The challenge indie mobile game developers share with Rovio, and how they should respond

Even if it's basically about throwing things at a flying target, it seems somehow unfair to take a shot at Rovio when it's down.

Like it or not, though, the rise of mobile gaming would be impossible to talk about without mentioning Angry Birds, which is easily one of the most recognizable titles on the market. Its success not only showed how lucrative this area could be, but effectively set the bar for untold numbers of other studios and even indie developers who might have hoped to follow its lead. A recent report from Superdata Research, however, pours water all over that image, with some insights that may be worth thinking about as mobile game developers create their next apps. 

Noting that Angry Birds 2 is still outside of the top 30 highest-grossing games on either the iOS App Store or Google Play, SuperData Research suggests 30 million downloads doesn't necessarily add up to commercial triumph: 

"As the mobile market has started to saturate, so, too, has Rovio started to see a decline in sales. The company's dependence on a single franchise, and repeated failure to launch something of equal or greater value, continues to undermine its overall market position. So far the mobile games market has shown itself much less welcoming to the popular franchise than when it first left the nest."

SuperData Research likens Rovio's approach to major brands such as Disney and Nintendo, which managed to make household names out of some of its major films, TV shows and even individual characters. Of course, most indie developers couldn't hope to accomplish that without a major marketing budget and other resources. That Rovio has such resources and still isn't making headway might seem pretty discouraging. 

It's worth noting, though, that Rovio may not only be dealing with Angry Birds fatigue but the same challenges in monetizing via the free-to-play (F2P) model as almost everyone else. In fact, a failure to generate decent revenue via in-app purchases, mobile ads and other tactics would push many mobile games out of the market. In the long run, that could benefit a familiar title like Angry Birds, but probably only among those that haven't already installed it. 

Mobile games may not be like summer blockbusters, where the same audience will come back for more next time (probably because they still have the equivalent of last year's blockbuster still on their smartphone). And when people think they're getting something for nothing, they get annoyed (or don't engage) when you turn around and ask for money after all. 

If F2P is difficult, therefore, and building a franchise is difficult, there's only one real takeaway from Rovio's struggles for indie developers: treat every mobile game as if it's your first -- and maybe your last. --Shane