Interview: Rovio’s Peter Vesterbacka on the history of the company,

Rovio’s own ‘mighty eagle’ Peter Vesterbacka hasn’t been sitting still since he joined Rovio in May 2010 to help out with the growing opportunities and tough choices the Finnish mobile developer was facing after their game Angry Birdsbecame mainstream popular. With Rovio having had to struggle to get the proper for their recognition and attention by telecom providers and publishers throughout their existence as a company, the tables now have turned. We sat down with him to talk about his history with Rovio before it was even founded, the healthy growth of the company and their franchises, knowing when to say no to deals, Finnish sobriety, becoming a media company and changing the world.

A Rovio history lesson

Founded in 2003, Rovio used to be just a regular mobile game developer struggling for the attention of mobile carriers, services and publishers. After 7 years of ups and downs, Angry Birds would be born out of a final push to create a strong IP on the most mature and accessible marketplace that was around at that time. Having had to struggle to get the proper for their recognition and attention by telecom providers, As for Vesterbacka himself, he knew the original three founders Niklas Hed, Jarno Väkeväinen, and Kim Dikert even before they would found Rovio. Back in 2003, Vesterbacka was working with 700 over start ups around the planet during his job as a business developer for HP. “I organized a competition to create a movie player game […] and then the founders of won the competition. They created this game called King of the Cabbage Garden. It was actually a great game on really crappy networks by today’s standard. They still created a real time multiplayer game and they won the competition.” Still attending the Helsinki University of Technology when they created King of the Cabbage Garden, the young Hed, Väkeväinen, and Dikert would eventually meet with Vesterbacka after the competition, asking him advise on what they should do next. “I suggested ‘why don’t you start a company to make games’,” Vesterbacka recalls. “And they did. 51 games and Angry Birds later they have a hit, a massive hit. Actually I’ve been talking to the guys now and then on the sidelines but then in the spring [of 2010] it really started to take off.” The sales of Angry Birds were about to hit a new milestone in the millions. Having been in touch with Rovio on the sidelines since that faithful first advice, Vesterbacka was asked to come in and help the company expand, strategize and conquer North America for just a couple of days a month. “Then very quickly when I started helping them with this and that in the U.S., I realized that this is much bigger than any of us ever thought,” Vesterbacka admits. Once both him and Rovio realized that Angry Birdswas going to be much bigger than any of them imagined, Vesterbacka gladly took on a full-time position at Rovio. “I also said that if we decide to do that then I’m not happy with making this big. Let’s make it huge.”

Healthy Growth

At the time of this interview, Rovio had just grown another 20 people, totaling the occupation of their office in Espoo, Finland to a total of 50 people. “We still have thirty open positionsin the studio alone, so we are now pretty much exactly fifty people and we are hiring very aggressively this year,” Vesterbacka explains. But for Rovio, the goal now is to remain the same flexible company it has always been, despite the massive growth and a projected total office occupation of more than 100 before the end of 2011. “It’s not the biggest companies that always win, but it’s the most agile, the most adaptive companies that do so,” Vesterbacka argues. “ And I think that it’s quite important to adapt to whatever happens, to you and your surroundings. And to build an organization that can capitalize on the opportunities that are out there.”

Angry deals

It’s hard to imagine or quantify the amount of communication Rovio (and even Vesterbacka personally) is experiencing with companies that are contacting them for partnerships, investments, merchandising and any kind of commercial collaboration imaginable. Suffices to say the amount of attention Rovio has received, has turned the importance of saying ‘no’ to an art for Vesterbacka. “I think it’s very important to say no,” he argues.” I think that the challenge is that when you grow a lot, you kind of calibrate your own thinking to the possibilities and the successes. we’ve been lucky that we said No to a lot of things, because we have had a lot of huge offers and things on the table for doing this and that.” This never got old on Vesterbacka, who personally continues to be amazed at what kind of proposals are constantly thrown at him. “These guys are willing to throw this much money at you on movies, TV, what have you,” he recalls. “Now, when we look back at it, it’s okay that we didn’t go for any of these proposals. When you work with these big companies, you get stuck and your creative control is gone. You have to be very, very careful in picking the right partners.” For Vesterbacka, waiting and continuously saying ‘no’ has rewarded Rovio and himself with some partnerships that are based on true collaboration and involvement from both ends. ”We’re really working together,” he says.

