Angry Birds: An empire of forced popularity

Photo 1

Ignoring that chump on the bottom right, all these games are part of the same series.

Asking someone today if they’ve heard the name Angry Birds is like asking someone in the 90s if they’ve heard the name Pokémon. If they say no, they’re likely so far removed from the world or you’re talking to a rock. Angry Birds is huge. There are plenty of games on nearly every device imaginable (just wait until the microwave-compatible version is released), there are toys, toons, and an upcoming movie.

But why? Why is this franchise so popular? I’ve played some of the games and I’ve enjoyed the hell out of them. For a time. Now all I can do is sit here and ask myself why this series that began in December 2009 is still going strong in August 2013 with much more to come.

Shallow gameplay

Photo 2

Repeat. Ad nauseum.

A lot of games have simple gameplay. There’s nothing wrong with simple gameplay. Tetris is simple to play. Super Mario Bros is simple to play. Most Triple A blockbuster console titles are simple to play these days because they focus on story and character development now. But Angry Birds isn’t just simple to play. It’s plain simple in every way.

To play the game, you do the exact same motion you see in the upper picture: you use your finger to pull back on the bird and let go to launch it. Sometimes you can tap the screen again for a special bird’s action, like bombing obstacles or splitting into more birds. Other than that, however, there’s not much to it.

The formula is simple and quickly addictive, but after hundreds of levels across several games, it grows tiresome. There’s no real reward. The only difficulty comes in trial-and-error. Later games offer new mechanics, like Angry Birds Space with its weightless space levels or Angry Birds Star Wars with its simplistic Force powers or laser attacks, but these additions don’t fundamentally change the gameplay.

The most recent popular culture “fad” was Pokémon and that’s still going strong enough. While many of us who were a part of the craze don’t really play the games anymore, there are still plenty of younger kids who enjoy it. That was a real cultural juggernaut. People really enjoyed it, whether they played the games, watched the show, or traded the cards. The games had more depth to them, allowing you to train, trade, and battle monsters.

Angry Birds is about performing simple touch-based actions to launch birds across the screen of your device. That’s it. Oh, and there;s tons of characters, but none of them have an ounce of the charm of most Pokémon.

In my opinion, of course. Always have to mention that.

Too many games, not enough changes

Photo 3

New characters and music doesn’t mask this is the same game we’ve been playing since 2009.

I can’t even remember the names of all the Angry Birds games. There’s the original, RioSpaceStar Wars… Uh, that Bad Piggies spinoff that was actually really fun and different but got tedious after a while. I know there’s a sequel to Angry Birds Star Wars coming out that introduces toys that can be turned into in-game characters. For the most part, it’s been the same game for nearly four years.

Four years. Four years and six different games with a seventh expected by the end of the year. Each game includes updates to new levels every few months. Maybe they’ve stopped doing that for the older ones now, which would make sense. But seriously. We get more than one Angry Birds game shoved down our throat each year. I don’t know about you guys, but I need proper time to chew and swallow and Rovio is almost refusing me that right. “Please, take a bite of our next game! I know you’re still digesting this one, but we promise the next one is better!”

You’re not fooling me this time, Rovio. I don’t care how many advertisements I see, how many cartoons you want me to watch, or how many toys you want me to buy. I’m done. I am just so done. You can’t offer new enough gameplay or features to make me want to take more. I’m still in shock that this — THIS of all things — is the big cultural juggernaut of the late 00s and early 10s. You flick your finger. That’s it. For all the parents out there ashamed of my generation being obsessed with Pokémon, just realize you had it good. I could be into something even MORE useless.

Oversaturation in EVERY market

Photo 4

I assure you I found this picture on the Internet. I did NOT walk into an actual store with all this Angry Birds junk.

This junk is everywhere. It’s in our shops, on our billboards, in our commercials, and even in our freaking pop-up ads on mobile apps. There are toys, candy, dolls, trading cards, stickers, and that upcoming movie. It’s some kind of marketing behemoth. But my question is, are people even buying this? I know children are stupid, but they can’t be that stupid, can they?

Well, okay, maybe they can be. I know every generation bought useless things. But they felt like they were popular for a reason. In North America, all the Pokémon stuff came out around the same time. It felt like a giant family of products. It wasn’t Pokémon Blue: Based on the Hit TV Show. It was simply a game. The show wasn’t based on the game, and the cards weren’t based on either. They were distinct entities that all co-existed. Again, this is the case as I remember it in North America. Maybe it was different in the States. I just remember it suddenly exploding all at once in Canada.

