It's Time to Stop Ignoring Angry Birds

Or how I learned to stop worrying and love the birds.

How big is Angry Birds?

You may have played (or laughed at someone playing) the iOS app. You may have heard there's an Angry Birds movie in the works (a real one, not an amazing web video from last year). You may have seen the Chrome commercial running right now on primetime TV. You may have ignored the people on the bus or at work or at school talking about it. You may, in other words, be aware that there is a game called Angry Birds that has become a thing of a certain size. But do you really know how big it is? I do.

This year, every carny hawking games of chance was doing so behind a wall of stuffed Angry Birds characters.
I've just come home from the North Carolina State Fair in Raleigh, where citizens of North Carolina and the surrounding environs gather every year to eat things that have been deep-fried. They step aboard stupid carnival rides and play almost-impossible-to-win games of chance for the opportunity to take home a stuffed version of some recognizable television, book, comic book, movie, or video game character. This year, every carny hawking games of chance was doing so behind a wall of stuffed Angry Birds characters. There were still the usual assortment of popular cartoon characters and random stuffed animals and fruits, but this year, those were shunted to the back of the booth. In front of the stuffed Winnie the Poohs, Scooby Doos, Banana Men, and Pikachus--right out in front where every passing man, woman, and (especially) child could see them--were those angry little birds and their porcine nemeses. At Every. Single. Booth.

Birds as far as the eye can see.

I am aware that many very serious and otherwise very intelligent and insightful video game writers and analysts have been studiously ignoring the phenomenon of Angry Birds, hoping that it will flame out quickly and let us get on with the very serious business of bringing our very serious knowledge of very serious games to very serious people like us who will take it all very seriously. We want to play our Batman and our Battlefield and then complain about the niggling negative details about each. We want to write about how many hats are too many hats, and why downloadable content is cheating the customer. We want to wage Total War with our keyboards and mice and moan about how infrequently we get the chance to do so anymore. We want, in other words, to preserve what we most first loved about gaming and justify our belief that this will all someday be more than just an overly complicated and prohibitively expensive hobby that only a handful of humans are willing to try. I am also aware that it is time to wake up and take the blinders off.

Businessmen and soccer moms are buying them, and then dropping $0.99 to $1.99 a pop on Angry Birds.
While serious gaming journalists have been attempting to woo an ever-expanding, gaming-savvy audience base with tales of rich narrative experiences, immersive worlds, and meaningful digital interactions, all the while bemoaning the fact that gaming is not a mainstream pursuit, gaming has become a mainstream pursuit--just not how we imagined it. iPhones and other "smart" devices may be as expensive as gaming consoles, but they are multipurpose tools. Businessmen and soccer moms are buying them, and then dropping $0.99 to $1.99 a pop on Angry Birds. Not just a few of them--hundreds of millions of them. More than will play all of this holiday season's AAA titles combined.

Angry Birds was released late in 2009. That year, many major outlets (including the one I ran) proclaimed Batman: Arkham Asylum their game of the year. Last year, many of those same outlets (including mine) selected Red Dead Redemption. Both were fine choices. Both games presented vast, semi-open worlds, cross-genre play styles, and deep narrative experiences. Both games have sold approximately 13-15 million copies combined.

Meanwhile, Angry Birds has moved approximately 400 million. And that number has roughly doubled from approximately 200 million in May of this year, just a month before Apple announced that it had sold approximately 222 million of its iOS devices. In other words, almost every person who has purchased an iOS device (the best-selling electronics devices in the history of the world) has also downloaded Angry Birds.

Still not buying it? All right. Those of you raised on Nintendo devices playing some variation of a Mario game may consider the iconic plumber to be one of the most widely recognized video game characters of all time. If so, you're not alone. Guinness World Records did too, just this year. Yet, Nintendo has sold only approximately 260 million copies of its Super Mario-themed games in the nearly 30 years it has been making them. That's roughly half the number of Angry Birds titles that are estimated will be downloaded by the end of this year, just two years after it was first debuted.

