Okay, hear me out on this one, for my meaning may not be immediately apparent, but I think Angry Birds could be this generation’s Super Mario Bros. Sacrilege, I hear you cry, for how could I possibly compare a mobile phone title to one of the most iconic and influential video games ever created? Understand that I’m not comparing quality or gameplay, but simply the degree to which Angry Birds has gained public mindshare.
Super Mario Bros. is the game that everyone knows. Adults who don’t even play games are sure to be familiar with Mario, and probably have fond memories of playing as a child. Now, the adults who’ve long left their gaming childhoods behind have children of their own. They probably couldn’t name most of the games and characters their kids are into, but I’ll bet they could name Angry Birds.
Angry Birds seems to be that game that everyone is familiar with. Having worked in a phone shop, I’ve heard dozens of parents mention it, whether they’re asking on behalf of a child or while discussing a smartphone for themselves. It’s never Cut the Rope or Fruit Ninja or any of the other dozens of popular mobile games – it always seems to be Angry Birds. That’s the one they’ve always heard of.
We’ve seen many excellent franchises begin in this generation, but it’s hard these days for any one title to become a cultural phenomenon. That’s understandable, as there are so many forms of entertainment vying for our time and money, unlike in the days of Super Mario Bros. Sure, we still had television and movies, but there was no YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Flash Games, mobile phones, podcasts, Netflix, on-demand television, online gaming, or punkin chunkin to entertain and amuse us. It was far easier for products to stand out in a less saturated market.
Angry Birds has somehow managed to enter popular culture, though. I see it everywhere these days, with merchandise such as t-shirts, hats, board games, stuffed toys, soft drinks, wristwatches, costumes, sweatshirts, lunchboxes, and just about everything else you could imagine. There’s even an Angry Birds theme park in Finland! It’s crazy how one little mobile game has managed to create this degree of popularity. What does this mean for the industry?
A recent Nielson report revealed the most wanted items this holiday season for kids aged 6-12. In years past, it would undoubtedly be a video game console, and with the hot new Nintendo system hitting stores, that should be a shoe-in, right? Wrong. It turns out that the most requested item is the iPad, with the Wii U coming in second. Filling out the top 5 are the iPod Touch, iPad Mini, and iPhone. Why would kids want these devices? Simple – because they play games, and cheap ones at that. To be fair, iPods have always been hot holiday items, but in recent years mobile devices have replaced consoles as kids’ most requested items.
Angry Birds certainly can’t take the credit for all of this, but it was one of the first mobile games that got kids’ attention. And why wouldn’t it? In my day, mobile games were expensive, so the idea of buying a device that has thousands of free games available is fantastic. I can understand why an iPad or iPod Touch would be more desirable to a child than a 3DS or Vita. Unfortunately, this could be bad news for companies such as Sony and Nintendo, and even more so for the studios who produce high-budget handheld games. Without that young demographic bugging parents for the latest blockbuster titles, sales are sure to decrease. This is bad news in a market with ever-increasing costs for game development.
In some ways, this means that Angry Birds could actually be the anti-Super Mario Bros. In the early 80s, the video game market experienced an unfortunate crash, and Nintendo and Mario played a big part in its revival. Angry Birds, on the other hand, could be the game that helps lead to another crash, with studios spending more and more on production and seeing less in profits, unable to compete with the inexpensive mobile market. It shouldn’t be a problem for studios that appeal to the core gaming demographic, but those who make titles for the younger and more casual audience could be in big trouble.
So whichever way you look at it, Angry Birds is an important title, even if we won’t be humming the theme tune 20 years from now. Super Mario Bros. is the game that many of us grew up on, and I have a feeling that plenty of kids will remember Angry Birds in much the same way. I just hope that’s all it’s remembered for, and not something much, much worse….
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