Rovio's Angry Birds becoming 800 lb gorillas?

I used to be a big fan of mobile game developer Rovio. Or as you may know them, the people who developed Angry Birds. I was the guy running around correcting people who gave Chillingo credit for the game (Chillingo was the publisher of Angry Birds on the iPhone but as far as I know, everywhere else Rovio has published under their own name). Angry Birds is a really well-done casual game, great entertainment for five minutes or maybe two hours. Time seems a bit fluid when you're playing; one of the marks of a great game. So I was cheering on Rovio whenever I had the chance.

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But now that scrappy little game developer is starting to act like the 800 lb gorilla in the mobile (and beyond) space. I suppose it was inevitable. After all, the company got $42 million in investment money just recently, and today Joystiq reports that over 100 million copies of Angry Birds have been downloaded across all platforms. There are Angry Birds plushies, Angry Birds skits on late night TV and now Angry Birds movie tie-ins. So maybe I should have expected something like Rovio's Peter Vesterbacka declaring that console games are "dying." (See Angry Birds maker predicts the death of console gaming at GamesBeat.) Vesterbacka said that all the innovation is in mobile and social gaming and that $40-$60 games are difficult to upgrade. I'll give him partial credit on that first point: most blockbuster $60 games are evolutionary rather than revolutionary, but there are plenty of $5-$15 games on console platforms like WiiWare, Xbox Live and the Playstation Network that are very innovative. Consider PSN titles like Flower or the recent XBox Live/PSN title Stacking from Tim Schafer's Double Fine studio. I spent last weekend at PAX East and there are plenty of innovative games heading to the consoles. On the second point (that $60 games are hard to upgrade), I have to say he's just plain wrong. We see $60 games being upgraded and expanded all the time and yes, on consoles those patches and expansions have to go through a Sony/Nintendo/Microsoft approval process, but every iOS app (such as Angry Birds0 goes through an Apple approval process. We've been hearing "experts" from the console gaming business tell us that PC games were dying for years now, yet almost every time I visit the Steam store I find something new and interesting to play on the PC. Now we have "experts" from mobile telling us the console games are dying. It won't be long before some other subset of gaming that's having a good year tells us mobile games are dying. Claiming 'the other guy' is dying just makes you look a bit silly in the long run. In the name of full disclosure, some friends and I called out Rovio on Twitter and @RovioMobile (here's a twitter search that will let you see the conversation) claimed the quote was being taken out of context and what Vesterbacka meant was that the shipping of physical media is dying and that mobile hardware iterates much faster than your typical console life cycle. Both of those points I find hard to debate, but if that's what Vesterbacka really meant he was taken way, way out of context. Then yesterday evening came word that the Android version of the movie tie-in game, Angry Birds Rio is going to be an exclusive to the forthcoming Amazon App Store (though for how long isn't clear). This is great news for the Amazon App Store (and now we know it'll be live by March 22nd since that's when the game comes out) but it means any loyal Android-using Angry Birds fans are going to have to go to a new app store if they want the game. How much of an issue that winds up being we won't know until the Amazon App Store launches. I'd like to think it'll be a better experience than the Android Market, but I'd prefer finding that out on my terms rather than being pressured to switch by a developer who now has a lot of clout. What'd I'd like to say to Roxio's Vesterbacka is that a bit of humility goes a long way, in particular right around the time when your next non-bird-flinging game launches. If Rovio wants to swagger around like a big-shot, that's fine, but understand that your audience is going to react much more strongly to any failings in your next game if you do. You're on top now, sure, but in gaming you're only as good as your last launch. Alienating fans with hubris is never a smart move.

Peter Smith writes about personal technology for ITworld. Follow him on Twitter @pasmith.

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