take their analytics to the next level with big data and predictive analytics.