The world’s best-loved cartoon birds have good reason to be angry. They’re about to be replaced.
On Sept. 27, Rovio—the Finnish studio behind the biggest mobile game in history—will launch “Bad Piggies,” a spinoff starring the birds’ sworn enemies: chubby green pigs. For the tech sector, it may be the year’s most-watched second act. Rovio’s fuming fowl took in $106 million last year alone—and not just from their apps, which have been downloaded more than a billion times and count David Cameron, Justin Bieber, and Salman Rushdie as fans. There are Angry Birds shirts, plush toys, pistachio nuts, theme parks, film spin-offs, and more, all from a bite-size game that cost some $140,000 to make.
Still, “there’s a fatigue setting in for Angry Birds,” says Scott Steinberg, CEO and lead analyst at TechSavvy. “Fans are clamoring for something new.”
And there’s the rub. Gaming has long been a flash-in-the-pan business, and even companies with blockbuster hits have been hard pressed to do it twice. Consider the fate of Tetris, the addictive Soviet megahit launched in 1984. Despite the initial craze, the game’s dozens of spin-offs—Welltris, Hatris, Super Tetris—never caught fire. “People got a little Tris’d out,” says Steinberg. Q*Bert, an early-’80s cousin to Pac-Man and one of the first -arcade stars, never spawned a successful sequel, and its developer, Gottlieb, folded in 1996. Zynga’s Farmville fell from a high in early 2010 of 83 million monthly users to 18.7 million today, taking its studio’s stock price with it.
To be sure, the Angry Birds remain mobile gaming’s kings of the coop; casual gamers spend a collective 300 million minutes a day flinging them around. Rovio has even hinted at going public in 2013, especially if the retooled Piggies franchise makes hay. But the company released 51 flops before Angry Birds took off, and its most recent game, Amazing Alex, had a glitchy launch this July before slipping from first to 91st place in the iTunes rankings, where it languishes today. “Nobody knows what made that one game stand out,” says Michael Pachter, -videogame analyst at Wedbush Securities, about Angry Birds. “I don’t think even Rovio can explain it.”
Can lightning strike twice? In a risky move, Bad Piggies abandons the simple, flick-and-go play style of Angry Birds for a more involved, building-focused one. The decision may make sense: for example, Nintendo’s massive Mario franchise avoided the sequel curse by constantly reinventing its games. But in the competitive, pick-up-and-play iWorld, a highly public failure is a real possibility. As Steinberg says, “Many are trying to knock Angry Birds off its perch.”