Angry Birds, the next Mickey Mouse?
PARIS (Reuters) - Mikael Hed is unrepentant about the 200 million minutes per day that people around the world fritter away playing Angry Birds, the iPhone game created by the company he heads.
"It's great. Think of all the other stuff they could be doing that's so much more boring," said the chief executive of Rovio Mobile, a Finnish start-up almost unheard of before it unleashed the addictive game on an unsuspecting world in 2009.
Angry Birds, the most popular paid-for game in the Apple (AAPL.O) App Store's four-year history, has just passed 200 million downloads.
The deceptively simple puzzle game in which players use a slingshot to fire birds at green pigs hiding in buildings has hooked a whole new audience, many of whom were never interested in video games before.
"These new touchscreen portable devices have changed the way that people behave. Nowadays, people have to be entertained all the time, whenever you have just a few moments spare," Hed told the Reuters Global Technology Summit in Paris this week.
"Much of those 200 million minutes comes from this type of micro spare time, filling the little gaps."
Rovio plans to use its hold over of those millions of spare moments as a wedge to expand into Hollywood and possibly even Disney-style (DIS.N) theme parks.
"Believe it or not, we have had such suggestions, and I believe Angry Birds Land was actually the name they used."
"Whether there will be a theme park dedicated to Angry Birds or not, I don't know, but I would be surprised if within 10 years there wouldn't be at least a theme park with something related to Angry Birds in it," said Hed.
For now, the next step is to build the birds' characters and flesh out the rather thin Angry Birds story, which is that the birds are attacking the pigs because the pigs stole their eggs.
Hed says there would be news in the next days relating to Rovio's media ambitions, but declined to elaborate.
Already, Rovio has teamed up with News Corp's (NWSA.O) 20th Century Fox to hitch a new game to the animated 3-D movie Rio, which has taken hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office around the world.
A clue to Angry Birds Rio even featured in 20th Century Fox's (NWSA.O) ad at this year's SuperBowl -- the year's highest-profile advertising spot in the United States.
Hed has held talks with Hollywood studios about an Angry Birds feature film but so far has not found the right partner or deal. He said he wants to proceed with caution to protect the brand, and sees Mickey Mouse as a brand to aspire to.
These may seem grand ambitions for a company with just one megahit to its name, and Rovio is under pressure to show it is not a one-hit wonder. Angry Birds was its 52nd game.
Rovio plans to cement the popularity of Angry Birds with a version for Facebook this summer -- which will add social aspects to the essentially solitary game by building in features for players to help one another.
Hed also says a new Angry Birds game and another, different type of game are in the works. But he seems relaxed about their likely success.
"At some point you get to a point where you no longer associate a brand with just one product," he says.
"While games will always be our strong area, I also believe that Angry Birds is already beyond that point. It has the critical mass where it doesn't really need the game in order to be very known."
Rovio has just raised $42 million in venture capital funding but is already thinking about going public in two to three years' time.
Hed says the company has had takeover approaches but has so far resisted. "We're having too much fun to be a part of something bigger. That said, people do crazy things when presented with obscene amounts of money."
Asked whether he has been offered such sums, he answers: "Well, we're still independent, so not obscene enough."
(Additional reporting by Joachim Dagenborg, Roberta Cowan and Matt Cowan. Editing by Jane Merriman)
(For other news from the Reuters Global Technology Summit, click here)
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