Maker Faire 2011 Roundup: Angry Birds
Historically, most games were played only by those willing to put significant money and time into them. In order to play Nintendo games, you had to purchase a Nintendo. In order to play computer games, you needed a fast processor, a lot of memory, and a good graphics card. In order to play arcade games you had to go directly to an arcade along with an ample supply of quarters.
A small subset of games were available for less dedicated gamers. Microsoft Windows came with Minesweeper and Solitaire, two small games that were played by hundreds of millions. The Internet provided other casual games, originally HTML-based games like Neopets and Kingdom of Loathing, and later adding graphics and sound via Flash.
PopCap Games was founded in 2000. Their first game was the casual game Bejeweled, which was an immediate hit. It had simple gameplay but relatively flashy effects for the time. A simple decision could cause a cascade of jewels falling from the top of the screen and exploding into points. While the game wasn’t particularly deep, it had enough strategy that a player could improve their own skills and thereby improve their average score.
The casual gaming market expanded rapidly, getting a further boost with the rise of the smartphone and with Facebook. Companies quickly realized that the iPhone was a major market. While casual gamers weren’t willing to spend large amounts of money on iPhone games, the sheer market size – which, today, has surpassed one hundred million users – meant that even a one-dollar program could easily make a profit.
While some large-budget game companies release hits on their first try, most have to try two, three, or even half a dozen times. Casual gaming is another world altogether. The low budget of these games mean that a well-funded company can try dozens of times before releasing a hit. Rovio Mobile released Angry Birds in late 2009, but it wasn’t preceded by one or two games – Angry Birds was preceded by more than thirty releases, dating back to the company’s foundation in 2003.
Angry Birds’s cartoony graphics, simple gameplay, and flashy effects were attractive to many users. Like Bejeweled, Angry Birds is not a deep or complex game, but does encourage players to increase their skills through practice. The simple but entertaining plot has resulted in many spinoffs and jokes, and references are common in popular culture.
Casual games tend to be attractive to all audiences, and in our voting, Angry Birds had the largest age range. We received a vote from a player born in 1944 and a vote from a player born in 2003, as well as many votes in-between. Interestingly, Angry Birds received a second-place position in both our 1950-1959 birth year bracket and our 2000-2011 birthyear bracket but didn’t show up in the top lists for any of the intermediate brackets.