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Rovio and the ‘Amazing Alex’ gamble

Updated Dec 19th, 2018 8:29PM EST

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At 12:00 p.m. EST, “Amazing Alex” hit the No.1 iPhone paid app position in America; eight hours is possibly the fastest move to No.1 ever by a non-franchise, non-movie tie-in app. Amazing Alex arrives on iOS and Android more than two and a half years after the “Angry Birds” series launched in December 2009 and proceeded to rack up 1 Billion downloads across smartphones, tablets and computers. The competition in the mobile gaming market is far harsher than it was two years ago, and Rovio is taking a risk with its new game. Angry Birds was fast, kinetic and dumb. Its appeal was universal because it demanded very little from players. Amazing Alex is slow, static and smart. It is based on the famously difficult “The Incredible Machine” brain-twister — an MS-DOS smash hit from back in 1992.

Superficially, Alex is similar to Angry Birds: both have friction, momentum and trajectory as key concepts. But the pace of Alex is far more measured and contemplative.

By 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, Amazing Alex had hit No.2 on the iPhone Paid App chart and by noon, it hit No.1 — a powerful move to the top for a new title.

On the iPad Paid App chart, the nearly simultaneously released “Tiny Wings HD” managed to pull ahead of Alex in morning hours, but Rovio’s game moved ahead by 12:00 p.m.

One tiny warning sign for Rovio is that “Where’s My Perry?” managed to retain the No.1 slot on iPad chart during the early hours of the “Alex” release. The popular fluid physics game is based on the “Phineas and Ferb” animated series, and it presents the latest example of how television and movie franchises have started muscling in on the mobile app market.

Earlier this month, the Disney behemoth “Where’s My Water?” and a spin-off game from the “Brave” animated movie helped push Rovio’s Angry Birds Space out of both iPhone and iPad top-five charts surprisingly early in its life span. Hollywood has started turning its heavy guns on the app industry.

Of course, Rovio’s publicity machine is strong enough to match robust rivals.

According to Google Trends, Amazing Alex is competing well with both Tiny Wings and Lindsay Lohan in search and in news reference volumes during July. This is impressive, because Tiny Wings is an all-time top-10 mobile app franchise and Lindsay is cooking up all kinds of drama during the filming of the new Elizabeth Taylor biopic.

Rovio has been able to generate a respectable publicity blitz around a brand new franchise — never an easy feat in the app industry. Based on the slightly reserved early reviews, the new game is unlikely to come close to matching Angry Birds mania. But many in Helsinki assume that it’s not even meant to do that. Alex is basically a revamped version of “Casey’s Contraptions,” which Rovio bought and then farmed out to its Tampere development team to polish.

Rovio’s big release of 2012 is expected to be the game starring the greedy pigs from the original franchise. Angry Birds Space and Amazing Alex seem more like second-string products meant to keep multiple top-20 positions in Rovio’s possession throughout the year. At some point, Rovio does need a major new franchise that comes close to matching both the visceral appeal and freshness of the original blockbuster. For now, a combination of pleasant B-list diversions is working well.

Rovio’s real power lies in marketing and merchandising, not game innovation. The company’s merchandising revenue is assumed to have topped 40% of total sales by now. The ability to create and cultivate publicity is the most important attribute of most current top-10 games — the most creative apps tend to languish far below top 20.

After launching mobile game company SpringToys tragically early in 2000, Tero Kuittinen spent eight years doing equity research at firms including Alliance Capital and Opstock. He is currently an analyst and VP of North American sales at mobile diagnostics and expense management Alekstra, and has contributed to, Forbes and Business 2.0 Magazine in addition to BGR.