It’s been more than four years since Angry Birds first arrived, but it probably feels like another lifetime to the folks at Rovio. With seven separate properties featuring the round little birds (including the physics-contraption game Bad Piggies), a successful branded animation series available via on-demand and broadcast, an entire catalog of books, and mountains upon mountains of merchandising on everything from gummy snacks to Halloween costumes, the company has done its best to continue to spin gold out of a years-old franchise.
But what about the next great idea? Well, Rovio doesn’t necessarily have to come up with a blockbuster idea — it can just buy an idea instead.
Rovio released its latest game, Ice Breaker: A Viking Voyage!, under its new Rovio Stars distribution umbrella last Thursday. Although it has plenty of physics-based mayhem and the kind of cartoony cuteness that Rovio is well-known for, don’t be fooled: Icebreaker is the brainchild of London-based developer Nitrome, which has looked to Rovio to provide the name recognition and promotion opportunities that only the father of Angry Birds can provide.
It’s important to recognize that while the Rovio Stars label is new, Rovio’s technique of buying up properties and then spinning them under the Finnish company’s name isn’t new. Amazing Alex, a Rovio title released last October, was spun under the company’s name but had lived a previous life as Casey’s Contraptions, a 2011 title by Snappy Touch and Mystery Coconut that fizzled out in the app store.
Rovio acquired the rights to the game, reworked some of the gameplay, and rebranded it in a six-month flip. Rovio’s former SVP of Franchise Development Ville Heijari told Gamasutra last May that the game would get “a true ‘expect the unexpected’ Rovio style launch” — but the property didn’t create as much flash as the company hoped.
Still, the failure didn’t sting as much as it could have — by buying up an old game , Rovio protected itself from the damage a failed game normally causes in terms of a company’s time and resources. Rovio Stars utilizes this exact same technique, only with new games, to allow Rovio to essentially buy up a smaller game, spin it out under the name, and then take a cut of the profit when all is said and done.
This distributor model is common in typical console gaming, with mega-companies like Activision, Electronic Arts and Capcom, but the mobile app world is essentially devoid of it. If Rovio manages to successfully launch a few titles in this way, it could encourage other developers to make the jump to distribution, knowing that their brand’s reputation isn’t jeopardized by failure.
Rovio plans to follow up Vikings, which is currently number six in Top Paid Apps on iTunes, with another puzzler entitled Tiny Thief. No matter whether these games become smash successes or ultimately end up fizzling like Amazing Alex, Rovio is blowing the doors wide open in mobile gaming and will continue to have more than enough capital to bring smaller games into its spotlight.