angry_birds

Rovio has announced that it will replace founder Mikael Hed as chief executive in January. The change, as the Wall Street Journal notes, is perhaps the first sign that the struggling company is aware that its plans to continue bastardizing the Angry Birds franchise might not be enough to save it. Hed will be replaced by the company’s chief commercial officer, Pekka Rantala, in 2015.

It’s about time Rovio stopped pretending that its feathers still gleamed from the success of the Angry Birds franchise and acknowledged the muck surrounding it. That much was first revealed earlier this year in a quarterly report describing its falling revenues, which I covered in a blog post:

To recap: Rovio is making less money from all of the candies, toys, and other products it built around a video game series that presumably boasts fewer players than it did just a year ago. The company is said to be experimenting with new business models and games — including one made specifically for young girls — to recoup those losses, but so far its success is limited.

Rovio has said that the halved profits are the result of investments in its animation division, which is said to be hard at work for a feature film set to debut in 2016. But that expenditure combined with the company’s inability to keep consumers interested in its newer games, the decline in revenues from its tie-in business, and its hesitance to disclose player counts makes it hard to blame the news of its falling profits on increased spending alone.

That damning report showed that Rovio wasn’t as impervious to the truism of viral gaming — that which rises quickly will fall quickly, or what I like to call “Pincus’s Law” — as many had thought. Angry Birds has remained popular longer than most viral game franchises, but it’s still not enough to keep Rovio from crashing into the ground when consumers tire of the avians.

Rovio almost seems to be asking people to do just that. The company announced a partnership with Hasbro in June that promised to bring Transformers into the Angry Birds franchise. While that might be good for Hasbro — it’s been beating the Transformers property to death for decades, there’s no reason for it to stop now — it seemed like another sign of desperation on Rovio’s part:

Transformers was built to capitalize on that kind of advertising. Its comic books, television shows, and films were all created to help Hasbro sell more action figures. But Rovio isn’t trying to convince people to download Angry Birds — it’s trying to build a complete franchise around the characters from that game, yet it’s making them all but meaningless with games like this.

Various mashups show that Angry Birds can serve as a mold into which Rovio can inject any other franchise to convince people to download its games, but they also make the games less important as standalone products, which makes them all but meaningless to Rovio’s long-term plan of creating a franchise that will justify its own high expectations and increasing hubris.

Maybe that will change under Rantala’s leadership, though he might encounter some resistance from Hed, who has been placed in charge of Rovio’s division dedicated to animation and films. Perhaps the Angry Birds franchise will mean something again — or Rovio will create something new instead of relying on a game series that’s already ancient by the mobile market’s standards.

It certainly can’t be any worse than the Autobirds and Deceptihogs pun made when the Hasbro partnership was first announced.

[Image courtesy Denis Dervisevic