Its focus may have widened, but games still lie at the heart of the Angry Birds maker
Founded 2003 Location Espoo Employees 800 Key staff Mikael Hed (CEO, co-founder), Niklas Hed (co-founder), Peter Vesterbacka (CMO) Selected softography Angry Birds, Angry Birds Space, Angry Birds Star Wars, Angry Birds Go, Bad Piggies URL www.rovio.com Current projects Multiple unannounced games
Finland’s biggest videogame company spent much of 2013 broadening its reach. Its Angry Birds Toons animated series, launched in March 2013, has already garnered over a billion views. A range of Telepods based on the company’s games furthered its move into licensing, as did the announcement of an Angry Birds film. The studio kept its feet wet, however, with downhill racer Angry Birds Go. Here, SVP of game development Sami Lahtinen explains how Rovio is managing its transformation while remaining true to its roots.
Angry Birds Go was your first free-toplay release – what did you learn from that process?
It affects how we organise teams. The amount of complexity in building those games is just massive, and the only way you can tackle that complexity is to build something, test it, learn and repeat. We realised that maybe our learning pace hasn’t been fast enough – that’s something we’ve also fixed during the year, and I think we’re in a good position. But it is a difficult business. To predict where the market goes, and what’s in the player’s brain – it’s a complex animal.
What else have you had to do in this transition from premium games to freeto-play, from game developer to entertainment company?
We’ve had massive growth and we’re still growing, mainly through new business areas – be it animated content, books, comics or other licensed products, you’ve seen a lot of that – but also ramping up our game development. We now have studios in Espoo, Tampere and Stockholm. Games represent less than half of our headcount today, but it is of course important for the whole company. It’s where it all originated. But we’re not a games company; we’re an entertainment powerhouse-to-be.
How does your game development arm function these days?
There’s lots of freedom. We believe success is pretty much a function of a team and an environment. What we want to do is get the best talent, formulate teams which work together very well, and offer them an environment where they can give it their best shot. It’s like a startup inside the company, the ideology we have.
You’re a big company in a small country. Where are you finding new talent nowadays?
It’s been a challenge, and it’s becoming even more challenging. The Finnish education system is ramping up, but it can’t feed the amount of talent that our industry needs. There’s been lots of international talent coming to Finland also, and that’s something I see happening more and more. We can’t change the weather and we can’t change the location, but at the moment the Helsinki area seems to be a very attractive place.
What does the future hold? You’ve compared the company to Disney, but Disney’s interests are obviously wider than Rovio’s at the moment. You need something else, right?
I think the comparison is that we are building what Disney built in decades in a much shorter time. What’s our target? Entertaining and delighting our fans by diversifying new businesses and new areas. Angry Birds and Bad Piggies are important for us, but there is something more coming from us for sure. We’re not going to be a single-brand company.
Rovio’s Tampere studio, opened in 2012, has reduced its reliance on the Helsinki area for talent; now it’s increasingly hiring from overseas, too