Speaking at the new super-sized Slush conference in Helsinki today (seriously, this thing has gotten a lot bigger), Rovio heads Niklas Hed (co-founder) and ‘Mighty Eagle’ Peter Vesterbacka, revealed to TechCrunch’s Kim Mai-Cutler on stage that Chinese players of Angry Birds had recently overtaken the US in terms of daily usage, and that back in the early days the game almost got cancelled.
Hed opened by talking about how in Rovio’s first incarnation, the company nearly went bust and he had to lay off 20 friends. “It would have been easy to sell and shut down.” However, they were lucky enough to keep the best people and come up with Angry Birds.
But after developing the game they knew they were on to something. Unfortunately, the first incarnation did not fair well. The way the birds flew “didn’t feel organic” and the game was almost cancelled at one point. Of course, the game was release and as they say the rest is history.
Interestingly, Vesterbacka said they decided not to work on “the next Angry Birds” game and instead decided to go “all in” on the game and “put it everywhere. We bet the company on one brand. Before Angry Birds we’d created 51 games. So it was a very important decision.”
Now that they have passed a billion downloads, (“The first billion is always difficult,” joked Vesterbacka) what keeps them awake at night is whether they are “going fast enough and at enough scale.”
The two men also reveal that they want to move away from announcing the numbers of downloads, and into pushing daily active users. “We announced 30m DAU at one point, but that was ages ago. We want to be the first entertainment brand with one billion fans [using the game] every day, watching animations, using our services. People think of the one company people use day, which is Coca Cola, and that’s just a soft drink. So it should be straight-forward for us to get to one billion fans every day in the next 2 to 3 years,” said Vesterbacka.
How is the new Star Wars version doing?
Said Vesterbacka: “Every new game has done better than the previous one. One thing we are proud of is we are a learning company … so we work with the best people. We teamed up with Lucas Arts, who have done a great job keeping the Star Wars brand alive since the 70s. Let’s learn from them. Or Hello Kitty, who have done it since since 1974.” Clearly Rovio is playing for long term stakes.
Furthermore, “in a few years” they plan to get “more than half” of their revenues from physical goods. In particular much of their growth will be in China.
Vesterbacka: “We’re very happy with our business in China. it’s the biggest market for smartphones and where we have the most daily active users. It recently overtook the US in daily usage.” He added “a good chunk” of revenues will come from China, though declined to put a percentage on that amount.
On the subject of a mooted IPO, Vesterbacka said “The press like to speculate about IPOs and acquisitions. We don’t worry about that too much. We are profitable and can fund our own growth. We want to make Angry Birds as big as it can be and very much a part of pop culture. We don’t need to do anything else.”
However, Hed qualified that statement: “We’d do an IPO if it makes sense.”
Clearly there may be differing views inside the company on that subject…
And when is the last time they had to say no to an acquisition offer?
“Every day” said Vesterbacka.