By Laurie Segall, staff reporter
March 13, 2011: 2:36 PM ET
AUSTIN (CNNMoney) — With very little cash, the developers at Finland’s Rovio Mobile created the wildly popular Angry Birds game. Now they have $42 million in venture capital to throw at expanding their “mean pigs, cranky birds” empire.
“I think it’s pretty clear that this is an unbelievable consumer phenomenon,” says Richard Wong of Accel Partners, who led the firm’s investment in Rovio. “We believe it can be an incredible consumer franchise beyond just being a mobile game.”
Then came Angry Birds. Hatched in 2009, the game took flight last year, dominating Apple’s list of top-selling paid iPhone apps. From there it sailed to other platforms like the iPad, Android, and almost every other smartphone out there. (A Windows Phone 7 version won’t be available until later this year — the subject of much moaning in Microsoft’s ecosystem.)
The birds’ creators are ready to escape the digital realm.
“We’re going to expand the franchise in a lot if directions, so we’re working on the movie side, broadcast, TV,” Angry Birds developer Peter “Mighty Eagle” Vesterbacka told CNNMoney at the SXSW Interactive conference.
Vesterbacka, who cites Nintendo’s Super Mario Brothers franchise and Disney’s Pixar studio as role models, plans to use the funding round to turbocharge Angry Birds’ brand growth.
“We’re of course looking at the whole online social experience,” he said. “We are working on a game that will involve Facebook … really the plan is to make Angry Birds playable everywhere.”
The game has now been downloaded 100 million times. What’s its secret sauce? Underpinning the now-iconic characters are carefully honed game mechanics. As Vesterbacka puts it: “It’s easy to pick up and very addictive … very hard to put down.”
“It seems like our fans really love to wear and play with Angry Birds physical toys as well,” Vesterbacka said.
Ville HeiJari — whose title at Rovio is the “Bird Whisperer” — thinks they were able to crack into the market at the perfect time.
“Games are becoming such a massive media that all the game developers are transforming into something else entirely,” he said.
Vesterbacka agrees. “Timing-wise, we sort of planned it. We saw it coming. We were looking at the market and we saw this is now the sweet spot to get in.”
Rovio now brands itself an “entertainment media company.” Like its birds, it’s ready to fly off into new territory.