With 'Angry Birds Star Wars,' Rovio Has Another Gaming, Merchandise Hit on Its Hands
"Angry Birds Star Wars," the latest iteration of Rovio's trademark "Angry Birds" games, might be its most successful game yet.
Just two and a half hours after its November 8 release, "Angry Birds Star Wars" rose to the No. 1 paid iPhone app and the top grossing iPhone app in the U.S. Apple App Store, according to Ville Heijari, Rovio's SVP-brand marketing.
It was the fastest a Rovio game has ever gone to No. 1, Mr. Heijari said.
Neither Rovio nor Apple would release specific download numbers. Mr. Heijari did say, however, that more games were sold on the iPhone, but more versions of the game were downloaded via Android. The game costs $0.99 for the iPhone, while Android users can download a free version of the game, then upgrade to an advertisement-less version with a $1 in-game purchase.
iPhone vs. Android
The different sales models for iPhone and Android reflect differences in each device's user base, he said. IPhone users are more used to paying for apps because the Apple App Store has been integrated with users' online payment methods since its inception. Android users, on the other hand, are more receptive to a "freemium" model in which a person downloads a free app and then purchases enhancements.
While the game's commercial success is partially due to the popularity of Lucasfilm's "Star Wars" movies, Mr. Heijari said the game has also been popular among audiences unfamiliar with the films. Many of Rovio's best customers are far too young to have seen the original "Star Wars" trilogy, he said, and the the game is selling particularly well in China, a country relatively oblivious to the "Star Wars" franchise.
"We have not only been developing a new game, we have also been developing a big cross-promotional network and advertising network," Mr. Heijari said. "When we come out with a new release, we can use this network to drive [app] sales."
The cross-promotional network Rovio has created includes an array of offline products, mainly toys aimed at children.
Hasbro released a series of "Angry Birds Star Wars" toys prior to the game's debut, including plush dolls and a Jenga Death Star Game that involves sling-shotting the plastic bird characters at a Death Star made from blocks.
In 2011, merchandise sales accounted for 30% of all of Rovio's revenue. Mr. Heijari said that merchandise sales have been a larger portion of total revenue this year, although the breakdown was not yet available.
The toys were first released in early October at the Toys "R" Us in Times Square in New York City. As part of the marketing push, the entire outside of the building was covered in a "Angry Birds Star Wars" promo banner.
That location, which is Toys "R" Us's international flagship store, recently opened a permanent display for "Angry Birds"-related toys and merchandise.
The game is a co-branding effort between Rovio and Lucasfilm, whose signature "Star Wars" characters and settings were licensed for use in the game. "Star Wars" heroes Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Chewbacca (among others) appear as birds in the game, while "Star Wars" villain Darth Vader and his fleet of storm troopers are characterized as pigs -- the foes in "Angry Birds" games.
Rovio would not disclose the financial terms of the licensing agreement and messages sent to Lucasfilm requesting comment were not returned.
The game has been a critical success as well.
"If you look at the reception "Angry Birds Star Wars" has, we're looking at pretty consistent five-star ratings ," Mr. Heijari said.
The game has also received rave reviews from users. Thus far, 3,606 of the 4,099 user reviews on the iTunes App Store gave the game a perfect five-star rating.
Hits after "Angry Birds"?
For Rovio, the success of its games is central to its offline efforts and broader company goal of becoming a large multimedia entertainment brand. The company has lots of options in pursuing that end. Lucasfilm has three other "Star Wars" titles that could be mined for another "Angry Birds" game -- the game out now focuses on the "original" trilogy of Episodes IV through VI -- and the "Indiana Jones" films.
Rovio's goal of becoming an entertainment brand is especially interesting considering Disney's $4 billion purchase of Lucasfilm in late October.
Rovio would not comment on any plans to collaborate with Disney, but the resources Disney could afford Rovio for developing more physical products are enormous. Rovio has said in the past it would like to make playgrounds for kids.
In the meantime, Rovio has proven it can do what so many other game makers can't: create successive hits.