The first question to ask is whether Angry Birds is actually popular or not. Yes, we hear news stories say it is popular, but it is it actually popular? We’ve already seen inaccuracies in the press about how iphone gaming has ‘destroyed’ all dedicated console gaming. We hear about the number of downloads. But Angry Birds is available on many platforms, including Blu-ray players I believe, and in many cases is bundled with various devices. How many are customers who are choosing to purchase Angry Birds? And of that purchasing power, how much are they paying? Millions of people paying $50 for a game means much more than millions of people paying $5 for a game.
What I find so surprising about Angry Birds is that the makers of it are not interested in video games. They are interested more in the licensing and merchandise as they say they want to become like Disney.
The surest sign of popularity of a video game is the demand for sequels. Strangely, there seems to be lack of interest about sequels. The interest from the press seems to be more about non-video game related stuff concerning Angry Birds like movies and cartoons. But it could be my distance from those type of games prevents me from seeing the interest if it exists.
When I look at the gameplay of Angry Birds, I can only think, “I’ve played this game before.” It reminds me of the monkey game of Q-Basic.
Above: Everyone in that time period will instantly recognize this game.
Or even Scorched Earth.
Above: Perhaps the most popular shareware game ever made.
The game franchise, Worms, basically took the above and packaged it in a modernized but cutesy style.
Unlike the above, Angry Birds is not about killing someone else but more single player focused. Similar gameplay mechanics. And yet, I keep thinking I’ve played the game already.
When the DS came out and touch screen gaming was the hotness, one early game surprised me with how well it controlled and surprised my friends. I couldn’t get them to stop playing it. It was Bust-A-Move on the DS. The controls were so simple since you just pointed at the screen the opposite where you wanted the object to go and off it went. It was superior control scheme than to using buttons. The ‘slingshot’ mechanic works very well with a touch screen control system.
Back in the 1980s, one of the ways Nintendo created excitement for its games was to create TV shows (the Mario show, Captain N: the Game Master), toys, T-shirts, go to McDonalds and get Mario toys in a Happy Meal, Nintendo Power, all of this kept kids thinking and excited over the game even when they were not playing. And it all led them back to the game.
Years ago, my nephews wore NSMB T-shirts. Now, they wear Angry Birds T-shirts. I suspect that all the Angry Birds merchandise (which the company says is its priority, not the game) has led many younger people to the game and also given the impression the game is more popular than it is (since people see it on T-shirts and things).
Keep in mind, I haven’t really played the game or gotten into iPhone gaming. But from my distant vantage point, I would summarize it as…
1) Tried and True gameplay mechanics. Some of the most popular computer games of the past share the ‘catapult’ gameplay. So it is no surprise that this type of gameplay works just as well in 2012 as it did in 1988. The key here is computer gameplay. These type of games would never sell on the NES or in the arcades. They are too slow, too thinking, and not enough button pushing. You will find the best selling iPhone games will share characteristics with the best selling computer games of the past, not the best selling arcade games.
2) Control Scheme That Feels Good- The control scheme for the iPhone sucks for many games. However, it is good for some games. Pac-Man is a very fun game but it is not fun with a touch screen. However, a catapult game works much better.
3) Mass Merchandise and bundles create interest- You see Angry Birds merchandise everywhere. It creates the impression (false or true) that the game is popular. It also leads many kids to the game.
Concerning the tried and true gameplay, it is a total contradiction to the Miyamoto Philosophy. The Miyamoto Philosophy is that ‘we must change the gameplay or else people will get bored.’ But the problem with that approach is that the market is constantly changing. Every generation there is a new batch of kids who have never seen video games. I see kids playing Pac-Man today. Tried and tested gameplay is why 2d Mario still sells today.
There are many classic games out there that can have their gameplay modernized and made into hits. Or there is classic gameplay that can be TWISTED to make something very new. I would love to see a combination of 2d Mario gameplay and a RPG… or even Metroid. It would be Mario in a gigantic endless world with no ‘levels’. It is what I was hoping for Super Paper Mario but… boy, was that a disappointment! Such combinations can put together something like peanut butter and chocolate. One of my favorites was the gameplay of Space War! (think Asteroids) with an RPG. And the result would be something like Star Control 2.
After all, the Legend of Zelda is nothing more than the combination of Gauntlet-like arcade gameplay with the richness of a computer RPG. It was peanut butter and chocolate. The best of both worlds.