Creativity 50 2011: Mikael Hed and Niklas Hed

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Mikael Hed
Mikael Hed Credit: Bloomberg

For about a year, if you saw someone engrossed in their iPhone, no need to wonder what they were doing: men, women, children, it didn't matter; they were playing Angry Birds. Every day users spend another 200 million minutes flipping birds and exploding green pigs. The game, ideally suited to the iPhone's touch screen, became the most-downloaded paid app in the history of Apple's App Store, and at $0.99, one of the most profitable.

It was a triumph of creativity, as appealing and addictive to gamers as non-gamers, and an example of how a great idea could break through in the cluttered and chaotic world of mobile apps. It also showed that a tiny game publisher in Finland (where Rovio is based) -- or anywhere else -- could succeed without allying with a giant game publisher or with Xbox, Nintendo or PlayStation. When Google launched its Chromebook laptop, it made sure there was a version of the game for the Chrome web browser. T-Mobile sponsored a live interactive performance of the game near Barcelona, Spain. Increasingly, the game is a killer app.

Amazingly, Angry Birds was a side project. Rovio was nearly bankrupt and cousins Niklas and Mikael Hed were looking for a hit game of its own, rather than rely on development work from other publishers. Rovio's principal game designer Jaakko Iisalo came up with the concept. How did they know Angry Birds was the one?

"With our earlier titles, most friends and family members had usually taken a cursory look at the games, and given some generally positive feedback, but with Angry Birds the response was nearly always the same -- they took the iPhone, found a quiet nook, and played the game for an hour, before the phone could be pried out of their hands," said CEO Mikael Hed.

Angry Birds was their 52nd title; it made Rovio an entertainment darling and attracted $42 million in venture funding. The bet here is that Rovio isn't a one-hit wonder. So, how do you catch lightning in a bottle a second time?

"Combine technical skill, analytical ability, lots of ideas, and, inevitably, the art of recognizing the true spark of life of a concept," Mr. Hed said. "That spark is very rare, and once you find it, hold on to it as if your life (or at least your fame and fortune) depends on it."

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