Angry Birds where did it all go wrong?

There was a time when the Angry Birds were the face of mobile gaming. Nowadays though, that just isn't the case. You need to scroll a decent way down the top grossing charts to spot an AB title. It's Angry Birds 2. It's in 39th, just underneath Cashman Casino Vegas Slots.

Since the first Angry Birds game came out at the end of 2009, we've seen 19 other titles released either bearing the Angry Birds name or set in the Angry Birds universe. Angry Birds 2 itself is already a couple of years old.

There have been cartoons, there have been crossovers, there was even a Hollywood movie. But now the likes of Candy Crush and Clash of Clans are far more likely to be mentioned in the same breath as the App Store than Rovio's creation. Which begs the question - where did it go wrong?

Critical decline

The last Angry Birds game to receive mainly positive reviews, according to Metacritic, was Angry Birds Action. It was a top down smasher that played around with the basic mechanics of the series, and was released to tie in with the release of the aforementioned movie in 2016.

Angry Birds Match and Angry Birds Evolution, both of which came out last year, haven't received enough reviews to create an aggregate score on the site. Neither game has any user reviews either. Compare that to the original iOS version of the game, which has 13 critic reviews and 52 user reviews.

Obviously that's not a particularly scientific measure, but it shows, at least anecdotally, that interest in the series has faded somewhat in the past nine or so years. A quick glance at Google Trends tells the same story - other than a brief spike around the time of the Angry Birds Movie, the incidence of searches for Angry Birds has been declining. Could it be a case of over exposure though?

In the time since the first Angry Birds came out, Supercell has released fewer than half the number of games that Rovio has. That includes games that have been discontinued, or that are currently just in soft launch. Even King, with 18 games, has done less in the same time period.

Angry Birds Go

For me though, if you want to pinpoint the specific time when the Angry Birds train started to derail, you need to look at Angry Birds Go. Irregardless of whether the game is any good or not, and there are plenty of people who think it is, there's something decidedly old fashioned about it.

The game smacks of a time when the next logical step for a big videogame character was a racing game. Look at Mario Kart, Sonic and Sega Allstars Racing, and even Crash Nitro Kart if you need any examples. While none of those are bad games either, they're not exactly current. The original Mario Kart came out in 1992.

So what does that tell us? Well, it certainly suggests that when it comes to innovation, Rovio was looking to the past. And in a way it's a trend that's continued into more recent Angry Birds releases. There are match-three games now, games based around licenses that have existed for decades, and plenty of AB games that are essentially just riffs on the template of the original game.

New ideas have been few and far between. Where the original Angry Birds was a breath of fresh air - a great idea wrapped up in excellent presentation, with a snappy name and a cast of characters that were instantly recognisable - the games that have followed have been iterations at best, and massive missteps at worst.

Where now?

Which begs a further question - where now for the franchise? There's another movie on the way, and merchandising is still a big part of Rovio's business, but that core Angry Birds game, the game that makes people sit up and pay attention to the series, just isn't there.

If Rovio wants to retake pole position in the mobile gaming world, then it needs to look forwards rather than backwards. Angry Birds was amazing, and it rightly sits as one of the games that defined the start of the iPhone epoch, but trying to fit it into a world where the big bucks come from free to play just hasn't worked.

Because the heart of Angry Birds, the thing that made it so special in the first place, was a brilliant idea. And there's definitely still space for brilliant ideas on mobile. You only need to look at Clash Royale to understand that.

Now that's not me saying that I want to see an Angry Birds midcore MOBA, far from it in fact, but there's a part of me that's always going to want to see Rovio doing well. And nowadays doing well needs more than a slightly different way to throw Red Bird at things. Maybe it's time for the Angry Birds to settle down and let someone else take cener stage.

Posted in: News, Opinion
Tagged With: Rovio, Angy Birds, 148 in-depth
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