And yet, people who had never heard of Fallout had heard of Minesweeper, and most of them had played it.
I used to say that I believed the most popular video game of all time was Minesweeper. Everyone with a Windows PC had it, and most of them played it. It was hard to come by sales or playtime data for the game, however, so this was a difficult argument to make, and it was hard to be taken seriously. And yet, people who had never heard of Fallout had heard of Minesweeper, and most of them had played it. Before most of the currently popular online game media organizations were even founded, bankers and secretaries were playing games--just not the same games played by the journalists who started those outlets. The journalists starting those outlets were not starting them to write about Minesweeper and, to be fair, Minesweeper is not among the games that have been pushing the industry forward of late. Yet most people still played it. Even those who claimed they didn't play video games.

Now there's Angry Birds. Not only is everyone playing it, but nobody is ashamed to admit to doing so except hardcore gamers. Most of us who have been playing and writing about video games for decades can (and should) take some credit for helping to eradicate the stigma associated with video gaming. We can (and should) feel proud that this pastime is now something shared by hundreds of millions of people around the world. We can also (and should) try to play what those people are choosing to play, even when it is not the same thing we're playing.

This month Rovio added a new edition of Angry Birds to its market-crushing lineup: the next iteration of Angry Birds Seasons, featuring more levels based on Halloween and other holidays. There's even a new bird, which is such a momentous occasion for Angry Birds fans that it has become mainstream news, eclipsing Blizzard's announcement from BlizzCon of a World of Warcraft expansion featuring the once mythical pandas. According to Gamasutra, Angry Birds Seasons is now the number two best-selling app on the Apple App store. What's number one? The original Angry Birds.

This game will sell more copies than any video game ever made before it is forgotten…
Angry Birds may eventually work its way loose from the mainstream, but to ignore it in the meantime is to ignore the irrefutable evidence that video gaming has so deeply insinuated itself into popular culture that a bird from a video game (one with no name, no less) is rapidly becoming one of the most iconic, instantly recognizable characters in popular culture, and a company that no one had ever heard of just three years ago is piggybacking on Apple's world-changing technological architecture to change the way video games are played--and by whom.

This game will sell more copies than any video game ever made before it is forgotten, and it will shatter every perception of what a video game can do. Think about that while you're spending your Q4 reading and writing about AAA "blockbusters."

Russ Pitts is the former Editor-in-Chief of The Escapist and the former producer of TechTV's The Screen Savers. He is currently writing freelance, and blogging at False Gravity. Follow him on Twitter.

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Discussion

118 comments
ggregd
ggregd

@starduke How many people make movies or TV their hobby? You don't have to spend half your waking life playing video games to be a gamer. (In fact that would be unhealthy.) Someone who buys 3 or 4 "hardcore" video games a year and spends a few hours a wwek playing is a gamer. Someone who bought Angry Birds and plays while they take the train to and from work is a gamer. The exclusive club mentality the author is bemoaning need to go away so games can become another form of entertainment without a stigma attached. More players = more money coming in = more games.

DuaneDog
DuaneDog

I'm going to add though that I think we are seeing some good games come (or ported to) Ipad. Spacechem is an example of a game that is certainly not going to be played by ANYONE who is not hardcore. In fact it has a complexity that even most gamers would find too steep. I'm stuck now on 'Every Day is the First Day' which is only about 20% through the basic game... and I've been stuck for over a week. It's for PC too and I would recommend to anyone who wants a game where you really REALLY have to use your brain.

DuaneDog
DuaneDog

I've downloaded it, and I probably played through 30 levels or so. It's an alright game. Naturally as one of the 'hardcore' gamers the article is talking about I'm not going to be satisfied playing angry birds for a majority of my gaming time. I typicall game about 40 hours a week and probably have 6 hours TOTAL in angry birds. Variety is key for me. I can enjoy casual games. But only for a bit. Now I'll go back to playing Battlefield 3 and perhaps some Minecraft.

Orvell
Orvell

I remember an old computer game where you throw exploding bananas at buildings. Had a class where we wrote a program for that game, later when older. Then little older keep hearing about angry birds. Same game with better graphics. Wow. I need to reprogram some 30 year old games with better graphics.

starduke
starduke

Ah, but the real question is, how many of those millions of people who buy and play Angry Birds actually branch off and become gamers? I mean, how many of them actually invest money in a console or a gaming PC, and make video games their hobby?

TitanVex
TitanVex

Apparently a lot of people here don't like Angry Birds? That is sad. It is a fantastic casual game with a lot of replay value. Appreciate the game that only costs $1, please.

