Wednesday, November 23, 2011

"Angry Birds" helps small businesses

Angry Birds, the cell-phone application that allows users to hurl feisty birds into fortified pigs, is more than a nifty video game. It's now legendary, having been downloaded more than 250 million times. (By comparison, 111 million people watched the Super Bowl this year. And 131 million people voted in the 2008 presidential election.)

From T-shirts and plush dolls to a movie deal, there seems to be nothing Angry Birds can't spin off. And that includes life lessons. A close look at the successes and failures of Rovio, the company that created the game, reveals excellent strategies for anyone, in any field - from a child running a lemonade stand to presidential candidates.

No. 1: Keep it simple, stupid. Rovio didn't need to invent the iPhone or design a breakthrough operating system. Its secret is a story that anyone, anywhere can understand: Pigs steal eggs. Birds declare war. Figure out your own story. And stick to it.

No. 2: Look to the past for inspiration. If you are old enough to remember the Commodore Vic-20, you probably remember the game Artillery. Rovio gave that idea a new coat of paint and had an instant hit - one that was also a hit the last time it came out.

No. 3: Don't be greedy. Rovio sells Angry Birds for 99 cents. I can't think of a better bargain. (But I can definitely think of $60 video games that don't keep your attention any longer.) Everyone loves a bargain. And if you're not greedy, it's easier to cash in.

No. 4: Go viral. Word of mouth (word of Internet?) brought Rovio the customers it needed to recoup its costs. Ninety-nine cents isn't much money - until you have millions of people paying 99 cents apiece.

Lastly, No. 5: Never, ever give up. Rovio made 51 games before it struck gold with Angry Birds and was on the verge of bankruptcy when it released that one last app. All success stories start out with tests and trials. Microsoft and Apple didn't dominate at first. Follow your dreams and never, ever give up on them.

Willie Jefferson (M4d Ski11z) covers video games for the Houston Chronicle. His email address is

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