Video games have given the world some memorable characters – Nintendo’s Mario has achieved almost Mickey Mouse-like status around the globe – but aside from the plumber in the red hat, video game characters have rarely broken out to become true stars. Most gaming characters are hamstrung by their inherently limited audience, as it would be hard to imagine anyone buying bedsheets featuring the characters of the violent “Gears of War” or “Resident Evil” games.
Others don’t have the cross-generational appeal needed to become lasting icons. Although they’re very popular with kids, few grown-ups would wear a Pokémon t-shirt, and likewise Pac-Man doesn’t mean much to anyone anymore except as nostalgia. Recently, however, a phenomenon has emerged that has the potential to give Mario a run for his money.
The deceptively simple “Angry Birds” has become one of the most successful video games of all time, and licensing agency Striker Entertainment is helping the game’s developer, Rovio Entertainment Ltd., parlay that success into other market areas. Partners Marc Mostman and Russell Binder say the property has what it takes to become a long-lasting success, and Striker Entertainment is searching for new platforms on which to showcase the brand.
California-based Striker Entertainment has a track record of successfully managing the licensing for properties and companies including DreamWorks Studios, Lionsgate Films, “The Hunger Games” novels, AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” the “Twilight” movies and other film and television projects. Mostman explains a mutual friend introduced them to Rovio in early 2010, and that the subject of “Angry Birds” was discussed almost immediately.
“We had been tracking this for a bit, and so we reached out thinking there was some potential,” Binder adds. At that time, “Angry Birds” was well on its way to becoming a legitimate craze, having first appeared on the iPhone in 2009. Today, the game also appears on the Android and Windows smartphone platforms, the Sony PlayStation and Xbox 360 game consoles and in the Google Chrome web browser.
With so many people playing “Angry Birds,” the stage was set for Striker Entertainment to license the property to a broad range of companies, producing everything from clothing to phone accessories. The initial process wasn’t easy, Mostman says, due to the fact that “app licensing” as a driver of merchandise didn’t really exist, but the Angry Birds brand had a lot going for it. As products bearing the Angry Birds characters continue to sell out across the nation, it appears the world of video games is about to welcome some new icons to its hall of fame.
Many of the most popular video games today come loaded with intricate plots and complex characters, but the story behind “Angry Birds” doesn’t go much further than the title. Players use a slingshot to fling birds at the pigs that have stolen their eggs, and they must figure out how to knock down the structures the pigs hide in before running out of birds. Mostman says it’s precisely because there isn’t much to the game’s main concept that it has become so popular.
“One [positive aspect] is the simplicity of the play and the accessibility of it, and the fact that it’s incredibly affordable and available on so many platforms,” Binder says. Since its debut, the game has racked up more than 600 million downloads, including the original game as well as updates and variations such as “Angry Birds Seasons.”
The numbers indicate that “Angry Birds” has become one of those rare video games that crosses generational and gender lines to become equally popular with everyone. “There aren’t a lot of people who don’t play this game,” Mostman says.
The game’s cross-generational appeal made it possible for Striker Entertainment to build up “Angry Birds” merchandise for teens and adults before working its way down to kids. Binder says it’s much more difficult to overcome the perception among older demographics that a property is for kids than it is to move down to younger age groups.
As a game played primarily on smartphones – which are only a few years old as a gaming platform – “Angry Birds” didn’t really have any precedent as far as a licensing strategy goes, Mostman says. “Strategically, we had an unknown,” he says. “We had something that wasn’t a traditional media property, something that wasn’t an event property.”
One of the primary challenges Striker Entertainment faced when developing the Angry Birds brand was that, unlike Mario or Sonic the Hedgehog, the birds don’t exactly have individual personalities. Even though each type of bird has its own unique abilities in the game, they don’t even have names beyond “the blue bird” or “the red bird.” Binder says it was up to the collaboration of the creative licensees Striker Entertainment worked with, and a growing Rovio licensing and brand division, to give the characters some attitude and a distinct point of view through the artwork.
With the 2010 holiday season looming as it tried to get a handle on the property, the team at Striker Entertainment had to determine how to develop “Angry Birds” as a brand. “We had some proving grounds ahead of us, so we figured the best way in was to attack categories that would allow us to get into the marketplace quickly,” Mostman explains.
Striker Entertainment decided to start with t-shirts and plush toys aimed primarily at specialty retailers. The early returns were very encouraging, as retailers reported sell-through of 30 to 60 percent on inventory of “Angry Birds”-related products.
“So we knew very quickly that we had something that was very hot,” Mostman says.
Soon after the specialty retail market proved successful, Striker Entertainment found more licensees and expanded into department stores and other mass retailers. Mostman says Striker Entertainment can work methodically because the property is not tied to an event. Because the game receives frequent seasonal updates, “Angry Birds” is more of an evergreen property than others, like movie series, which can go years between installments.
Binder says Striker Entertainment spent most of 2011 growing the “Angry Birds” brand and building further fan appreciation, with the goal of reaching the widest channels of distribution in 2012. He explains that Striker Entertainment doesn’t believe there are any limitations on where the “Angry Birds” brand can go. “We believe we have something that can live at all tiers and many different price categories,” he says. Mostman says the response “Angry Birds” has gotten from consumers and licensees has been phenomenal. “What’s interesting to us is we’re seeing such a frenzy from potential licensees and retailers, it’s something we haven’t seen since the ‘Twilight’ films,” he says.
In fact, Binder says, the intense interest in the property provides Striker Entertainment with one of its greatest current challenges. “Our biggest challenge with Rovio is finding companies that live up to the quality expectations of the rights-holder,” he says.
“Rovio looks at the brand as being a fun brand, so the licensees they’re looking to bring on board really have to have the ability to communicate what’s fun about the brand,” Mostman says. Striker Entertainment is doing its part by seriously vetting all potential licensees, resulting in more than 30 currently on board. Products range from apparel to health and beauty products to toys to home décor. In order to ensure that the Angry Birds brand has the staying power it needs to remain a force in the marketplace, Striker Entertainment has to find exactly the right partners for each product category, and that’s something the company says it is extremely focused on. “There are few categories that we haven’t yet gotten into,” Binder says.
As far as the future of the “Angry Birds” brand is concerned, Binder says much of it will be up to the fans. He says Rovio has a direct link with the user base through their smartphones, and that’s another aspect that makes “Angry Birds” stand out among properties. The latest version of the game is always a tap away.
“When you think about the power of having a direct line of communication with that many users … I don’t think there’s any media competitor out there that can touch them,” Binder says. “It’s massive – they have essentially created their own network.”