A few moments ago, Rovio launched a new Angry Birds collaboration for its Facebook game with rock band Green Day, who played the SummerSonic festival here in Japan this past weekend. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this new game is that players are challenged to unlock an exclusive Green Day song within the game, making this an interesting music-meets-game collaboration. As you can see in the background in the screenshot to the right, Rovio is trying to give the green pigs a little more character, and certainly dressing them up like Green Day doesn’t hurt. Green Day is promoting the game on their site as well.
To find out more about how Angry Birds are doing in Asia, I caught up with Rovio’s ‘Mighty Eagle’ Peter Vesterbacka and the company’s Japan representative Antti Sonninen in Tokyo yesterday, and asked them about their progress not just here in Japan but also around the region.
On the merchandise side, Rovio seems to be making good progress with a licensing agreement with Sanrio, the company behind the famous Hello Kitty, a merchandising phenomenon in its own right. They are also selling Angry Birds merchandise in Don Quijote stores in Japan as well. I expect that their cute new pink bird (pictured right) will go a long way in reaching Japanese fans in love with all things cute. Fans can check her out in the new Angry Birds Seasons.
But in terms of the Angry Birds game itself, they noted that relatively slower smartphone adoption in Japan is an obstacle, but they’re optimistic as things are changing quickly. Elsewhere in Asia things are pretty rosy, and Antti pointed to Korea as a place where they have done really well thanks to widespread smartphone adoption.
But China is where the company has set up its base, with an office in Shanghai and three theme parks being announced just yesterday in Xi’an, Chengdu, and Haining. Obviously a big part of these will be brand visibility, and Peter notes that they can probably roll out hundreds of such parks in just a few years. Rovio is also setting up its own retail stores around China, not just in major cities but in second and third tier cities too.
Is it hard to protect their brand in a market as notorious for copying as China? Peter has noted in the past that companies that copy Angry Birds only serve to further promote their brand. And they don’t pursue too many companies in terms of litigation. But if an imitator copies Angry Birds badly, that they try to nip that in the bud.
What’s interesting to me about Rovio is that they don’t really see new Asian markets as intimidating as other companies might, or at least they don’t show it. While acknowledging that they have a lot to learn about different regions here, they know they have to have people on the ground here in order to do well. So they’ve done that in China with about ten people there, the majority being local staff who can help with business development, marketing, and some design. They still have a very limited head count in other Asian regions, including Japan where Antti is the guy on the ground. Out of the company’s total headcount of 450, I’m told that 400 of those are in Rovio’s home nest (see what I did there?) in Finland.
As for Japan, they do have some plans coming in the fall, and teased at something involving baseball and Amazing Alex which certainly sounds like a lot of fun. Rovio also its ongoing collaboration with NASA, and has a ‘Red Planet’ update for Angry Birds Space coming very soon. You can check out the video teaser for that below.