Utils
Utils

I demo'd it for 20 minutes and that was enough for a lifetime. Never again.

TriforcePlayer
TriforcePlayer

I don't play garbage cellphone games. Back to Batman.

AskaLangly
AskaLangly

4 words: JRPGs. What ever happened to the console-based RPGs we knew and loved? Screw AB. The JRPG is making a comeback on to mobile devices. You want to merge iOS with JRPGs? SONG SUMMONER. That will be my all-time personal favorite. Might I add that I own an Android phone, and the titles by the company KEMCO (Symphony of Eternity, Eve of the Genesis, and Alphadia) are something...

Lazerith91
Lazerith91

@auron11022 Sorry but I just feel that there are plenty of better games on the iPhone. Like I said I think AB was a fine game but wasnt good enough to be this big of a hype. Not to mention they keep milking out more money with all these season ones -_- but that's just my opinion

halosqrrl
halosqrrl

thumbs up for rooster teeth's trailer

Shadowblade2584
Shadowblade2584

This game is retarded. Want to see real fun? Google "Tetris".

desolation00
desolation00

Do you remember the bands that innovated grunge? Well every non-grunge fan remembers Nirvana. You remember Metallica during the thrash metal years? That's nice, everyone else knows them for the more mainstream sound of Enter Sandman. It's not necessarily the innovator who gets the credit, it's often the person who does it better or more mainstream. It's not a judgement on who was better even. The innovator could have had an awesome idea and terrible execution, or was genius from the start but ahead of the times. Yeah, Angry Birds is a ripoff of a hundred games like it, but Angry Birds does it well, makes it look cute and fuzzy, and then sells it to nearly everyone in a massive market. And if Angry Birds isn't a real videogame, neither are the games they ripped off. I find it difficult to find fault with a business that can find what a large customer base wants, and give it to them. Think about it this way, it may not be the best game or even close, but it may be the best game that's been played by the part of the 400 million audience that aren't traditional gamers. Personally, I wonder what would happen if you packed in a AAA title, pre-installed on every new computer that's able to run it well. My guess, we'd bemoan the bloatware, and everyone else would just enjoy themselves with the free fun.

crushbrain
crushbrain

Its a rip off of the old 360 indie game Gerbil Physics.

Freezezzy
Freezezzy

In my opinion, Angry Birds isn't a bad game. It's just that it's the latest in a long line of similar games. What makes it stand out is the fact that it's packaged and marketed for mainstream appeal.

MidNightStrikes
MidNightStrikes

eh? Angry birds is a copy of another game... just in a cute version..... Hiaz... lucky i don't have a Iphone and my android can get it for free :)

NTM23
NTM23

@RPG_Fan_I_Am -- No, that's fine. Yeah, it's hard to read because I couldn't split it into paragraphs making it seem more jumbled than it really is. I don't think the game sucks, it's a quality game, but it's not as great as other games out there that I could be spending my time with. I may have had different feelings about it the other day, and now I don't really mind so much for some reason. Call me crazy, ha ha...

neonblueshadow
neonblueshadow

angry birds is a fun past time for when you're stuck in a long line or a waiting for something to happen while out and away from a greater gaming device. Nothing more. It was designed as a mobile game to fill the boring gaps in a mobile lifestyle. Its sold that much because it is dirt cheap, and in many cases being purchased and never being played more than once. The fact that it has had so many sales is testament to the fact that the game is decidedly not "ignored" . But it doesn't require any attention beyond the mobile sphere either, because it has no importance or relevance outside it...

bumbum1991
bumbum1991

Angry Birds? A real game? Hell no! Btw, Angry Birds itself is a clone of hundreds of flash games out there; Crush the Castle on Armor Games for example.

mareo
mareo

Is like smoking cigarettes or eating candies. Is cheap, is adictive, it can be done for kill time when waitng your turn instead of read a magazine or a newspaper. I played Angry Birds just once, it was adictive, but never played it again. Is for casual gamers, so I dont get why some people think that a hardcore gamer like me have to stop ignoring a game that I already tried and decided that it is it is not worth more of my time. I played Infinite Space in the DS for weeks, while Angry Birds less of 1 hour, in my humble opinion is like compare playing rock, paper and scissor with playing chess and telling me that it is "revolutionary".

