Sitting on a Gold Mine

Rovio announced last week that they’re partnering with Barnes & Noble to geo-contextualize Angry Birds. Customers can now download a free “Mighty Eagle” add-on on their NOOKs at any store. I don’t often get to B&N (Amazon will usually do), and I’m not a NOOK fan, but maybe it’s awesome.

Then again maybe not-so-much. The add-on is part of Rovio’s larger “Magic Places” (love the name, actually) rollout, which they announced last month and which aims to use connected devices and location to expand Angry Birds. Magic Places will work a little like a traditional location-based game — when a player arrives at a specific location, she can use her smartphone to unlock special game content like new characters (e.g. the Mighty Eagle) and levels.

This is more gaming value than location-based gamification — and it’s a step in the right direction — but it’s not very thoughtful, considering the gold mine that Rovio is sitting on. Don’t get me wrong, they’ve got the right idea — according to Gigaom’s brief interview with Rovio Product Manager Ramine Darabiha, Rovio sees Magic Places as a way to encourage players to find new places and content, and they view location as a legit distribution channel.

But Gigaom reported that Rovio’s plan isn’t to aggressively monetize Magic Places, but to build deeper engagement with the Angry Birds brand.

Razzle-frazzel-frackin-fricken. It’s another example of Low-Hanging Fruit Syndrome, and while no surprise, I was hoping for better. After all, Rovio’s been in the trenches. They developed a slew of titles, many of which were unsuccessful, before Angry Birds. They came back from near-bankruptcy at the eleventh hour. And they’re from Finland.

Building brand makes complete sense — that’s a big piece of what they should be doing, but they’re already doing it with merch, film, lots of press and of course porting and extending. Not to mention their $42B round of funding in March (a chunk of that money, I would think, is paying for marketing).

If they want location to help them reach a billion downloads by the end of next year, they’re going to need more than the unite-retailers-with-customers model. Their markets are big and the Birds are still on fire, but a billion downloads? They’re at about one quarter of that goal today. Rovio CEO Mikael Hed is talking wartime but his location strategy has gone peacetime.

Rovio should stay on-product and re-innovate to fully leverage location. Why not let players design their own basic birds and/or levels and drop them anywhere on the globe? Use AR to find “birds in the wild” to top it off. Reward mobility but don’t require it. Give the crowd a way to crowd-source and share actual game content — be scrappy and focus on a location strategy that has a better impact on gameplay.