Angry Birds Exclusive Q&A Interview with Niklas Hed, Co-Founder, Rovio

Guest Post By
Anisa Cousin
HR Events Portfolio Manager & Head of Production Mobile Games
Osney Media
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Angry Birds robots in disguise

As Co-Founder of one of the most successful mobile game studios in the world, Niklas Hed steers Rovio’s creative direction in games and ensures Rovio’s products are always at the forefront of innovation.

Could he have predicted way back in 2009 (when Angry Birds first launched on iOS), that it would be the most downloaded app of all time? Or get voted as the ‘best app’ ever? Along with numerous other accolades, awards, and too many eye-popping stats about it’s domination in the App Store and Google Play, to mention here.

Or, was it all part of a carefully masterminded plan to create a game that would conquer all charts and rankings and bring delight to it’s users across the globe?

Read the full interview provided by Anisa Cousins for MGF (Mobile Games Forum) THE WORLD’S PREMIUM MOBILE GAMES EVENT SERIES.

We catch up with the man himself, and ask him all about agility, a change of strategy, and what fans should expect from the Finnish powerhouse in the future.

Angry Birds Exclusive Q&A Interview with Niklas Hed,
Co-Founder, Rovio


 Niklas Hed, Co-Founder, Rovio

Q: Firstly, congratulations on Angry Birds Transformers. Your change in style from the usual strategy game, to a shoot ‘em-up adventure game, has received positive reviews. Was this a deliberate move to innovate and stay at the top?

We had a hard deadline, but wanted to do something completely new. From a business perspective it would’ve made sense to play it safe, but a core thing with Rovio is to surprise the fans and even ourselves, so it wasn’t even a real choice. We wanted to innovate in the core gameplay, and started off with a racing game. There were from four to five different iterations on the racing theme. The “ahha!” moment was when someone turned the racing track sideways, and suddenly we knew what to do.

The only way to keep the brand valuable and fun is to take risks, be daring enough to stretch the limits, and to choose the best possible partners who understand our approach – both with the brand and, when needed, with collaborating studios like Exient in this case. With AB Transformers I’d say we had a resounding success. Fans and media were both positively surprised by the approach, which is definitely what we are aiming for – and the review scores and the retention figures speak for themselves.

Q: Tablet penetration continues to soar, providing better gaming experiences for users. And as the mobile game and console gaming experiences begin to converge, what innovations do you predict for the industry?

The mobile and the tablets have arrived, and they are and will be mainstream in gaming for a long time. Then again, while gamers learn to play different kinds of games, some people will start to crave a “deeper” gaming experience, and the traditional hardcore and mid-core gamers will spend more time on mobile. This means midcore and hardcore games will arrive to mobile in greater numbers. The challenge is to combine the mobile way of doing things, such as F2P, with how midcore and hardcore games traditionally work.

Then again, tablets and phones have turned out to be “private” screens in a way, as opposed to TV which is the most social screen out there. PC gamers and console gamers have a long tradition of “couch gaming”, or having several sets of hands on one keyboard at the computer. There is a need and future for this sort of gaming. Playing games with friends in the same room is awesome, so this means there needs to be an open ecosystem and innovation for this in the future.

Q: Rovio is arguably one of the most successful mobile game studios in the world. And with franchises spawning merchandise and media tie-ins, sales of Angry Bird spin-off products accounted for 47% of Rovio’s total revenue in 2013. So, what would your advice be to other studios who are attempting to find success through publishing, broadcasting, and other entertainment products; such as Mind Candy with Moshi Monsters, and Zeptolab with Cut the Rope?

As the name says, Rovio Entertainment is an entertainment company for the 21th century, where the games are an essential cornerstone, but which also includes animations, books, toys, theme parks, and other products.

How would I expand elsewhere from our core business and make the IP bigger? If you are dreaming of doing that, the IP has to have a natural ability to exist outside of games. If you want to make it big in merchandising, in my opinion a character driven brand is easiest to steer that way.

Also, you need a good enough volume. The game has to be big; it has to prove itself to be something that engages people. If there isn’t volume, and spin-off or supporting products feel forced, it’s probably not going to work. Also, from the practical point of view, if you have a proven success, it’s easier to take the idea to the prospective partners. Licensing and merchandising is a business of it’s own, so getting the best possible professionals from those areas to work on it is a must.

Q: The world is entering into an age of unprecedented change and growth, and organisations large or small, no matter what sector, need to adapt quickly and become resilient in order to thrive. We recently heard as a company you were scaling back in a bid to be leaner and more agile. How important do you think it is to be able to accurately anticipate the future and prepare your workforce for the journey, and do you think that’s possible with a young and volatile market like mobile gaming?

A very rigid top-down organization may be in trouble with a fast-moving business as this. When it comes to games, Rovio is actually a network of studios – or tribes, as we call them. Tribes are teams that are responsible for an IP, game or other product, they are specialized in a genre and it’s their responsibility to stay on top of the latest developments in the said genres. Along with the responsibility there is also creative freedom. They are the expert on the genres they are working on, so they need the freedom to innovate and take their art forward. This makes it possible to keep on top of the trends and push the envelope – to have our tribes be the top teams in the world working on their genre, with a strong feeling of ownership with their projects.

Q: Rovio are host studio partners at MGF London 2015. What are you hoping to get out of the event and why have you chosen to partner with the leading Mobile Games Forum?

Mobile Games Forum (MGF) is the longest running Mobile games focused conference. It’s an honor to play a part in what has become a gathering of high profile mobile games decision makers. We hope to have interesting conversation about partnerships, learn from the best in the industry and have some fun while we’re at it!

You can hear more from Niklas at MGF London on 20th-21st January. For more details about this event, please download the full brochure by visiting the link below and completing the form:

Download MGF London 2015 Brochure


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