After making an Angry Birds theme remix song last week, I’ve been curious as to why the game was, and continues to be, so immensely popular. After all, there were plenty of games prior to Angry Birds that had similar physics-based “slingshot” games (Worms, Castle Clout, Crush the Castle, etc.) but none of them got even remotely close to the world-wide success that Rovio Entertainment enjoys today — what’s their secret?

Angry Birds Infograph

The Global Appeal of Angry Birds

There have been a few attempts at explaining this phenomenon by psychologists and technologists, including an exhaustive cognitive analysis of the game by usability engineer Charles L. Mauro, and an infographic put out by Ask your Target Market (AYTM) last year. These explanations, however, come from a gameplay and user-experience standpoint and doesn’t talk much about Rovio’s branding strategy, which many credit for the company’s recent success.

What is a brand? According to marketing guru, Sasha Strauss, it’s a story that someone, or in this case a company, tells its audience “what they’re about”. In the case of Angry Birds, the game is about some birds and some pigs, where the birds throw themselves at some buildings so that they can try to get at the pigs, who stole their eggs. It’s kind of like the story of the Three Little Pigs but in reverse, where you’re the angry bird instead of the wolf. Is any of this making any sense yet? As crazy as it sounds on the surface, this story seems to have had the capability to capture the attention and hearts of millions of people world-wide.

Oddly enough I found an obscure (and kind of random) blog post by Danny Tweve, called Was Angry Birds a Precursor to Occupy Wall-Street? that I think came the closest to explaining the phenomenon — when playing the game, we see ourselves as the birds who are very very angry at the “pigs” who took our futures (eggs) away.

“Although Occupy Wall Street has remained peaceful, the anger and tension towards the wealthy who have stolen our nest eggs and have hidden in their tall ass, intricately built buildings. Now, I’m not suggesting it’s a perfect metaphor, we’re certainly not going to start launching ourselves at the pigs and more often than not, we’re the ones who are green. But it holds up just the same. We’re trying to destroy what they’ve built, a system that rewards the greediest and most piggish of all people so that our children have a better future.”

-Danny Tweve, Was Angry Birds a Precursor to Occupy Wall-Street?

The metaphor here is very powerful because it’s talking about doing something very specific (destroying buildings) but the icons in the game are general enough that we can give it our own meaning. “Eggs”, “pigs”, and “buildings” will mean different things to people, but it’s left open-ended on purpose in order to give it a wider, more universal appeal. There’s no spoken language in the the game at any point, since it would limit the game to English-speaking (or Finnish) audiences only. So that’s why someone like Danny, who mostly writes about social issues happening in Africa and African villages, can play the game and still identify with it on some level.

Derivatives (Angry Birds Remix)

Despite what the folks at Rovio have been saying, though, I think it would be a mistake to attribute all of it to sheer luck — someone there obviously knows what they’re doing. Despite its “cute” appearance, there’s a lot of things happening behind the scenes that ought to be paid attention to, I think. The brand will last as long as people’s sentiments remain as they are, which could be short-lived or long-lasting depending how things pan out in the political arena during the next few years.

Anyway, I modified the original Angry Birds theme to give it a little more “bite” that the original recording doesn’t have, while hopefully still retaining that spirit of wackiness that made the game so satisfying to play. Here it is again: