Over the holidays, those looking to vent some frustration away from family might consider hurling an angry bird at a bug-eyed green pig—if they’ve got a smartphone and the hottest mobile game available, Angry Birds. (Evil pigs have stolen these birds’ eggs, the plot goes, and the birds are out for revenge.) A festive new edition, called Angry Birds Seasons, features a wintry landscape, an Advent calendar theme and, of course, pigs and birds in Santa hats.
In the year the game has been available, Angry Birds, which is offered on Apple’s iPhone and iPad as well as Android devices, has become a certified blockbuster. Consistently ranked as the No. 1 paid app in Apple’s iTunes store, it’s been downloaded about 36 million times. With a concept so simple that it borders on inane, how to explain the success of Angry Birds? “It’s a beautiful game. It uses very simple objects,” says Raymond Pirouz, a new-media marketing expert at the University of Western Ontario’s Richard Ivey School of Business. “And it’s pretty addictive.”
Good placement in Apple’s iTunes store has also helped. Dozens of new apps are released every day, but Angry Birds had the advantage of being promoted as a staff pick; once it topped the chart for sales, it became unstoppable. When buying a game for 99 cents, consumers “aren’t going to do a lot of research,” Pirouz notes. “They’re more dependent on Apple” and the top spot becomes a “self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Still, the game’s Finnish developer, Rovio, has kept the momentum going by introducing Angry Birds Seasons and other updates, adding levels or characters. And it’s now selling Angry Birds-themed T-shirts and plush toys (US$14.99 plus shipping and handling). Angry Birds 2, and versions for Microsoft’s Xbox and Sony’s PlayStation 3, are reportedly in the works. Rovio’s efforts seem to be paying off. Just one day after Angry Birds Seasons was released, it was already ranked No. 2 in the iTunes store—behind Angry Birds.