Angry Birds as Viewed through the Circuit of Culture
Table of Contents
To understand how Angry Birds fits into all of the aspects of the circuit of culture, one must first understand what the original game was. The original Angry Birds game, initially released plainly under the name Angry Birds and now sometimes referred to as Angry Birds Classic, was a physics-based game in which the player used a thumb to slingshot a battalion of angry cartoon birds towards haphazardous, yet intricate structures created by the green pigs. The premise of the game is based upon the idea that the pigs had stolen the birds’ eggs; the birds in return decide to return the favor to the pigs by leading an airborne conquest on their fortresses to retrieve the stolen eggs. Within any given level, the player could be given any combination of birds from the cast of birds. It is up to the player to aim the birds at the best angles and utilize each bird’s powerup in the most effective way possible.
The Angry Birds franchise does not consist of just the original game. Rather over 30 spinoff games have been created under the franchise from movie-based Angry Birds games like Angry Birds Star Wars and Angry Birds Rio to games based around specific characters like Angry Birds Stella to games based around the pigs and everything in between (Pliakas-Smith, 2021). In addition to all of these games, the Angry Birds franchise has resulted in multiple renditions of Angry Birds merchandise for Angry Birds fans and 2 Angry Birds movies aimed at younger audiences.
Angry Birds was created in the early 2000s by Finland-based game development company Rovio. The original idea and concept art for the game was created by Jaako Iisalo, an employee of the company since 2006. Originally, the company dismissed the game entirely and began searching for a new idea to bring to mobile phones everywhere. However, the company’s founder, Niklas Hed, and his cousin Mikael Hed decided to give the game a shot and began production of the game. Initially, the Heds were not sure if this particular endeavor was the smartest or best use of the company’s resources, but eight months later when his mother burned the Christmas turkey due to her infatuation with the game, Nikolas knew that his company had created something special (Cheshire 2011).
After $100,000 spent on creating the game and many months of hard, Rovio launched the first version of Angry Birds onto Apple’s App Store on December 10, 2009, with the help of video game publishing company Chillingo. However, after the game’s initial release and especially after the acquisition of Chillingo by Electronic Arts for $20 million, Rovio began to completely support the game on its own with full rights and full control over the game (Tsotsis 2010).
The original game was created for the iPhone and iPad as a paid game. iPhone users could pay $0.99 for the full version of the game while iPad users would spend a full $2.99 to play the HD version on their tablets. If one did not want to purchase the game, a “lite” version was available with limited access (Souppouris 2010). However, as the game continued to gain fame and notoriety, Rovio was able to bring the game to more devices and more people. In October 2010, the company introduced the game to the Google Play Store for Android users (Wortham 2010). In March 2013, Rovio removed the price tag attached to the game and was able to offer the game for free to all users who wish to play the full game (Souppouris 2010).
The game was created for anyone who wished to and was able to play the game. The target audience is simply whoever found the game to be entertaining, and this strategy paid off well in the end for the company. Within the first year, the original game had 12 million user downloads, and by the time it was removed from the App Store in 2019, Angry Birds Classic had 4.5 billion total downloads. Between 2009 and 2015, the app hit the top spot on the App Store charts 311 times, longer than any paid app ever had before. Other Angry Birds games within the franchise have not lacked success in this area as well (Truong 2015). For example, Angry Birds Star Wars reached the top of the charts within a mere 2.5 hours of its release (Cheshire 2012).
The success of the franchise is what prompted the idea of many Angry Birds-based, non-game creations in and outside of the small screen. Some of these include animated movies on the big screen, Angry Birds themed merchandise, and various cartoon shorts based on the angry, but loveable cast of bird characters introduced in the games from Chuck to Red to Matilda and the Mighty Eagle.
Despite the overwhelming success of the game, Angry Birds has not been exempt from its share of scrutiny and hardship. Some of the pushback has come from outside organizations; for example, the National Security Agency (NSA) of America and the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) of the United Kingdom ran an investigation on multiple popular apps in 2014, Angry Birds included. The investigation stemmed from users’ privacy concerns over apps in general and the lack of transparency these apps provided about what information was taken from consumers and what happens to this information once game developers have it (Angry 2014). Also, a report by Fortune showed that Angry Birds was one of the ten most blacklisted apps by businesses for similar reasons (Darrow 2017).
Angry Birds also faced some regulation issues due to the app itself. One of the earliest issues involved users not being able to find the true app on the App Store due to all of the fake apps created that looked very similar to the popular game. In addition to this, Rovio ultimately decided to take down the original app in 2019; as the game’s executive producer Sami Ronkainen said, “We built Angry Birds on our own game engine, and as time went on, and new devices and OS versions were released, this engine became impossible to maintain and update on current hardware and software.” However, on November 23, 2021, Rovio announced plans to bring back the original game in 2022 on the Unity software due to fans clamoring the company with the #bringback2012 on Twitter (Bringing 2021).
The app also had some built-in limitations, just to make the game run as best as possible. Some of these limitations include the laws of physics built into the game to make it as realistic as possible. Other limitations include the birds available to the player within the level as each bird is best suited for crashing through different materials or unleashing its power upon the pigs. However, players can bypass this situation in some levels and versions of the game by purchasing extra birds or the help of the Mighty Eagle to defeat the pigs.
