McGinnis: Is Rovio’s ‘Angry Birds’ a harbinger for video games?Written by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
I was first introduced to “Angry Birds” by friends, a typical starting point in this particular viral game’s life cycle. I was told it was insanely fun, I had to try it, it was easy, addicting, etc., etc., etc.
I have an Android phone, so downloading the game was free. For a while, I was indeed having fun. For the three of you who haven’t played it, “Angry Birds” is a game where you slingshot cute, round birds into buildings and forts which house evil green pigs. The pigs don’t even fight back — they just sit there. If I was at home and someone started pelting the walls with dive-bombing feathered foes, I’d at least get up to see what was going on.
The basic idea of the game is pretty simplistic, and there’s nothing wrong with that. No one could argue that “Tetris” or “Pac-Man” were particularly deep on their surfaces, either. But the thing is, with both of those games there was more to them than the surface. Tetris invites strategy and quick thinking. “Pac-Man” requires fierce hand-eye coordination to survive.
In my time with “Birds,” I found myself increasingly frustrated. There is some strategy in how one can play, but it’s limited by the game’s structure. And the effectiveness of any planning can be easily undermined by the touch controls, which are so sensitive your bird can end up going in wildly different directions regardless of how consistent you think your aim is.
So, I uninstalled the game and got back to other pursuits. My experience and opinion is an exception, however. “Birds” has rapidly become one of the most wildly popular games in the world, with a reported total of more than 350 million downloads across numerous systems. T-shirts and plush dolls are everywhere. Few mobile devices have not been used to play the game at some point. There’s even — yes — an “Angry Birds” movie in the works.
The phenomenon has brought a world of attention (and a boatload of cash) to Rovio, the small developer out of Finland that created the game. And said developer has not let the attention go to waste.
Peter Vesterbacka, the company’s founder and CEO, has gone on record that console games are “dead” and mobile, social games like his are the shape of things to come. He noted his disdain for the term “casual gaming,” complaining that you never hear people discuss “casual movies.” IGN.com even noted how the game has seen more copies moved than Nintendo icon Mario, who in his quarter-century on the market has sold “only” 262 million copies.
When something is as successful as “Birds,” its creators can be forgiven for becoming a little smug in their success. However, I think Rovio and Vesterbacka may need a bit of a reality check before they start proclaiming themselves the undisputed way of the future.
As noted, I got my copy of the game for free. Rovio still made its money off of me (damn pop-up ads), but the game costs, at most, $4.99 for the iPad version. Each of those Mario titles Nintendo sold cost anywhere from $40-60. I think that kinda minimizes the difference in numbers sold a bit.
Yeah, but more people are playing, right? So that means “Birds” is bigger, right? In the short term, perhaps. But long term has yet to be seen. People forget that for all the success that “Birds” has found, it’s still been on the market for only about two years. The lifecycle of a casual-gaming sensation can be a lot shorter than its console counterparts’. The general public’s imagination is gained and lost much quicker than you’d think.
Remember a few years ago, when “Guitar Hero” was the undisputed king of all gaming and folks everywhere were having parties and music games were “the way of the future” and on and on? Yeah. Now, after oversaturation and public disinterest, music games are a non-issue. The Wii — a console built specifically for the casual market — was also the cat’s meow for a bit. But the novelty wore off and the majority of Wiis sit, unused, in the rec rooms of their “casual gaming” owners, while hardcore gamers continue to plug away on their XBox 360s and PS3s.
This is why Vesterbacka’s other gripe — about the use of the term “casual gaming” itself — is also hollow at the core. His metaphor about how you never hear about “casual movies” is nonsense — there are plenty of moviegoers who only see simple, mindless stuff. That’s why “Transformers” makes a mint, while brilliant, challenging films struggle. But the smaller films will last forever, while “Transformers” will be forgotten in a few years.
Rovio should be proud of its success, certainly. But before praising itself as the future of gaming, it should check to make sure its own pig shelter isn’t made of glass.
Email Jeff at PopGoesJeff@gmail.com.