Lessons Developers Can Learn From Angry Birds

Lessons Developers Can Learn From Angry Birds

If smartphone gaming had a mascot, it would be a bird. Bird-themed games are hot on the App Store–hotter than the innards of a roasted turkey (we’ll knock off the metaphors).

With over 350 million downloads since hatching (sorry) in 2009, Angry Birds isn’t only the most successful bird-themed game on the App Store; it’s amongst the App Store’s most popular games, period, and is still held up as an example that runaway financial and cultural success are possible, even with low-priced downloadable games.

IndustryGamers’ Steve Peterson recently wrote a thorough outline of the reasons behind Angry Birds’ sustained success. His reasons are all very sound: Rovio took the time to polish the game, it constantly adds new content, it has forged successful licensing deals (including Angry Birds Rio), and it has been creative with low-cost viral marketing courtesy of YouTube.

But there’s no such thing as too many secrets to success, so we’ll add a few more points to Peterson’s list of the reasons for Angry Birds‘ popularity:

The Game Has a Lot Of Personality — The basic concept behind Angry Birds–that is to say, “wallop enemy structures”–is not new. Games like Castle Clout and Crush the Castle had us flinging rocks at kings situated in matchstick castles ages before Angry Birds came into being. But while Angry Birds polished up the concept and made it more challenging, it also made it more compelling for moms, dads and families to play through cute characters and pleasing sound effects that have embedded themselves into pop culture. Angry Birds’ cast is also hyper-expressive. When you fail a level and the pigs flash their smarmy grins at you, you are helpless to resist trying the level again. You endure the frustration of trying a level over and over if it’ll eventually wipe the smiles off those hunks of slimy green bacon.

It Has a Sense of Humor, Too — Daily life is full of bumps and bruises. At the end of the day, everyone just wants a reason to smile. While Angry Birds won’t win any awards for comedic writing, its aesthetic and core concept are amusing and fun–a light-hearted mood that’s helped along by the game’s many animated ads, most of which are parked on YouTube.

Incidentally, the story behind Angry Birds is that the Pigs, tired of eating grass, steal the Birds’ eggs for a hearty breakfast. Given that the 2009 swine flu outbreak had inspired Rovio to create porcine antagonists in the first place, it’s a little surprising that the Birds aren’t battling their enemies to determine which species would rule as the most terrifying animal-flu outbreak. There can be only one!

It’s Cheap — At the end of the day, it’s not hard to convince someone to take a chance on a game that’s only a couple of bucks. Obviously, many people did so in the case of Angry Birds, and they liked what they played. If the game had been a full-priced stand-alone retail title for the Nintendo DS or PSP, it’s hard to imagine that it would have found such a huge user base–especially without the ability for Rovio to add free, downloadable levels and improvements.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

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