Roku Adding Casual Games, Starting With Angry Birds

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Pretty soon, watching video isn’t the only thing you’ll be able to do on your Roku set-top box. The company is announcing Wednesday that it will soon add support for casual games. Roku’s first partner in casual gaming is Rovio, which will bring its ultra-popular Angry Birds game to a new generation of its devices.

The two companies have entered into a strategic partnership to sell the Angry Birds, Angry Birds Seasons and Angry Birds Rio video games through Roku devices. In addition, Rovio will launch an Angry Birds video channel that will include animated shorts, and the companies will sell Angry Birds merchandise through the Roku Channel Store. The sale of casual games and merchandise will help boost Roku’s potential revenues, as it will take a cut of all sales that happen on its platform.

By striking a partnership with Rovio, Roku CEO Anthony Wood said it was following the same blueprint it took when it first launched its streaming video products. Roku came to market with Netflix as its launch partner, which has helped it rapidly grow the number of customers over the last several years. Since the introduction of its Channel Store in 2009, Roku partners have developed more than 250 different entertainment channels, including video apps like Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, Crackle and Revision3.

The hardware maker hopes to replicate that success in the casual game sector. Although it will launch with Rovio, Roku is reaching out to other game developers to get them on board as well. It also has an open software development kit (SDK) that it is enhancing for casual game developers to create their own channels to run on the platform.

But how will it work? Anyone who has used a Roku remote control or user interface recognizes the inherent limitations that come with the Roku platform. The up-down-left-right-select functionality on the remote control, while sufficient for navigating between channels and lists of content, for instance, is unlikely to get the job done with the precision necessary for launching birds from a slingshot at opposing pigs. Apparently the casual gaming channels will become available on new Roku devices, which will be launched this summer.

New products could help accelerate the company’s growth, especially as it expands retail distribution. Roku announced at the end of 2010 that it had more than a million devices on the market, but that number is expected to grow dramatically. Driven by retail availability in stores like Best Buy and Fry’s, it has forecast more than 3 million devices in the market by year-end. Revenues are also expected to ramp up, from $47 million in 2010 to more than $150 million this year, according to Wood.

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