We had the pleasure of sitting down in CNET's San Francisco offices on Wednesday with Finnish developers Mikael Hed and Peter Vesterbacka from Rovio, makers of hit iPhone and iPad game Angry Birds (download for iPhone/iPad).
Angry Birds has become the most successful paid iPhone app to date, selling more than 5 million copies of the 99-cent game in the past six months alone. Did it get there overnight? No, but in the world of App Store development, its ascension was brisk.
So how did it all start? Toward the end of last year, the Rovio developers said they decided they wanted to try to make what Vesterbacka called "the perfect iPhone game." They wanted to make the best use of the touch screen, create characters that people of all ages could identify with, and make a game that would have lasting value, all while making it clear to customers that they would get the most value for their money.
Once Angry Birds was ready for prime time, they looked at the iTunes App Store to see how they could get their pride and joy in front of the most users. The Rovio guys quickly figured out that popular iPhone game publisher Chillingo seemed to get highlighted by Apple the most, so they joined forces with the publishing behemoth in the hopes they would receive more exposure.
Nobody would have guessed what happened next. Over the course of only a few months, Angry Birds had shot to the top of the Finnish charts of the iTunes App Store. As Hed explained, this was mostly because of some viral marketing among Rovio's staff, simply showing friends and family their creation. Soon after, Angry Birds reached number one in the U.K. App Store, followed shortly thereafter by a top spot in the U.S.
According to Rovio, its Angry Birds app is being downloaded 60,000 downloads per day. But perhaps more astonishing is that 77 percent of Angry Birds owners update the game as soon as an update becomes available--which is a strong indication that people continue to play. The game has been a smashing success on the iPad as well, even though early iterations on the larger tablet device didn't keep pace with the added levels and bird choices in the iPhone versions. According to Rovio, this early neglect of the iPad user base made them decide to shift its focus and make the iPad the front-runner for changes and updates. Though the developers couldn't be specific, they assured us that more changes are on the way for Angry Birds in the near future. But, perhaps more interesting is their take on the vision of Angry Birds as a franchise.
Angry Birds players will probably agree that part of the allure of this physics-based touch screen demolition game is the unique and simple story line: Evil Green pigs have stolen the bird's eggs and now the birds are hell bent on getting them back. Those little muttering birds in all their incarnations are inescapably charming and even the evil green pigs are cute, if somewhat infuriating the longer a level takes to complete.
According to Rovio, rather than taking the easy route of coming out with numbered sequels, they want to expand on the Angry Birds world and continue to develop the Angry Birds characters in other games, start merchandising the characters with T-shirts, stuffed animals, and the like, and truly make Angry Birds a franchise. While they assured us that Angry Birds would continue to receive updates with new birds and new levels in the future, its larger vision is to model the Angry Birds franchise after other hit titles with lasting presence in the gaming world. At 60,000 downloads per day, we don't think it is so far-fetched they compare itself to hit game franchises such as Tetris and Nintendo's Mario.
As a company, Rovio wants to try to model its business after other success stories like Apple and Pixar. The developers said their philosophy is to continue to make superb products that stand out from the rest. Whether they achieve the status of those storied companies remains to be seen, but their lofty goals should let users know Rovio isn't going anywhere--Angry Birds in its current incarnation is only the beginning.
Right now, Angry Birds continues to rule the iTunes App Store, and it has become a household name for iPhone and iPad players of all ages. Starting next week, Angry Birds will be available on Palm and soon will come to Android devices as well. Though they are in the early stages, Vesterbacka says the company is envisioning bringing the title to other platforms, to give more people a shot at bringing down the evil green pigs.
While we wonder how long Rovio can sustain the popularity of Angry Birds, there is little doubt that it is currently one of the best games available for the iPhone and iPad. With Rovio's vision of the franchise, Apple's iTunes App Store and the iOS platform at large may just be the first step.
CNET's Josh Lowensohn contributed to this report.