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Angry Bird’s “overnight success” only took 8 years. (thestartupfoundry.com)
254 points by g0atbutt on March 11, 2011 | hide | past | favorite | 51 comments

It's a lot of fun to look into the little unknown games that large, successful, games companies made before they hit the big time.

Blizzard for example had mild success with Rock n' Roll Racing and Lost Vikings prior to Warcraft 2.

Nintendo made lots of arcade games since 1973, many being blatant clones of successful titles, before striking gold with Donkey Kong in 1981. Some of these may have sold fairly well, but the titles are ignored today so they couldn't have been all that good.

Pokemon developer Game Freak seems to have had it pretty rough prior to hitting the big time with Pokemon. The company has existed since 1989 and they put out a number of relatively unknown games before Pokemon in '96. Pokemon wasn't a strong seller at the beginning either.

According to wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satoshi_Tajiri): "Pokémon Red and Green took six years to produce, and nearly bankrupted Game Freak in the process; often, there was barely enough money to pay the employees. Five employees quit, and Tajiri did not take a salary, instead living off of his father's income. Investment from Creatures Inc. allowed Game Freak to complete the games, and in return, Creatures received one-third of the franchise rights."

You may want to go back a little further with Nintendo, which started as a playing card company.

In 1889. Took 92 years, 2 world wars, and the invention of the computer before worldwide success.

That's maybe a bit too unfair. Nintendo as we know it has only really existed since Hiroshi Yamauchi became CEO and took the company public in 1962. Prior to that point they were merely a card company, and from what I've read feels like they were a very successful card company. They were the largest, and first to create durable plastic coated cards. They also had a successful licensing deal with Disney.

Yamauchi certainly deserves credit for realizing that playing cards was not going to be a growth area in the future and for experimenting in new areas that eventually led to toys and then to arcade games.

Totally agree, but how often can I slip the fact that I know Nintendo is over 100 years old in a conversation?

Also a taxi company, a love hotel chain, a TV network, a food company (selling instant rice, similar to instant noodles).

Source: Wikipedia.

Bungie went from (relatively) unknown Mac-only game shop (during the Marathon days). They were then bought by MS and made the headline games for the xbox line.

Marathon was relatively successful I thought. I was a PC-loving Doom guy that hated Macs at the time (a bit of a waste of energy, but I was 13), and I remember at annoyed I was that people described Marathon on the Mac as being better thn Doom.

Overnight success generally takes around ten years. First the person must become an expert. When you first start practicing a new skill set like playing the piano, you may be able to play, but you have definitely not reached your potential. Within a couple of years you are more competent but there are clearly people better then you. At about the 8-10 year mark, you are then an expert. There may be people better than you, but there shouldn't be a huge difference (of course this depends on the person).

Taking ten years to make it as a performer or a even a craftsman is pretty common. Rovio clearly earned their success.

I feel it's worth pointing out that this paraphrases poorly researched and anecdotally supported arguments from Malcolm Gladwell.

And adding to that, it seems to me like the main idea here is that "eventually you'll get lucky, but it'll take time" and not really the expertise required.

If the moral of the story was about expertise, you'd expect that any game developer with 20 years of experience could write huge successes like "Angry Birds" in 3 month, on demand.

Now, true, they're getting better at it over the years, but I don't think that this story belongs the "10 000 hours" category.

Mastering your field does not mean mastering your market.

Harmonix (creators of Guitar Hero, which they sold, and Rock Band) has a similar story. They created a handful of games over a decade or so, all music based, that never really caught on. When they released Guitar Hero and a few karaoke games, they did a little better than breaking even, and with the release of Guitar Hero 2 sales exploded.


Yep, I've worked here since 1996 (the company was founded in 1995) and we didn't release Guitar Hero until 2005 (actually, we didn't release a game at all until 2001, although we had done other music apps before). It was a total hockey stick curve.

I worked at SCEE in 2003, and Frequency and Amplitude were played a lot by the gamers in the office. I guess those in the know knew.

Great to see a Harmonix employee on HN! I still break out Amplitude from time to time, which I'm guessing you worked on?


Take a look at Rare's game list: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Rare_games

I don't have familiarity enough with any of the titles to say I had actually heard of them until Donkey Kong Country. Then suddenly virtually every game by them I knew of and liked.

Blast Corps was hugely fun. Golden Eye... Banjo-Kazooie. Perfect Dark. Now recently Viva Pinata.

You must not have been a NES player. A bunch of their NES games were loads of fun: Marble Madness, R.C. Pro-Am, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and probably their biggest NES success: Battletoads.

I'm more interested in finding out how they went from "pretty slow for the first 3 months" to massive sales and attention.

I remember reading somewhere (fairly recently) that they got some major traction only after publishing via Chillingo.

Apparently Chillingo had a good relationship with Apple, and were able to get the game onto the "Featured Apps" list.

Edit: found a link: http://eye-tea-em.blogspot.com/2011/03/talking-about-softwar...

Someone from Norway told me that Angry Birds became popular first in Scandinavian countries because of a famous athlete mentioned it in an interview after he had lost an important match. Apparently the athlete had wasted so much time on Angry Brids that he didn't practice his sport. Popularity then jumped from Scandinavia to the UK and finally to the US.

