Angry Birds maker sets sights on S'pore

SINGAPORE - The Finnish company behind the insanely addictive Angry Birds game is turning its eye to Singapore but with more modest aims.

Chief marketing officer Peter Vesterbacka tells The Straits Times that Rovio hopes to develop activities based on its educational products but there are no fixed plans yet.

"Finland and Singapore are similar, small with good educational standards. We can collaborate on education. One way is through our Angry Birds publications for children."

Mr Vesterbacka, who was in Singapore last week as part of a Finnish government trade delegation, knows the value of spending time to come up with new products.

Rovio, which began 10 years ago, produced 51 games - many developed for other game publishers - before it hit on Angry Birds.

The idea of launching birds in the air to kill pigs seemed like a crazy idea but Angry Birds has become one of the most successful digital games of all time with 1.7 billion downloads since it debuted almost four years ago.

Apple's App Store announced last month that Angry Birds is the top-selling paid game on the iPhone and second on the iPad.

With a runaway train like that on its hands, it is a no-brainer that Rovio is doing all it can to ensure that the game and its brand survives for the next 100 years.

Mr Vesterbacka says: "We're not in a rush, we're taking a long-term view of building the brands... Hello Kitty... started in 1974, Mickey Mouse in 1928, Star Wars in 1997. They are all still going strong. For Rovio, we're at the beginning of our journey."

Rovio, which is based in Helsinki, is doing all it can to spread the brand, attaching Angry Birds to movies, theme parks, educational books, toys and events.

Mr Vesterbacka goes the extra mile, too. Apart from being a regular player of the game, he is always seen in a red hoodie with an Angry Birds character on the front. His business card reads "Mighty Eagle", a character from the game.

"We're a triple-E company: entertainment, education and entrepreneurship. In entertainment, we've released many free upgrades and we've released specially themed paid versions such as Angry Birds Star Wars," he says.

"We have an Angry Birds animation channel where we screen short animation clips based on the game. It appears as part of the game and fans can watch it before they play. We've done 23 weekly episodes since we started earlier this year. There'll be a movie in 2016 and we're building more theme parks."

It is also a force in the education industry with 200 children's books published in 40 languages.

It has partnered National Geographic to create a book showcasing real-world angry birds and 50 bird stories. A similar link-up with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) produced a children's book where the birds learn about space.

Rovio's derring-do attitude reflects its entrepreneurial DNA.

"With about 700 employees worldwide, we're a large company but we have to remain nimble. We can't take for granted our success. We've to make sure that Angry Birds is a sustainable franchise," says Mr Vesterbacka.

Success has also led to challenges. The popularity of the Angry Birds franchise also means many organisations are keen to collaborate with the firm but that risks cheapening the brand.

"We choose our partners very carefully, selecting those that can extend our reach as well as providing some educational element like our Nasa and National Geographic collaboration."

Rovio is also aware it cannot afford to get too cocky, given its huge success. "The organisation is never satisfied, always hungry for more," adds Mr Vesterbacka.

"I tell my people that it's very important they don't start feeling they've achieved something big, and that they have to remain humble so that we can continue to be creative."

Last year, Rovio, which is privately held, had a revenue of about US$196.5 million (S$248 million), a 100 per cent rise over the previous year. About 45 per cent of its revenue is from merchandising, books and licensing.

So will it keep growing as fast and will it go for a share market listing? "Time will tell. We're still taking it slowly, building the brand for the next 100 years," notes Mr Vesterbacka.

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