What Can a Developer Learn From Angry Birds’s Success?

11/29/10

I’ve been playing Angry Birds a lot lately. The other day, I was stuck in the most congested traffic, and I whipped out my iPhone, ultimately beating a level I’d been working on for days (Don’t worry, the car wasn’t moving. Much.). A few weeks ago, I bought Angry Birds Halloween, a special edition (for research, people. RESEARCH.). Around the same time, I sent no fewer than four emails about the Angry Birds Halloween costumes and/or stuffed toys. And that’s the crux of the issue: Angry Birds is more than a game; it’s a marketer’s dream. Although other articles have covered the game enthusiastically, none have really attempted to delve into why it’s such a good app experience. So, what can game developers and publishers learn from Angry Birds?

Build an amazing User Experience. Even those who can’t grasp Angry Birds’ appeal will admit that it has its merits. Don’t underestimate the power of user experience design.

UX design is not simply the interface; it’s a multiplicity of factors best visualized by Peter Morville’s honeycomb. Is the app useful, usable, valuable, desirable, findable, accessible, credible? In Angry Birds, the level selection screens, music, even the recognizable noises that the birds and pigs make all contribute to the app’s success.

Vary Level Difficulty – keep users on their toes. Angry Birds is, in turn, validating and infuriating. If you’ve played, then you know that there are some levels that just foil you for hours. I’ve grown so annoyed at that last remaining pig that I’ve considered abandoning the game for good. But I don’t, and when I do beat that level, the subsequent 1 or 2 levels seem ridiculously easy.

For most apps, usage plummets after the initial download. If the levels increase in difficulty in a mostly linear fashion, then you’re toying with your user a bit, but in a good way. It’s like dating: play hard to get, because it will make the prize (a positive outcome) that much more worth it.

Create a simple game, not a simplistic one. Is there anyone to whom Angry Birds couldn’t appeal? I know of a 3 year old who plays on her dad’s iPad, but on the opposite end of the player spectrum, there’s Rhett Allain’s in-depth posts on Wired about the physics of Angry Birds. Physics and math are not my strong suits by any stretch of the imagination, but yeah, I’ve put some thought into what my bird’s parabola should look like.

All developers want their apps to top the charts; it’s the best way to gain visibility. The best apps, though, get there by appealing to a wide audience. Think about what would attract different groups of people (aesthetics? simplicity? a social component?), and build that into your app.

Think about monetization. Angry Birds is a franchise now: Angry Birds Lite, Angry Birds, Angry Birds HD, Angry Birds Halloween, plus the aforementioned costumes and stuffed toys. Angry Birds made the coveted leap from the virtual world to the real world, and even merged the two with a creative contest challenging fans to design a new level. The monetization possibilities are seemingly endless.

This is freemium strategy at its best (and then takes the strategy further by cross-selling to another paid app, and even charging for a special bird to really take advantage of in-app possibilities). Like most, I started with Angry Birds Lite, but I made it through the 12 levels fairly quickly. Then, BAM!, right in my face, is an immediate call to action: “Full Version Available in the App Store.” Just investigating, I accidentally took myself to the App Store 3 times–that’s when you know you have an effective path (but be careful not to get overzealous. Tools like ApScience can tell you the best places to seed cross-sells.)

AdMob’s July 2009 Metrics Report states that, “Upgrading from the lite version was the top reason given when users were asked what drives them to purchase a paid app.” So start strategizing. Don’t think about merchandising until you have a solid product, but there’s no harm in dreaming big, right? The point here is to get creative. You can earn $2-3 from an app or two, but up which verticals could you also expand, or what other transactions could you create?

That’s my two cents. Click here for a video of Angry Bird’s creators sharing their tips for success, from development to marketing.

Update: More expansion plans from the Angry Birds team detailed on Mashable, and–breaking news–there will even be a Christmas version.

Until next post,

Angelica

Social Media Director – Apsalar, Inc

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