It’s hard not to recognize Peter Vesterbacka when he enters a room.
Wearing his signature Angry Birds red hoody, matching red shoes, and carrying a bright red Angry Bird-encased iPad, he strolled through the doors of the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology’s auditorium and caught the attention of most in attendance at yesterday’s MassTLC Mobile Summit.
Yet, as quickly as he turned heads, the CMO of Rovio Entertainment and creator of Angry Birds quietly walked to the back of the auditorium and sat down as the Globe’s Scott Kirsner and Google Ventures’ Rich Miner finished their ‘fireside chat’. Everyone tuned back into Kirsner and Miner, leaving Vesterbacka patiently, discreetly waiting for his turn to take the stage.
For so many different reasons, it would be absurd to imagine a figure such as Walt Disney arriving in such a fashion during Mickey Mouse’s initial rise in popularity more than three-quarters of a century ago. However, Vesterbacka, one of the figureheads of the Angry Birds empire, sees similarities between his gaming-borne company and the massive conglomeration that is Disney.
He made the bold comparison while answering a question from Jumptap CEO George Bell. Bell asked Vesterbacka whether or not he believed the future prospects of Angry Birds differed from most other popular entertainment franchises that “boomed and eventually busted.”
“If you look at some of these other big, character-driven entertainment franchises, Disney comes to mind,” Versterbacka said. “They launched their company using this little mouse character in this black-and-white cartoon in 1928,” he added. “Their story is of one mouse character that then expands into products, games, toys, etc.”
“Mickey Mouse is still around; it can be done,” Vesterbacka stated. He also cited Hello Kitty and Nintendo’s Mario Brothers as other examples of character-driven companies with long, successful histories.
Angry Birds = Disney?
Is it crazy to compare Angry Birds to Mickey Mouse? I'm not quite sure. For one thing, my three year old has never played a video game in his life, and yet, he knows what Angry Birds is, and somehow even has an Angry Birds towel.
As Vesterbacka pointed out, 45% of Rovio’s business is in consumer goods. He even pulled out a bag of Angry Birds brand coffee to bring home the point.
As wild as it may seem to compare Angry Birds to Disney, time will tell whether his assessment is accurate.
Right now, however, the Angry Birds franchise is immense and only getting bigger. With recent tie-ins to films such as Rio as well as the Star Wars franchise, the company expanded its reach and aspirations. In December of 2012, the company reported that it had 263 million active monthly users across all platforms.
There is an Angry Birds theme parks on the horizon and Rovio recently made a huge licensing deal with Hasbro. Additionally, it launched Angry Birds Toons, a weekly animated series. Incorporating a “Watch” capability into its games, Rovio instantly become one of the largest video companies in northern Europe with its new Angry Birds series available on all the devices that had downloaded the mobile game.
Vesterbacka, Boston, and Gaming
Currently, Vesterbacka manages Rovio’s marketing and branding strategy, including the expansion of Angry Birds into a broader entertainment franchise. He delivered a great talk at MassTLC’s mobile event and answered many of the audience's questions. After the discussion, he even offered guidance to a few of the Boston gaming companies that came to event seeking mentorship and a chance to talk with an industry leader.
Having a hit like Angry Birds does not happen often, if at all. However, there are a bunch of Boston-connected companies that could have major impacts on the gaming industry. For one, Apptopia, the app buying/selling marketplace, has a huge number of mobile games available in its portfolio of apps. Additionally, companies like Skillz and up-and-comer Brass Monkey are becoming key players in the sector.
So what does the future of gaming look like in Boston? Is there a big hit for the Boston gaming community down the road?
Dennis Keohane is a staff writer for VentureFizz. You can follow Dennis on Twitter (@DBKeohane) by clicking here.