A review of what makes Rovio’s Angry Birds so good
Yesterday I found myself buying Facebook Credits for the first time in my life. No App on Facebook has managed to tempt me into buying its goods up until this one. None of the addictive Zynga games or any of Playtika slot games made me convert into a paying customer. Not event GameGround’s tournaments. So how come I find myself paying for a virtual earthquake that shakes pig shelters??? Worse than that: I’m re-playing levels I’ve already managed to pass months ago, just to earn a couple of extra level points and beat my friends to the crown, at 3am. This is not like me at all…
These guys must be doing it right if they manage to convert a freebee-lover-non-ad-clicker like myself.
Actually I started thinking about this game several months ago, after a successful session of pirating the registration requirements, when they’ve just released the PC version on the Intel App Store (Intel must have paid Rovio a fortune to get this game exclusive rights as a standalone install-based game on their App store. But I’ll keep this story to another post). It’s the first time in years that I’ve been hacking a game… and it really made me think – what makes it so successful? It wasn’t following any of the recent trends in gaming. In fact, if I’d describe its basic nature to any of the VCs I’ve come across they would have dismissed me saying I’m old fashioned, even a dinosaur.
- Its graphics is basic 2D.
- It’s not using any of the newer devices capabilities like motion detection, movement sensors, light sensors, camera etc..
[up until their recent Facebook App launch…]
- It has no social features to make it viral. Not even a friends-invite or a share-this. Nothing.
- It’s an offline game: no user loyalty features, friends leaderboard or level downloads
- No virtual goods or anything to buy inside the Game.
- You have to pay to get it. No free lunch [at least until they released an ad-sponsored version on the Android App store]
So what is it? It seems to be defying common knowledge of how to be successful in an always-online world. How do they do it? How do they manage to be the #1 selling App world-wide for months and years? 2 years after the game release and it’s still growing.
This is the (secret) recipe:
- A background story that appeals to all ages, classes and nationalities: Farm animals leading the cast; the heroes are fighting against the villains, willing to sacrifice their lives to save their unborn siblings.
- It’s dead-simple to play. No brainer kill-them-all-before-you-get-to-the-next-level game flow where the learning curve is gradual. Anyone 2 years and above can play this game…
- A clear and distinctive comics-like theme, graphics and sound effects. One that makes you smile even when you perform miserably. Even after a completing 100 levels.
- It has the basic physical engine that makes all flying things look somewhat for-real. With a bit of a super-natural feel, but certainly not sci-fi;
- A truly casual game: One finger to play with short game rounds, a few seconds each. This really makes it suitable to play anywhere and anytime – on the platform waiting for the commute train, at a boring class, when waiting for a meeting to begin or while the stupid TV ads are preventing you from watching your favorite weekly episode. It works on any form factor and most devices too, from my 2.5” x10-mini mobile, to a 50” media center TV.
- Levels are unlocked one at a time, adding new features and new required skills. The basic thing that intrigues you – makes you want to finish yet another level, just to discover what the next one will get you.
- Some surprises to spice up the stew: find all golden eggs, bonus levels, monster-pigs etc.
If this all sounds to you like quoting a basic game developer manual – you are right. Nothing here is big news. The true geniusity is taking all the basic elements and combining them into a truly good game. This game is a combination of Pacman game, Spiderman comics and the movie Madagascar. 🙂
And now for the Facebook version goods:
- It adds new features to the game just when you got board of the offline version.
- The friend’s leaderboard and level score system is excellent. So you find friends who played the same level and made more points than you did, but not much more than you did, so you don’t feel cheated, under-skilled or bot-deprived.
- You buy extra skills, not “just” virtual goods. Things like a better aiming ability, a bit more throwing power. This makes it easier to pass a hard level without going to YouTube to seek for a resolution.
- They don’t push you into buying their stuff. You get some free extras, and then you have to buy more, if you want to use more.
- They celebrate your high-scores and leaderboard achievements adding new groove to the offline game.
- Ok. Ok. I admit! It was the ‘buy 5 pay for 1’ promotion that they had. This was the straw that broke my extra ordinary resistance to buy staff at Facebook’s.
I’m now a converted Facebook user and a happy gold crown holder Angry Birds Level 1. Let’s see if you can beat me!
p.s. kudos to Jaakko Iisalo, the designer who came up with the Birds’ concept art and then played a key role in developing the early versions of the game.