New Rovio Exec David Maisel Believes ‘Angry Birds’ Movie Will Change Video Game Adaptations

The former Marvel Entertainment exec explains why casual game properties will become mainstream entertainment brands.

LOS ANGELES -- After selling Marvel Entertainment to The Walt Disney Company for $4 billion last year, David Maisel was looking for his next venture when he literally stumbled upon Rovio’s smash hit, Angry Birds. His 85 year-old mother was playing the game on the iPad he’d given her for Christmas. Maisel immediately saw similarities in the mainstream potential the casual game that has been downloaded over 350 million times has with Marvel superheroes like Iron Man, Captain America and Thor that he helped turn into blockbuster film franchises. He talks about how he’s now helping the Finnish game studio turn the table on successful video game entertainment.

What did you learn from the successful Angry Birds marketing promotion for 20th Century Fox’ Rio movie this summer that merged characters from both properties into a mobile game?

That was a co-promotion together with Fox that worked really fantastic for both parties, which is really rare in these co-promotions. The biggest learning I took from that, which also got me very excited about the upcoming Angry Birds movie, is the ability to use our game platform to market a film or other entertainment. Fox was able to use the Angry Birds game to increase awareness for their film, which first drove them to theaters and later propelled sales of the DVD, which included exclusive game levels. When I look a few years ahead to when we market the Angry Birds film, there’s huge potential. Marketing in movies hasn’t really changed that much in the past twenty years. It’s still focuses a significant spend on TV in the three weeks before the film opens and still focuses a relatively small amount online. We can do so much innovative stuff in marketing our film through our own platform directly to our fans. That’s going to be pretty exciting.

How do you see the Angry Birds movie changing the track record of Hollywood game adaptations?

Over the past twenty years if you look at all the gaming movies made from Super Mario Bros. to Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, they’ve averaged about $35 million domestic box office. The 23 films made have earned about $800 million domestic box office. The two Lara Croft films account for about $200 million of that and another $200 million comes from the four Resident Evil movies. The audience and the scope of the demographics from those traditional games has been somewhat limited, focusing on the heavy gamers. The potential for big entertainment franchises wasn’t as great. Now with casual gaming, not just Angry Birds but others as well, so many people are playing them. I think it’s the first time that we’ll see massive brands coming out of the game realm that really supersede traditionally what the gaming audience has been.

How have you seen the attitude in Hollywood about videogames change over the time that you’ve been there?

It really hasn’t changed that much yet. Hollywood has never been the best -- the major traditional studios -- at spotting the trends before they get big. Gaming companies like Electronic Arts, Activision, Zynga and others have been creating brands outside of the studio system. Hollywood’s approach to gaming has been somewhat schizophrenic. At times the studios will launch their own game divisions, then they’ll exit and then they’ll buy some companies, but never necessarily on par with how big the industry has been from a profitability point of view.  From a point of movies, because of that track record I just talked through, gaming movies don’t get that much attention because they have been made by companies who will lower the budget and try hit a single rather than go for the grand slam you can get from an Avatar or a superhero film. But that is on the verge of changing. That’s why I joined Rovio, because rather than going back and redoing superheroes this is a chance to start a new wave of IP enhancement taking it from the gaming realm into the broader global entertainment system.

What impact do you think that a successful Angry Birds big screen movie could have in opening more doors for videogame movies in Hollywood?

This is just a start and hopefully Angry Birds can illustrate it very well to the industry of massive global brands coming from the gaming realm. The casual gaming realm, thanks to the ease of use and its broader demographics, has huge potential. The awareness is already getting out there that this new technology and this new ability to interact with our phones and our tablets and play these games can launch massive brands in a way that has never been done before.

Rovio is still a game company. How do you see Angry Birds being used to introduce new game experiences?

Right now we have the benefit and the challenge of managing a very fast growth with this franchise. We’re bringing Angry Birds to all the platforms and launching new versions of the game. We’re developing a social game based on the IP. There’s so much growth in the Angry Birds franchise that it takes a huge focus, but the platform of the game and the ability to use that to launch new games is something we’re really excited about. In addition to parallel developing Angry Birds as a game, we’re developing our platform and using that platform for monetization as well as for promoting our own new ventures in games, entertainment and other things.