He is widely known as the Mighty Eagle. He always wears a red hoodie. He spends more time on air than on ground. He is hardly a night in the same city. His world is one of birds and pigs… You would think this is the description of a fictional character. Not so. Meet Peter Vesterbacka, the face of Angry Birds.
Give me some of the crazy stats? How many people play Angry Birds, who are they, where are they, how much do they play?
Hundreds of millions of people play every day. We hit the first billion downloads in May. Now we are working on the second billion! More people play Angry Birds that any other game. The demographic for Angry Birds is the same demographic as that of any country. People of all ages, girls and boys, men and women, everyone plays.
I guess other than chocolate, no one can claim to have that kind of demographics…
Very few things have universal appeal, especially in entertainment.
What is the story of the first game?
In 2003 I worked in HP and ran a competition for the best mobile multiplayer game. Niklas Hed and two of his friends were students at the Helsinki University of Technology and won with King of the Cabbage World. After the competition I suggested they start a company to make games, because that is what they loved doing. They did. 51 games and 6 years later Angry Birds came along! It was not easy but one learns a lot from not succeeding.
Those days there were no app stores- we had to go via operators and major mobile phone manufacturers. Our game Bounce has been sold in 250 million Nokia devices. Distribution and business models were much harder then.
What is the story of the birds and pigs?
Game designer Jaako Iisalo designed the birds. Everyone fell in love with the birds so we decided to make a game around them. There was swine flu at the time, so we decided to add the pigs! Today every kid knows pigs and birds are natural enemies because pigs steal eggs.
The slingshot that everyone knows and loves and identifies with the game is in fact a late addition. Before you were swinging the birds but it was difficult to figure out why and how.
Are you siding with pigs or birds?
I am the Mighty Eagle so obviously I am a bird. But Bad Piggies is the first game that takes the perspective of the pigs! We launched a little over a month ago and we have been very successful. The ramp curve is steeper to the original Angry Birds launch.
You first took the birds to Rio and now of course they have been even to space with NASA and we hear that something is coming up…
The biggest launch this year will be Angry Birds Star Wars. It will be the biggest launch ever! We can already see that from search engines. This is Phase 2 of our Angry Birds excursions to space, following on with what we did with NASA and National Geographic.
We always want to work with the best partners. George Lucas and the team have done an amazing job since 1977. We felt we could learn from them so we called them up and that is how it all began.
With Angry Birds Rio we did the first 10 million downloads in 8 days. With Angry Birds space it was 3. We are getting better!
When you launch a game is not just a game. It is a franchise…
Absolutely. With Star Wars we partnered with Hasbro and will have products around 26 markets simultaneously on October 28: US, China, Europe.
When did you guys realize you are ambition was not to be a games company?
Pretty early on. We think we are a Triple E company: Education, Entertainment, Entrepreneurship. When we think of compare ourselves to Disney and entertainment houses.
In Education we announced Angry Birds Playground. Our aim is to make gaming fun. We just added Zern to NASA and National Geographic partnerships. There is no reason why even quantum physics cannot be learnt in a fun way! In Finland we found out that boys speak better English than girls. The reason? Not schooling. Boys play more games and they are all in English. We can make education more fun!
Entrepreneurship is about how we do things. We try to hire people from the start up community- guys and girls who are driven and want to change the world and make things happen. That is the spirit in everything we do.
When I looked at Felix Baungartner jumping from space I thought about you: this was the first time that we are talking of a brand and an individual doing something amazing to further space research- not a government and a space agency. Do you have dreams like this?
You are so right. This is the type of thinking we have and the type of marketing that we do. We launched Angry Birds Space in Mars with NASA.
We have not spent a dime on advertising. We do not use traditional marketing, In fact, for us, marketing is a profit center. We work with other brands that get visibility. We create marketing with an impact. We did a Times Square take over with Star Wars. Felix’s jump was brilliant. We also want to have planetary scale in every launch.
Aren’t you afraid you may loose your essence with such high growth?
Angry Birds is all about the fans and the brand. When we do anything we think: What does this do for our fans? If there is no positive impact that will create a wonderful experience and delight our fans, we don’t do it.
We are an organization with a lot of drive and courage. We are not afraid of growth and not afraid of failure. There is more a frustration of not being able to do more! The spirit here is contagious.
I believe in setting crazy goals that are achievable. When we I launched the goal of first 100 million downloads, it seemed a little crazy, but we achieved it in less than a year.
We want to be the first entertainment brand with 1 billion fans playing with us every day!
What is the benchmark?
Coke: 1 billion serving a day. And this is a company, which needs physical distribution. We are digital. There is no reason why we couldn’t do that!
Are you concerned of consumer fatigue for Angry Birds?
People drink Coke everyday and there is no fatigue. Star Wars has been around since 1977. Hello Kitty has been around since 1974. Mickey Mouse since 1928…. Of course we have to manage the brand by keeping the experience fresh.
Do you wear always wear this hoodie? Will you ask your wife to wear and Angry Birds dress this year for the National Palace Independence day?
Can you believe it, the ladies at Hertz in the US when I picked a car following the Independence Day party last year asked me if I had seen the diplomat wife with the Angry Birds dress? I love dressing the brand, I get so many great introductions every week because people spot me and come to talk to me. In a sea of black suits this sticks out!
A key thing in marketing is how you differentiate. The market is so full of products. How do you make people notice you?
What were you like as a kid, growing up in Pori?
I have always been creative and liked doing things differently and in a bigger way.
What was your favorite subject ad what subject you dislike the most?
I liked history a lot. It’s all about stories.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
I travel a lot to China and I always find there is hundreds of years of wisdom there. Confucius said that “If you love what you do, you do not have to work a single day of your life.” To me doing what you like in life and work is perfect happiness.
There is no excuse not to do what you like to do. I always say this to young people.
If you were food you would taste like…
Something that is amazing but tough to describe!
If you were a song, you would be….
I want it all, I want it now! by Queen
And one more thing please: do you ever have to tell the kids: it’s time to stop playing and go to bed!?
You can follow the Mighty Eagle as he flies around the world, through twitter.
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