Angry Birds arrived on Android just two months ago and has already been downloaded over 7 million times (probably over 10 million after the release of Angry Birds Seasons). This is certainly due in part to the app being free in the Android Market, but crisp graphics and addictive gameplay play a significant role in its success as well.
We have heard recently that Rovio will be opening up their own payment system early next year for in-app purchases via carrier-billing. Known as “Bad Piggy Bank” this will allow users to pay to upgrade to an ad-free version or to buy virtual goods. But at the moment they only have one Finnish carrier confirmed as being on board and when or if this system will reach the majority of carriers is anyone’s guess so we’ll continue to concentrate on the ad-supported version for now.
When asked why they offer Angry Birds for free on Android they have replied “because that is the Google way” and when pressed on the fact that not all games on the Android Market are free they replied with the assertion that “the ones with more than 50K downloads are….” I’m not sure what led them to that bit of hyperbole, but if you check the Android Market you will find that Fruit Ninja which is available for 99 cents claims over 2 million downloads and there are numerous other paid games ranging in price from $1-$5 that all report over 50,000 downloads.
The reality is that Rovio likely stands to earn more long term from the ad supported version than the 99 cents that they charge for Angry Birds in the Apple App Store. This theory is born out by Peter Vesterbacka of Rovio who stated that by the end of the year they would be earning more than a million dollars a month from the ad-supported version of Angry Birds and in the new developer series from Google reported that they were very pleased with their results on Android.
This brings us to the most recent addition to the ad repertoire for Angry Birds and that is pregame videos from AdMob. If you haven’t seen one of these ads yet you can watch the video below for a couple samples (apologies for the audio). Now you can skip the ad using the button in the lower right corner of the screen or by hitting the back button while it is playing, but it is another layer of advertising to Angry Birds in addition to the banner ads which still run in the upper-right corner of the screen during the game itself. Personally I feel that all of this advertising detracts from what is an excellent and visually appealing game.
Rovio had an opportunity to show that compelling content will sell well on Android and instead opted to go ad-supported, which in the end has proved to be a profitable and successful model for them. My hope, however, is that the takeaway for game developers is that there is a strong desire for good games on Android and not that free ad-laden games are the only viable option.