RPG_Fan_I_Am
RPG_Fan_I_Am

@NTM23 Sorry, I miss read your post, it is rather wordy and a little hard to read. I just saw you thought the game was rather crappy and couldn't understand how people try to get highscores; and how it would replace console games. didn't see the "it's basically just a time waster" part. must have skipped that line when reading it. My bad.

Guimengo1
Guimengo1

It's nice that 3 guys managed to make $100 million + each on the game alone (not taking into account licensing from dolls to theme park) but I will never buy this. I played it on a friend's iPad and I don't see the point. It only gets so popular because just like Britney Spears/whatever new terrible pop sensation, it gets a lot of free media coverage and hype, but also because it's so cheap people just toss their money away. To be fair to Angry Birds it does have a nice "character design" per se in the sense that the image of the birds is attractive, the stuffed dolls make fun sounds and fit the cute style, which then adds to alllllll the hype + free advertising. It doesn't matter that it will sell half a billion copies, it cannot match several dozen titles currently available in soooo many levels of comparison. It is not reasonable to compare a simple downloadable game to an all-out title with production values, etc.

Curemaster
Curemaster

No... I don't hate the game. What I hate is how people always comparing it to another game that were in the different league. Angry Birds with Batman: Arkham Asylum? U Mad bro? That's the same as comparing Plants and Zombies with Resident Evil series, which is very ridiculous. Like I said before, Game Spot REALLY needs someone that can wrote good articles, instead of this crap...

scratchisme
scratchisme

I love the title btw. I think the problem I have with angry birds it that the level design requires a level of precision that the player just cannot preform at because the physics engine makes it too random. You can do the same thing 10 times until things finally fall right. For me it boils down to "I would rather play this other game".

ferrarimanf355
ferrarimanf355

So, apparently, you're not a "hardcore gamer" if you like Angry Birds. I get it, now let me turn in my "hardcore gamer" card. I don't hate games because they're popular.

Ni6htSorrow
Ni6htSorrow

the thing I'm concerned about is that gaming companies may think that the best way to produce money is by doing these kind of games for the iphone and other smartphones, thus we may see an influx of these kind of games. however, I still believed that as long as there is a hardcore gamer that will consume games that have a good gameplay and narrative, there will be games produced like uncharted and batman arkham asylum/city. yeah, angry birds may sell more than any AAA games released this fall combined, however, they won't have lasting legacy the way mario and link does.

amaan4ever
amaan4ever

umm.... nintendo actually sell mario games at stores and unlike angry birds which is free so it does not count as sales

auron11022
auron11022

@lazerith91 Who said it was original? It is popular because it combines a quirky sense of humor with simple, yet challenging gameplay. None of those are original and even that combo isn't original. What is original is that it is on a device that almost everyone owns (iPhone or Android) and is either free with advertising or under $2 without.

Lazerith91
Lazerith91

Why do people think angry birds is origional? There have been countless games like it before it existed and many had better things to offer. I still don't get why angry birds is so popular (and yes I have played it and got relatively far). It's an ok game but not a ground breaking original idea that no one has tried before. I mean how many catapult games are out there that have the same mechanics and have been around for 5 years or so? I actually recall a game that was almost identical to angry birds. The only difference was it was a catapult with rocks and bombs and didn't have the pooping bird thing. And it was around at least a year before angry birds. Let this game die all ready -_-

lantonis
lantonis

dont understand why people hate this game so much. its funny. entertainy and keeps you playing in the toilet. what more do you ask from a phone game? Oh yea start flame now cuz i said toilet game. YEA. Cuz if you play mobile games elsewhere then it means u have no life. And yes angty birds is a great and most epic toilet game

johnthek1d
johnthek1d

okay, this article is pretty much trying to compare sales of angry birds to "real" console games. Think of it as like this metaphor- mcdonalds sells so much and their stuff is such crap, whenever people are out eating mcdonalds, im suure they would much rather be eating at a fancier place with food that actually tastes good. They just dont have the money to pay that much for it. Angry birds fame is just out of the fact it cost $1 on ios, and is free on some other platforms. also- 400m times $1 = $400m. mario's 260m times at least $40 = 10.4b alot more than angry birds.

