Shaping the future

Angry Birds creator talks about the movie and future of the popular game

Angry Birds: From mobile screen to big screen

Rovio Entertainment's transformation from a Finnish mobile game maker to a Hollywood producer isn't unusual, according to the creator of the company's most iconic game "Angry Birds".

The plot of the 3D "The Angry Birds Movie", which will be released in the U.S. on Friday, is similar to the games: Green pigs have stolen the birds' eggs, making them very angry and setting them on a quest to recover the eggs.

Rovio bankrolled the production of the movie, four years in the making, for a reported sum of $73 million and hired Disney and Sony Pictures veterans to direct it.

Peter Vesterbacka, who's known within Rovio ranks as The Mighty Eagle, told CNBC ultimately he wants Angry Birds to become as iconic as the likes of Mickey Mouse, Mario and Hello Kitty.

"For us, it's all about the brand and the fans," he said. "We have been very busy working on [creating] Angry Birds experiences in all forms and shapes for our fans."

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This includes creating animated shorts, introducing new content to the existing game, such as "Angry Birds Star Wars" and "Angry Birds Epic", and licensing the brand to other partners to create merchandise.

On May 11, Rovio announced its licensing and merchandising program for the movie, partnering brands in a variety of industries including toys and games, electronics, gifts and even personalized toothbrushes.

A day later, they announced another partnership with Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba on Angry Birds consumer product licensing and e-commerce in mainland China. Under this agreement, Alibaba will be the exclusive online retail partner in China for "The Angry Birds Movie" and will sell licensed merchandise from the brand.

When Vesterbacka and Co. initially came out with the game in 2009, it was met with huge popularity. But over the years, enthusiasm waned as competitors came out with similar offerings.

Rovio has also been slow to transition from the premium to the "freemium" model, adopted by many successful gaming apps in the last few years. Previously, customers had to pay to access Angry Birds. Under the "freemium" model, users access certain parts of the game for free and have to pay to use additional services in the game.

The company also struggled to produce new hit games.

All of this reflected on Rovio's business. In 2015, the company cut a third of its staff and saw an operating loss of 13 million euros ($14.67 million).

Intense competition on app stores has also been a factor.

"It's nothing new," Vesterbacka said. "For every Angry Birds game, there are tens and thousands of not so successful games."

So how can Angry Birds stand out? By making better games, exploring new technology including virtual reality (VR) and setting sights on upcoming markets, according to Vesterbacka.

Like every other brand, Rovio has its sights set on the vast Chinese market. It opened its first overseas office in Shanghai and introduced localized gaming content and merchandise. For example, the company introduced a "Angry Birds Seasons Mooncake Festival" game for the Chinese festival and licensed the brand for Angry Birds-themed mooncakes.

"We want to be more Chinese than the Chinese. We want to be the leading Chinese brand," Vesterbacka said.