Legions of Followers
Perhaps one of my most adored childhood video games is The Simpsons: Hit and Run. It had the freedom and exploration elements of Grand Theft Auto, but wasn’t filled with swearing, sex and blood; things an innocent, 11 year old girl is often naïve about.
I remember being so in love with the game that I purchased The Simpsons: Road Rage, another PlayStation game, followed by a couple of The Simpsons comics and The Simpsons show bag from the Easter Show.
My infatuation with The Simpsons franchise wasn’t based on the game itself. ‘Computer games are not just a game, never just a business strategy for maximizing profit, but always also a battlefield where the possibility to realize specific, bottom-up, heterogeneous forms of participatory media culture is at stake’ (Raessens, 2005). The creators of The Simpsons video games had developed more than just games; they had created a world in which the games existed, and in which I as a user could also exist and participate.
Henry Jenkins explains a participatory culture as one ‘with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement… where members believe that their contributions matter’. He goes on to explain that while not all participants must contribute, they believe that they are free to do so when ready (Jenkins, 2006).
Rovio have successfully established this kind of culture with their stylized, wingless birds mobile game, Angry Birds. Blogger J.J McCorvey puts it perfectly: Angry Birds ‘has amassed legions of followers, incited fierce battles between parents and their tablet-weaned children, and won professions of love from the likes of Justin Bieber via Twitter and Dick Cheney on the Today show’.
Angry Birds’ creators, Mikael and Niklas, realised the importance of not only gaining fans, but holding on to them, and have done so through the use of merchandise and other complementary collateral. In 2013, 45% of the company’s revenue came from merchandise alone.
The Finnish gaming company have also been adding new levels to the game so that consumers don’t get bored. On top of this, they have opened the Angry Birds Space Encounter in the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and are planning to release a 3D animated movie sometime in the coming 2 years.
Of course, Rovio’s success can be pinned to the brilliantly addictive nature of the game. However, the Angry Birds world has been able to hypnotise consumers, by creating a participatory culture that not only offers members with an engrossing gaming experience, but the ability to participate in the Angry Birds franchise outside of just the game. Mikael understands this exactly: ‘Now we have real fans who live and breathe the thing that we created’ (2013).
Jenkins, H, 2006, Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century (Part One), Confessions of an Aca-Fan, weblog, 20 October, viewed 14/5/15, http://henryjenkins.org/2006/10/confronting_the_challenges_of.html
McCorvey, J.J 2013, ‘Rovio Takes Flight With “Angry Birds” But Disney-Sized Success Still Up In The Air’, Fast Company, viewed 14/5/15, http://www.fastcompany.com/3002945/rovio-takes-flight-angry-birds-disney-sized-success-still-air
Mogg, T 2013, ‘Angry Birds Maker Roviio Can Thank Merchandise For Record Profits’, Digital Trends, viewed 14/5/15, http://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/angry-birds-maker-rovio-can-thank-merchandise-for-record-profits/