MaxGentleman
MaxGentleman

It's odd that so many people use the opposite argument to vilify Angry Birds that they use vilify free to play games. To paraphrase; "There are free games that are so much better, it's the same as [insert Flash game name here]." Meanwhile, any time F2P or Flash games are discussed with any seriousness editorially, the argument is made that free games "suck."

santinegrete
santinegrete

I don't mind parting with the current price to finally see what's going on with this game. But I'm not shelling out top dollars for an expensive Iphone (see I don't even know how to write it well, that's how much I'm interested). Is there a way to play it via Internet? raydawg2000 has a good point, though.

raydawg2000
raydawg2000

A true "hard-core" gamer should be able to appreciate games of all types, not just the games they play for hours on end or games that only appear on consoles/PC's. Its a cell-phone game and that's how it should be judged. Free time killer at work, school, car rides, etc. If you can't appreciate it for what it is, then your no "hard-core" gamer. The game is entertaining, has tons of replay value...so for a few bucks why not? People pay $5-10 for crappy DLC they beat in a few hours then never touch again lol

pinicolaroxa
pinicolaroxa

There is always a famous game in a non gaming device like cell phones or tablets. I guess the chosen of the year is Angry Birds wich is a decent game, what else should we say about it?

MooMooChicken
MooMooChicken

Most Overrated and Overplayed game of all time. I can't think of a game that outclasses it. Hide and Seek?

BenderUnit22
BenderUnit22

I can acknowledge that Angry Birds is a popular game, I just don't think it's a very good one.

ZoTrAcK
ZoTrAcK

This is another proof that the human brain evolution stopped a few years ago!

-ArchAngeL-777-
-ArchAngeL-777-

Come one, dude. How many people would pay more than $5 for this game. If this game wasnt $.99 on the iPhone, it wouldn't be half as popular as it is. The key word is iPhone. Its the top time waster on arguably the hottest portable device ever. It's not making the iPhone more popular than it already is. It's not causing traditional gamers who want a PS3 or 360 to go buy an iPad instead. There is little to no reason to rethink anything here other than how the App store can be a successful venture for those who's Apps become popular.

Firebatco
Firebatco

The reason Angry Birds gets so much attention, is because it appeals to quite a big audience, who most likely aren't gamers, or at least only casual gamers. It is, like mentioned in the comments, just a simple physics-game, and i personally don't find it fun either - but i'm guessing that's because i'm a long-time, picky gamer...and i'm guessing that people get annoyed at the game for getting so much attention, because it just doesn't deserve the same amount of attention as a AAA title does...i mean, the game just isn't that great. These people, are probably hardcore gamers or just gamers who only go for the best quality, like myself.

dbene
dbene

@simo_TMM I don't see where they author makes that argument whatsoever. He is simply stating the facts and the article appears to be a little "tongue in cheek" , IMO. It shows the power of cellphone and android marketing.

simo_tmm
simo_tmm

People still play this? God, I have to go out of the cave. Anyway, the article is implying what- that no more blockbusters should be made because Angry Birds is a profitable game? Comparing Angry Birds, Minesweeper etc to AAA game is much like comparing The Godfather to Guiding Light ep3985. They are different and there is market for both. Bigger industry - more diverse products (games).

Ez_92
Ez_92

Angry Birds is an exercise in frustration. The birds have no weight and the structures are far too solid to make it a fun game. Too many times have I hit a structure "just right", only to watch NOTHING HAPPEN. The bricks barely wobble, let alone fall into other bricks. The birds are a physics game with crappy physics...but since the average mobile gamer has never played anything better, they don't know that.

mwmars
mwmars

Why so much hate? Why do you even care? I'm fairly hardcore in my gaming-- I mean I'm 25 hours into Dark Souls right now, but I occasionally fire up some Angry Birds while I'm watching TV or riding in a car or whatever... You understand why people stereotype "gamers" as nerds, right?-- because you get mad at things like Angry Birds articles.

Sampas88
Sampas88

kentucky fried chicken up here

Bumblebee1138
Bumblebee1138

I heard lots of things about Angry Bird so I played it for 10 minutes and then I thought, "This is the game that got more attention than COD & Battlefield? What the Hell?!"

lbjkurono23
lbjkurono23

*looks at comments* lol so much hate, get a grip. xD

Yulaw2000
Yulaw2000

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Yulaw2000
Yulaw2000

That game is getting far to much attention.