Finnish sobriety and ambition

The unexpected growth of Rovio’s income and sales have not only showcased the skill of game development from a country like Finland, but also the country’s cultural tendency to humbleness and sober thinking. Vesterbacka agrees. “I think the only thing that we got on Angry Birds is our modesty,” he says. “But I also think there’s a lot of truth to that. The thing is that we are pretty modest and we’re also humble. And I think that’s important.” Even through they’ve been very successful and all that, no one at Rovio feels like they’re rock stars all of a sudden. ”Of course there is a sense of accomplishment that we’ve done a lot, and we’ve done great things, but there really still is this atmosphere of a very tangible hunger and ambition,” Vesterbacka admits. “And [because of that] what we’ve done so far just feels small. It’s just the beginning. When we look at our roadmap and the ambition of what we’re working on, it’s really fierce. Its like we’ve done nothing, yet.” Vesterbacka personally considers him and his team to have won but the first game in a league of ambitious goals to become a champion in the industry. “There is always a bigger hill to conquer,” he says. Recently joining Rovio to conquer that bigger hill is Remedy Co-Founder Petri Järvilehto, who according to Vesterbacka was blown away by the way Rovio has been doing business. “The interesting thing was his first reaction,” Vesterbacka explains. “He had never never seen anything like this. I think the agility we’ve built into this organization is pretty impressive. We have enough stuff going, we can react extremely and we’re extremely fast. We want to keep that. Its pretty amazing how fast, also because of the success of Angry Birds, we can now make things happen (snaps fingers) like that.”

Rovio Media

The developments around Angry Birdshave also changed the company’s strategy. It’s focus on mobile is no longer. As far as Vesterbacka is concerned, he works for a media company now. “I don’t know how we can categorize what we are, but we are definitely more a media company that just comment a game company,” he argues. “I would say that the way we look at it is more like an organism than an organization, because there are so many links between merchandising and retail.” The sheer speed Rovio can make things like that happen is amazing. “So now we have a game in every shop window at Hot Topic in the U.S. for two weeks we have conquered the shop window,” he explains. “Then everybody going to these malls would again see Angry Birds there. They don’t even have to have the game.” As far as development goes, Rovio has been moving away from developing everything in house, allowing other companies to do ports of Angry Birds on different platforms. Yet according to Vesterbacka, most of the revenue is still being invested back into the company itself. “So now we’re going from thirty people holding the fort last year to 50 now and having 30 open positions, soon will be at about 100 people. And we basically have so many amazing projects that we’re working on internally.” But Rovio isn’t rushing things. A lot of unannounced projects are currently just waiting for the right time to be released to the public. “We have a lot of stuff that we’re kind of waiting with, polishing, finalizing and making sure that it’s right,” Vesterbacka admits.” The immediate feedback from customers Rovio has been enjoying has not been set aside. Responses to their updates, add-ons and so on have all been used to determine what to do next. “What worked and what didn’t work? Now we did Halloween, we did Christmas, we’re doing all this and we’re taking a lot of notes,” Vesterbacka says. “And we’re looking at next year for Halloween and it’s going to be even better.” Rovio’s challenge has turned into simultaneous process of assessing feedback, determining what challenge lies next and what it will look like again next year in order to create a solid long term strategy. “Looking at Nintendo, there’s Mario,” Vesterbacka says. “They’ve been doing that for 25 years. So what do we need to do to get there? We just basically want to make sure that that Angry Birdsbecomes a permanent part of pop culture.”

Changing the world

Vesterbacka’s own schedule looks packed, but he still carries himself as a calm and patient person. With his beautifully bright red hoodie on, noone would assume the large amounts of responsibility this man carries around with him at the average game conference. “I’m doing stuff that I always wanted to do,” he admits. “And I think that its great to have that opportunity. Like all entrepreneurs, what you want to do is change the world. And I think that’s what we’re doing now, we’re changing part of the world with Angry Birdsand how the game business works. Its really great to be in a position where what you can have that kind of impact. So I think that that has really become the biggest thing for me, that we’re really in a position to change the world.” But for Vesterbacka, changing the world does not just translate into donating a large some of cash to charity. Though it was too early for him to say, the desire at Rovio to make an important impact on the world goes far beyond writing a cheque. “Actually, we’ve kicked around a few things that we’re gonna do,” Vesterbacka admits. “Can we create better education? It’s these kind of things. Can we help make that more efficient? And again, I think that things like, how can we make it easier for people to learn to read. Instead of, ‘here, have some money, have fun’, maybe we can create amazing educational experience, that are actually fun.”

International organization

With job positions opening up at Rovio constantly, there’s suddently plenty of room to create an international dream team at their Finnish headquarters in Espoo. “For us, its pretty simple. We just want to have the best people on the planet working for us. We don’t care where they’re from. We have already more than 10 nationalities. We have people from Brazil, we have people from Russia, Italy, Serbia, Canada, from all over the place.” In the meanwhile Vesterbacka is travelling the world to find the right people and right deals to make sure Rovio’s growth remains a healthy and strategic one. With plans for more animated  content that Rovio recently announced, the power of Angry Birds to actually make some worldwide change might even draw closer than before.

Related Posts with Thumbnails

Written by Vlad M.

Vlad wears many hats, but he's mostly known for his work as a freelance game journalist, researcher and consultant. He's always looking for the next game related project to sink his teeth in. You can find his adventures over on

Leave a Reply