Angry Birds was clearly a game first. Rovio saw they got a couple million downloads and figured they could mass market the crap out of this simplistic cellphone game.

Cellphone game. Yeah, I can’t believe this either. We now live in an age where a freaking cellphone game can become a major motion picture from Sony Pictures. And I don’t feel like this was completely the doing of fans. No. I think Rovio forced this upon us. Sure, people are buying into it, but there can’t be enough people giving away money to warrant the development of all this merchandise. Again, other pop culture “fads” had a reason for all the toys and candy and clothes. I don’t feel like Angry Birds is justified.

Final thoughts

Simply put, I don’t understand why it’s so popular. My theory is that Rovio is forcing its popularity upon us, making us think we like it. The weaker minded children fall for it, convincing their parent to buy them all the merchandise. But this ain’t Pokémon. And I know I keep coming back to that example, but it’ clearly the best. It’s the one I grew up with. What else was really popular back in the day? I know Star Wars is still quite popular, so that’s nowhere near being a “fad.” Wasn’t Gumby big at one point? Something like that.

What do you guys think? Am I on to something when I question the popularity of this simplistic cellphone game, or am I completely off my rocker? Or was there another “fad” that was worse than this and I should be lucky I only have to live through this one? Let me know by commenting below!

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Angry Birds: An empire of forced popularity

  1. Tetris and Pokémon are so big, because at the time that was the best around. Angry Birds is at a time, when there are so many better options, that I also do not understand the popularity. I guess its simple casual gaming. Nearly everyone has it when they get bored, while waiting somewhere (travel).

    • You hit the nail on the head when you mentioned playing it while waiting around. I normally play Angry Birds Star Wars on my phone when I’m waiting a while for something or when I’m travelling. I got to visit family in Saskatchewan a few weeks ago and I played a lot of Angry Birds on the plane because there was nothing good on the seat TVs and I was bored of my music. At least it made time go by fast.

  2. Very well written..nice read.
    About the phenomenon…I think if its everywhere, then it really is selling. Neither the company has any incentive to push its product (versus, say, making a new better one), nor the consumers have any to really ‘absorb’ the push. Angry Birds, is still undoubtedly THE game you download when you get a smart phone, so it makes it a sure hit in emerging markets. As for established ones, the game itself, as you said, is super easy. It rates your performance with ‘Stars(1,2,3)’, which works wonders when you have problem fixation. And the difficulty is, just out of reach, if you like. And it has no storyline, so its perfect when you are ‘waiting’, as Luke said above, just open it and play. The game difficulty curve never curves (as you said), but each game differs slightly, which is a great thing for sub-casual gamer (which is the majority) because they have to not learn anything new, but can win everytime. Sorry for writing this ‘blog’ here, just reached office and…well..cheers 🙂

    • Thanks for the comment! As you mentioned, it makes sense why it has so many downloads: it’s on nearly any smartphone and it’s the most recognizable game. It’s simple so it’s good for kids (who, for some reason, have a smartphone. Yeah, because they REALLY need one) and people who don’t game often. It makes sense why it’s a popular app, but I’m still a bit confused with the crazy marketing they do. It’s certainly not a phenomenon like other pop culture icons that came before it.

  3. From the simple fact that Rovio slapped something completely unrelated to the concept of Angry Birds like Star Wars for mere recognizable market value says enough. It’s quite astonishing to me, actually, how much they’ve been able to squeeze and milk out of such a simple game that’s been done several times over for years before this particular game came out. Pokemon was at least something completely new and had some depth to it ,which is in fact what has kept it surviving over the years despite no longer being a fad. Angry Birds on the other hand is a tired old bubble that I could see bursting, but who knows.

    • I’m starting to think Angry Birds may go the Lego route: cling on to any other popular franchise in an attempt to sell more. I have done some more thinking and maybe it isn’t the game that makes kids want to buy all the toys. Maybe it’s the characters. They’re recognizable and kind of cute. It’s like Pokémon: not everyone loves it for the gameplay mechanics. Most people like it because of Pikachu or Meowth or whichever little or big guy is their favourite. And maybe that’s why the Angry Birds merchandise sells so well.

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