The Angry Birds game was a major turning point for Rovio. The company was created in 2003, and up until the release of Angry Birds, the game developer struggled to release a successful game. In 2009, the company was close to filing for bankruptcy, but it realized that the release of the iPhone was an opportunity to potentially release a game that could be monumental and change the company’s trajectory (Cheshire 2011). Thankfully for Rovio, this prediction was correct and as previously mentioned, the company took the chance that it was given to create the multi-million dollar franchise that Angry Birds is today. When talking to cnet about her hopes for more women in the gaming industry and the success of the franchise, Rovio Entertainment’s CEO Kati Levoranta mentioned, “Considering the reach of our Angry Birds brand in the present day, it’s incredible to think how much has happened over the last decade” (Brown 2020).
The Angry Birds game was not only monumental for Rovio, but it struck the right chord with people from all walks of life all over the world. Many people showed their appreciation for the franchise in different ways. Talk show host Conan O’Brien bragged about his obsession on his late night show, showing his viewers how far he had progressed in the game. Multi-platinum recording artist Justin Bieber mentioned his appreciation for the game on Twitter just like many others around the time of the release of the game (Wortham 2010).
Everyday fans found ways to show their appreciation of the game as well. A viral YouTube sketch called “Angry Birds Peace Treaty” was viewed 2.3 million times by Angry Birds fans and video enthusiasts alike (Coyle 2010). Other fans showed their appreciation for the game through homemade items. One mom created an Angry Birds cake for her son’s birthday; he loved it so much that he prohibited her from cutting it. Another couple created customized full-body Angry Birds costumes for themselves for Halloween (Wortham 2010).
Angry Birds also represented a larger shift in gaming. Previously, the biggest games were thought to only be possible on gaming consoles. Game franchises like Super Mario Bros and PACMAN were the most easily recognizable games. However, with games like Angry Birds paving the way, mobile gaming began to have its hold in the popular world; gaming began to shift from only focusing on the traditional Nintendo, Playstation, and Xbox consoles to developing beautiful, fully developed games on iPhones for casual gamers and gaming enthusiasts alike to enjoy (Wortham 2010).
After a close examination, one can see that Angry Birds can be viewed through all aspects of the circuit of culture. Whether its humble beginnings as a cartoon in production, consistency as a top app in its consumption, revival born out of regulation, or major shift in popular culture in its identity and representation are the most significant, Angry Birds will go down in pop culture history as one of the best games that defined a new emerging era in time.
“Angry Birds will have angry users until privacy rules are clear.” The Conversation, January 29, 2014. https://theconversation.com/angry-birds-will-have-angry-users-until-privacy-rules-are-clear-22552.
“Bringing Back 2012 – Angry Birds sets a flightpath for a re release.” Rovio, November 23, 2021. https://www.rovio.com/articles/bringing-back-2012-angry-birds-sets-a-flightpath-for-a-re-release/.
Brown, Shelby. 2020. “Angry Birds CEO on the success of the franchise and what’s coming next.” cnet, March 19, 2020. https://www.cnet.com/tech/mobile/angry-birds-ceo-on-the-success-of-the-franchise-and-whats-coming-next/.
Cheng, Roger. 2011. “In depth: How Rovio made Angry Birds a winner (and what’s next).” WIRED, July 3, 2011. https://www.wired.co.uk/article/how-rovio-made-angry-birds-a-winner.
Cheshire, Tom. 2012. “Angry Birds Star Wars tops App Store chart in 2.5 hours.” cnet, November 9, 2012. https://www.cnet.com/tech/mobile/angry-birds-star-wars-tops-app-store-chart-in-2-5-hours/.
Coyle, Jake. 2010. “3 trillion pigs down, Angry Birds keeps thriving.” The Associated Press, December 9, 2010. LexisNexis Academic.
Darrow, Barb. 2017. “Here’s Why Angry Birds Is the Most-Banned Mobile App By Businesses.” Fortune, February 13, 2017. https://fortune.com/2017/02/13/blacklisted-mobile-apps/.
Pliakas-Smith, Phoebe. 2021. “Every Angry Birds Game, Ranked (In Chronological Order).” GameRant, October 14, 2021. https://gamerant.com/every-angry-birds-game-chronological-order/.
Souppouris, Aaron. 2013. “Rovio makes original ‘Angry Birds’ free on iOS for the first time.” The Verge, March 7, 2013. https://www.theverge.com/2013/3/7/4074336/angry-birds-free-download-for-ios-iphone-ipad.
Truong, Alice. 2015. “Angry Birds has dominated the App Store rankings longer than any other paid app.” Quartz. July 30, 2015. https://qz.com/467457/angry-birds-has-dominated-the-app-store-rankings-longer-than-any-other-paid-app/.
Tsotsis, Alexia. 2010. “‘Angry Birds’ Developer: “We Will Not Use Chillingo Again”.” TechCrunch. October 20, 2010. https://techcrunch.com/2010/10/20/angry-birds-chillingo/.
Wortham, Jenna. 2010. “Angry Birds, Flocking to Cellphones Everywhere.” New York Times, December 12, 2010. LexisNexis Academic.