What Small Developers Can Learn from “Angry Birds”’ Success

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Once upon a time, “Angry Birds” was just a little-known game on the App Store. Eventually, though, well, I don’t need to tell you about what’s become of the title by Finnish computer game developer Rovio Entertainment. It’s a massive empire now, with its most recent outposts being an online TV show (which a “Simpsons” writer is assisting on) and now a book.

It can be easy for a small developer to look at that and scowl, or look at it with puppy-dog eyes and wonder, “How can I replicate this success?”

I can’t answer that and won’t be trying to in this post. Instead, I am taking a closer look at the expansion itself and trying to tease out whether there’s such a thing as being too saturated as an IP for an App Store game — and how to tell when it’s time to branch out into new territory.

“The key to expanding your services while not blowing the budget is to go slowly,” explains Flynn Zaiger, CEO of OnlineOptimism. "It has taken the ‘Angry Birds’ franchise 4 years — equivalent
to a century in Internet time — to expand to the point where they're now on bookshelves. You can't just expect everyone to want your brand in multiple formats next week. Start by producing your product in a new, and just slightly different format.”

Zaiger is referring to the puzzle game’s evolution from iPhone game to a game on other platforms, too, and also incorporating other IPs, like “Star Wars.” It does indeed create the perception that the game is bigger than it already is, which is silly to say when discussing “Angry Birds,” but you know what I mean. But it also enables them, as Zaiger says, “to transform from a simple time-waster to two words which stand for fun, friendly, and slightly silly entertainment.”

“There is an opportunity for expansion for almost everyone with a little creativity,” says financial planner Hank Coleman.

But before you start picking out pools and butlers, there is, of course something to remember with this whole thing: “It’s bad because as a popular culture phenomenon, it's really an outlier
rather than the norm,” says Gregory Ciotti of Help Scout. “Most businesses expand through a more natural groundswell effect, such as trickling up their SMB solution to the enterprise level.”

The groundswell effect is important to note — nobody’s going to hold it against the original game that made “Angry Birds” so popular if its spinoff soda isn’t so great. So, grow slow, and maintain quality.

David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as IFC’s comedy, film, and TV blogger, he's also a comedy-writing instructor for Second City and an adjunct professor in DePaul’s College of Computing and Digital Media. (He also co-runs a blog behind the DePaul class, DIY Game Dev.) He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.

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