INTERVIEW - Angry Birds game creators set sights on Hollywood
HELSINKI (Reuters Life!) - Rovio, the Finnish developer behind the Angry Birds game that has hooked millions of iPhone users worldwide, has held talks with Hollywood studios and is being courted by potential buyers, its chief executive said.
Angry Birds has topped the charts of paid-for Apple apps for months in about 60 countries including the U.S. and Britain, and is now attracting interest from investors hungry to reach a potential market of more than a billion consumers.
Mikael Hed told Reuters that Rovio, until now funded by a single investment round from a business angel in 2005, would "very likely" take further investment, and had had approaches to buy the company outright.
He also has ambitions to turn Angry Birds into a fully-fledged entertainment brand in the way that Walt Disney's Pixar has done with characters from Toy Story or Monsters, Inc.
"We want to go beyond games," Hed said in an interview at the company's modest offices in central Helsinki, which the 23-strong team will vacate next week for roomier premises near Nokia's headquarters on the coast.
He said Rovio had held talks with major studios but so far had not agreed any deals.
A cinematic trailer telling the back story of the evil green pigs and cute but vengeful birds that populate the game has already been uploaded to YouTube by Rovio and has been viewed more than 5 million times. (r.reuters.com/vyw45n)
"Investors are banging on our door," Hed said, declining to elaborate. Asked how much the company could be worth, Hed said: "A lot more than anybody could imagine. It's one of the great opportunities that we have."
Angry Birds -- in which players have to help the birds destroy the pigs who stole their eggs, with the help of a slingshot -- has broken new ground in mobile gaming by staying at the top of the charts -- unlike most mobile-game crazes.
Its success suggests that a tipping point in mobile gaming that has been long-awaited by established video-games publishers like Electronic Arts may be close.
EA's chief operating offer told Reuters on Monday that games on mobile phones and social networks like Facebook were becoming a major industry driver.
Shipments of games consoles are forecast to be flat this year at around 52.3 million, according to technology research firm iSuppli, while shipments of phones capable of video games are forecast to grow 11 percent to 1.27 billion."
"Their near-universal presence gives them the potential to become a viable competitive threat to dedicated gaming platforms, primarily handheld devices," Pamela Tufegdzic, iSuppli consumer-electronics analyst, said in a recent report.
Rovio has been transformed by Angry Birds. The paid-for version, which costs $0.99, has been downloaded 6.5 million times, and the pared-down free version 11 million times. Rovio receives 70 percent of the proceeds.
The company plans to launch a version for Hewlett-Packard's Palm next week and a version in about two weeks for phones based on Google's Android, which are already selling in greater numbers than iPhones, Hed said.
Over the next year or two, Rovio is aiming for 100 million Angry Birds downloads.
(Editing by Steve Addison)
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