A Lesson Of Perseverance From The Creators Of Angry Birds Who Made 51 Games Before Succeeding

by Aaron Kaufman

There once existed a pre-Angry Birds world. It was a world in which grandparents and grandchildren, businessmen and students, celebrities and day-laborers alike had nothing more than Sudoku puzzles and Tetris at their disposal when attempting to escape reality for a few moments.

Then, one night, the mobile blockbuster that is Angry Birds was born and millions of people across the globe embraced the game with a fervor and passion traditionally reserved for console-based series like Mario and Call of Duty.

Though Angry Birds seemed to experience an unprecedented, rapid rise to stardom, the game almost never made it to distribution.

After eight years of toiling and 51 games that failed to gain much traction, Rovio, the Finnish developer that designed the game, was on the verge of bankruptcy in 2009. Rovio cofounders and cousins Mikael and Niklas Hed knew that in order to save their flailing business, their 52nd release needed to be nothing short of perfect.

"We thought we would need to do 10 to 15 titles until we got the right one," said Niklas, who helped found Rovio in his early 20s.

He never predicted that it would require more than three times as many titles than he expected to have to produce in order to achieve the level of success he hoped for.

However, undeterred and casting aside all self-doubt that might cripple lesser men after just a few failed attempts, let alone more than 50, the Heds set out to capitalize on a burgeoning smartphone industry in 2009.

Recognizing that this new form of mass media offered entry into other lucrative media formats, the cousins decided to develop a game and series of characters that would resonate with universal appeal, cutting across all demographics throughout the globe.

Following a Disney-like model focusing on cross-platform and industry branding, the Heds ran with a concept developed by Jaakko Iisalo, a designer who pitched hundreds of other ideas to the execs before striking gold with his heroic cartoon birds and scowling green pigs.

After eight months of false starts, thousands of changes and nearly making the decision to abandon the project completely, the Heds finally had finished product.

However, the duo remained plagued by concerns that the public wouldn’t embrace its newest title with the zeal they required to keep the company afloat.

That is, until Niklas brought the game home for his mother to test over Christmas. After she burned the holiday turkey, too entranced by the animated birds to pay her real fowl proper attention, Niklas knew that he was on the precipice of fame and fortune.

“She doesn’t play any games,” said Niklas of his mother.

After seeing how captivated she was slingshotting the feathered friends across his phone’s screen, Nicklas realized, “This is it.” And he wasn’t wrong.

A game that cost less than $140,000 to develop has now been downloaded nearly two billion times across all platforms, becoming the most downloaded freemium game of all time. In 2012, Rovio reported that it brought in just under $200 million in revenue and generated $71 million in profit.

That revenue is drawn from a massive brand line that has moved beyond its digital origin and into retail stores, television, literature and more. The company has become so profitable, in fact, that in 2011, Rovio felt confident enough to turn down a $2.25 billion acquisition offer from Zynga.

The most remarkable aspect of the Angry Birds story isn’t found in the details of the game series’ success, but rather, in the perseverance and drive that it took to achieve it.

Ambition is a difficult thing to maintain, especially when you have experienced as much defeat as the Heds endured during the near-decade before Angry Birds ascended as Rovio’s marquee product.

It was the refusal to quit and the willingness to fail time and time again that allowed both Niklas and Mikael to amass millions in personal wealth.

Never lost on the pair was their faith in self, nor did the two ever distrust their innate ability to work relentlessly to turn what was once only a dream into a remarkable reality.

Their story should be retold in lectures at universities everywhere as a case study on what can be attained through sheer will, determination and desire. Perhaps it is that very tale that will spawn the next worldwide sensation in entertainment.

Top Photo Credit: ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images