Angry Birds spinoff products on display at the Macworld Asia 2011 in Beijing. Manufacturers, hoping to cash in on the popularity of the game, have created toys, cell phone decorations, shoes, costumes, glasses, and many other products. Rovio even sold Angry Birds mooncakes in China for this year’s Mid-Autumn Festival.
Zhang Yimin, 59, who works for a television station in Anhui province, recently begin sharing the same hobby as his 31-year-old daughter: playing Angry Birds.
After visiting his daughter in Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province, he was immediately hooked on the game even though he doesn’t know the name and calls it “birds fighting pigs”.
“My three-year-old grandson also likes the game very much and always tries to grab the iPad from my hands when I play,” Zhang said.
Playing Angry Birds is “what 300 million people do every day around the world and the game is suitable for all ages”, said Peter Vesterbacka, the chief marketing officer of Finland-based Rovio Mobile Ltd, which was established in 2003 and received worldwide acclaim in 2009 for the game.
The game’s success put Vesterbacka on TIME magazine’s list of the top 100 most influential people of 2011 in April. However, he said he doesn’t expect to be the next Mark Zuckerburg, the founder of Facebook who was awarded “TIME Person of the Year” in 2010.
According to statistics from Rovio, nearly 40 million people have downloaded Angry Birds in China and Vesterbacka expects the number to hit 100 million by the end of the year.
Zhao Changshuo, who works for China Mobile Ltd, is a fan of the game and plays the game on his smartphone and his computer for more than an hour every day.
“The game helps me release stress brought on by the pressure of work,” he said.
Zheng Feijie, one of Zhao’s colleagues, started playing the game early last year, shortly after it was released in China. At first, she often spent more than four hours a day on the game and would sometimes stay up all night. She completed the game in half a month and does not play it as often now.
Zheng credits “the lovely pictures and simple game mechanics” for her initial fanaticism.
The two veteran players may soon have an opportunity to show their gaming talent.
According to Vesterbacka, Rovio is cooperating with China Mobile to organize a nationwide Angry Birds contest, which the companies claim to be “the world’s largest mobile games competition”. The final will be held in Beijing near the end of year.
“Its purpose is to find the best Angry Birds players in China,” said Vesterbacka, who used to work for Hewlett-Packard Co (HP) but joined Rovio two years ago.
“The founders of Rovio were also the champions of a mobile game competition organized by HP. The winnings encouraged them to start a game company.”
With Rovio’s increased focus on the Chinese market this year, Angry Birds has flown far beyond its home, nesting in mobile devices halfway across the globe and perching in their fans’ daily lives.
Manufacturers, hoping to cash in on the popularity of the game, have created toys, cell phone decorations, shoes, costumes, glasses, and many other products.
Rovio even sold Angry Birds mooncakes in China for this year’s Mid-Autumn Festival.
Many spinoff products, such as car decals, pendents, and cell phone cases, are available on taobao.com, a Chinese e-commerce website.
A search for Angry Birds on taobao.com will produce nearly 170,000 results, but only a small fraction of the sellers supply authentic products.
A real-life outdoor re-creation of the game was offered for a short period in Changsha, the capital of Hunan province, in late August.
However, since it had not received permission from Rovio, the game was closed down shortly after.
“I think it’s fine, and we would like to negotiate with the park to give an official license,” Vesterbacka said. “We are happy to see that our brand is so popular.”
Vesterbacka regularly consults with lawyers to seek solutions regarding intellectual property rights in China.
A battle with knock-off producers is not a good idea, he said.
“It’s a war we cannot win, and what we are concentrating on is to offer better authentic products.”
Vesterbacka aims for Angry Birds to be the leading entertainment brand in China and to achieve the same amount of recognition and influence as Disney characters.
Rovio released the Mid-Autumn Festival version of the game worldwide in early September. An upcoming version highlighting the Chinese Spring Festival is in development.
Chinese fans will have even more to cheer about as Rovio recently announced that it will open its first design facility outside Finland in Shanghai on Oct 18.
Its goal is to develop more Chinese-themed Angry Birds products, including comic books, animation, and more Chinese versions of the game.
Rovio’s official Chinese website will be online soon and the company is planning to build Angry Birds’ theme parks in a couple of years.
“If the theme park is really like a Disneyland, I will definitely go there,” said 24-year-old fan Huang Xiaochao.
“For us, what we have done so far is just a rehearsal,” Vesterbacka said. “We will bring more Angry Birds, including more Chinese Angry Birds, and everything about it also will be influenced by China.”