Angry Birds: The Next Mario or The Next Pogs?

An article on All Things Digital discusses some funding that Rovio, the creator of Angry Birds, raised recently. The company has accepted an undisclosed amount of money from a number of sources, including venture capital companies, to fund future activities. Personally, I’ve found the game rather addictive, having played too many hours of it on my iPad (and iPhone and my Mac. No, I haven’t bought the PS3 version). In one quote from one of the investors, Rich Wong tries to portray Angry Birds as this generation’s Peanuts and Pac-Man. Effusive words, but not surprising given that the man apparently placed a significant chunk of money in Rovio’s hands.

I certainly wish Rovio well, but is Angry Birds potentially that durable? Can it stand the test of time to become the next Mario, or is it more like Pogs or Beanie Babies? Something that is trendy now may be old news a year or less from now. Just ask people who spent thousands of dollars for a Tickle Me Elmo, only to find them on sale a few months after Christmas. Or those people who spent many thousands of dollars collecting Beanie Babies, with the expectation that they would hold their value over time, only to see the market collapse. An entire company, Canada Games, went from being one of the hottest properties in the 1990’s with Pogs, only to collapse and disappear in 1997 when Pogs were no longer popular.

Investing in a company whose product or service is “durable” can typically be a safer bet. An investment in a car company like Tesla, or on-line media like Twitter or Facebook, or a CRM service like Salesforce may result in slower growth and slower return on your investment, the potential exists for them survive for a useful period of time. If they become sticky enough, or central to some industry or part of society, then they can expect to be around for a while, although certainly not forever.

That being said, obviously there is no guarantee, and the once mighty can fall. At one point, early in the social media game, MySpace would have looked like a safer bet than Facebook. Looking bigger, consider General Motors, once one of the largest companies in the world and at one point producer of more than half of all cars and trucks in North America. GM went from being the biggest to requiring government bailout money and bankruptcy protection to restructure. But GM’s rise and fall took place over a 70 year period. Pogs and Beanie Babies went from hot to not in less than a decade. Tickle Me Elmo and Cabbage Patch Kids had one Christmas of fame and fortune, going from a product people literally fought over to being on sale when retailers couldn’t move stock in a matter of months.

The future of Angry Birds depends on some amount of planning, and a certain degree of timing and luck. While it may be tempting to continue to ride the current wave, putting the game on more platforms, and working on the merchandise, in time it may fizzle out. There are only so many platforms, and to be honest, only so much you can do with the game in its current form. However, future evolutions of the game, and branching out into other media (perhaps a movie, or a weekly TV series) may allow Angry Birds to be a property like Mario Brothers is for Nintendo. That assumes that people follow the property from the current game to a movie theatre or the TV set. It will all depend on the quality of the follow-on product, and whether people are interested in it. Angry Birds could be with us for a long time. Or it could join the thousands of trendy, hot products piled on the dust-heap of history.