Rovio's new physics puzzle game, Amazing Alex, hits the streets today in a pivotal moment in the company's history. Rovio has proved that they can print money all day around the Angry Birds concept, but if the company truly wants to IPO and create a media empire, they need to prove to investors they can do a much bigger reach than Angry Birds Space. Amazing Alex looks like a familiar concept, but still interesting for a new and wider audience. Players create chain reactions between various toys, like balloons, dump trucks, and other interactive objects to collect floating gold stars and complete tasks.
The game will launch with 100 levels, where players will have ample opportunity to use 35 interactive objects to create Rube Goldberg style contraptions. The game will also be more social, in the sense that fans can create their own levels and share them with friends or anyone else in the world.
Without getting our hands on the game yet, I imagine it's wise for Rovio to stay within the physics game genre. Angry Birds' real strength was that it gave users a natural sense of how the various birds would interact with the pigs' shoddily built houses, while still keeping a large element of surprise. Without breaking it down too much, Amazing Alex seems fairly similar to Angry Birds at that level. A player lines up and releases some stimulus into the game world, and then waits in anticipation to see if everything was as lined up as hoped, and if not, there's still the chance that the player will get lucky. Angry Birds does this game mechanic very well, and Angry Birds Space proved they can get a little crazier with the concept, while still making it fun.
The question on everyone's mind seems to be whether Rovio can repeat the same success as Angry Birds. Clearly the new franchise will have a near impossible time going above and beyond where Angry Birds is today, if only because Angry Birds is already filling the top space in popular culture.
Between a mixture of Rovio's luck, talent, and timing, Angry Birds has become the defining mobile game. If a late-night television host jokes about an iPhone game, it's going to be Angry Birds. My grandparents know nothing about mobile games, but I'm sure they have a working knowledge of Angry Birds just from crossword puzzle answers alone. I have a hard time predicting that pop culture will shift to champion Amazing Alex anytime soon, but it's an unrealistic standard to hold the new IP to.
While players of all ages will likely find it fun, it's important to remember that Amazing Alex is designed to be more than just a game. From the startup press angle I keep holding onto the mindset that it's just a new game to review, but in reality it's a new media property Rovio can monetize through merchandizing, TV shows, and at their new theme park.
Call me uncreative, but I think Rovio might have a difficult time monetizing Amazing Alex as well as its counterpart. Angry Birds merchandise brought in roughly 30% of the company's revenue last year, but Angry Birds worked as a stuffed animal because they're soft and you can throw them at your friends, just like Angry Birds. Amazing Alex seems to feature several classic toys, so perhaps we'll see a branded reboot of dump trucks and balls at Angry Birds stores, alongside t-shirts and board games.
But more than that, I imagine Amazing Alex will be used by Rovio to build another channel for their upcoming TV shows, movies, and other media content they're planning to release. A year ago the company scooped up Helsinki-based animation studio Kombo, and Rovio's "Mighty Eagle" Peter Vesterbacka has made bold statements about becoming bigger than Disney on the entertainment front.
The Amazing Alex introduction video, shown at the bottom, shows a strong character and branding they can clearly use to spit out 20 minute episodes for Saturday morning television. The Angry Birds characters might be too flat for more grown up kids, but you can see that Amazing Alex might be a solid contender for that 7-14 audience.
The contraption-style gameplay also sets itself up perfectly for the Rovio theme park, which opened in Tampere, Finand this summer. I can picture rides that send you shooting through these sort of contraptions, as well as smaller booth-style games at the park.
The company is sitting on enough cash to swing and miss once or twice, but Alex better be amazing if Rovio wants their IPO to happen soon, and without a hitch. Rovio has been around since the mid 2000's, but has not produced anything really worth mentioning aside from a few angry birds. Before I can give any prediction of whether Rovio will be able to execute on Amazing Alex, it would be helpful to know how they were able to shoot Angry Birds up to the top.
As an Angry Birdwatcher I've scoffed at a few moves the company has made, only to later realize they know what they are doing better than I do. Take the Angry Birds soft drink for example. To me that was just a product that didn't need to exist; I have no idea how you go from a flying bird mobile game to a sugary drink, and I took it as a sign the company was getting stretched out too far.
But one day walking home from work I was walking past a shop with a preschool class coming from the other direction. A few kids saw a sign for the Angry Birds drink, pointed at it, and a whole group of them babbled on in excited Angry Birds soft drink chatter. Each of those cans sells for more than the game costs, and I see kids drinking that stuff all day. That's a brand right there, and it will be interesting to watch and see what Rovio can pull off with Amazing Alex.