I'm pretty interested in this as well. I'm working on trying to get in touch with Rovio to do a Skype interview. I'll post it on HN if I can get them. Thanks for the suggestion!

"natural" selection. Replace natural with market, lucky, or whatever floats you're world view.

The fact is a set, X, (lets say 10) of things (games in this case) that are good enough to make it "big". For a combination of reasons the nature of which aren't important (possibly different each time, possibly random) one of them makes it. Then everyone tries to figure out why and copy them.

They are solving wrong problem/chasing wrong tail.

Instead make as many games as you can, serial startup as many companies, ask out as many girls, etc. The larger percentage of the set X are "yours" the larger chance you have of being right place / right time.

If you look (as here) you will find the vast majority of massive success is preceded by many "failures" and/or small success.

Well, once an app manages to get on the top 25, the extra exposure pretty much guarantee it solid sales for a while. Still doesn't explain the bump to get it there though.

The breakout thing was being featured in UK iTunes store. They claim it was due to being popular in smaller markets first, Apple did take a notice of that and put them to "feature list" in UK (http://onsoftware.en.softonic.com/interview-angry-birds-vill...)

That was definitely worth saying. Most people don't know the back story. I didn't know the details either.

Yep. We need a dose of reality. I also just found out yesterday that OKCupid started in 2003 whereas many thought they were an "overnight success" after writing a few blog posts last year!

Spoiler: not everyone can make it big, even after 8 years of trying...

Are you sure? Don't stay with the same approach all the time and wonder why "the world" doesn't discover your brilliance. Learn, change, adapt, and adjust. You should be able to be independently wealthy within ten years of devotion and sacrifice.

That seems a bit like begging the question. If you work hard/smart enough, you should be able to be independently wealthy within ten years. Therefore, if you're not independently wealthy within ten years, you didn't work hard/smart enough. In the end, you haven't proved anything.

It's a motivational message, sure, but completely void of any substance or practical advice.

Seems more like this fallacy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_true_Scotsman

You can work as hard/smart as someone who achieved independent wealth and if, after ten years, you're not independently wealthy someone can say "well, you didn't truly work hard/smart". An objective definition of what hard/smart is would lead to a testable hypothesis.

I'm sorry you didn't find any practical advice in this article. Please allow me to share some of the backstory to this.

When I write my articles for The Startup Foundry, I try to focus on what will help startups succeed. I've gotten some pretty sad emails from startups that think they're failures for not being huge in 6 months or less. I wrote this to make a point that it takes time for most startups.

All the best, Paul

My comment was aimed at seiji, not at the article - I completely agree with your point.

It was more to highlight people getting stuck in their ways and not advancing.

if you're not independently wealthy within ten years, you didn't work hard/smart enough.


But that doesn't disprove the grandparent's post in any way. It doesn't explain why people have trouble working hard or smart enough. It doesn't explain why some (many) people may work hard, or smart, or both, and not get rich. All it really says is "if you do all the things necessary to get rich, you'll get rich", without really adding any information.

That's a gutsy thing to say. Not everyone has the potential like you and me, both who were born in the US. Not everyone can use their best learning, changing, adapting, and adjusting to get out of the place they were born into. Not everyone who tries can be wealthy in ten years.

OT: I've noticed recently Americans more frequently interchange "then" and "than". Is this some sort of emerging dialectical shift?

No, you've just been noticing spelling mistakes and making generalizations.

Actually, dools is quite correct. Generalizing from spelling mistakes is a classic technique for tracing phonetic shifts in language. That's because misspelling is almost always in favor of something that sounds the same (e.g. their/there/they're).

One couldn't ask for a better example than "then/than". When I read the previous sentence out loud, the first "than" sounds closer to "then" than to the second "than".

Unlike us Commonwegians, (some) Americans pronounce them identically. Hence they're more likely to interchange them in writing, either if they really can't spell or if they're half-asleep.

I have an American accent and pronounce the two words similarly (almost identically). So it is somewhat easy to mix the two when spelling them.

The OP's link is to the comment thread - here's the article link: http://thestartupfoundry.com/2011/03/11/angry-birds-overnigh...

Even that article is basically just a recap of http://www.wired.co.uk/magazine/archive/2011/04/features/how...

This is happening quite a lot lately. Posted http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2314717 as a suggestion for improvement.

Good catch, sorry about that. I'd appreciate if a mod could change it.

I still wonder why it is so popular. I, for one, like Tiny Wings much more.

@ iTunes: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/tiny-wings/id417817520

Official Gameplay Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x6pT_2E5xI0

IMHO, not even in the same universe of playability, and if they insist on using the same music as they used in the trailer, I would actually grin while deleting it.

I played both. "not even in the same universe of playability" doesn't explain anything. Angry Birds looks to me like another projectile-shooting game, but with birds. Shooting birds onto even more elaborate structures I find tedious. I did a level or two, and didn't bother to continue. On the other hand, Tiny Wings has unique gameplay (at least as far as I know): you can fly a little bit, but generally you use slopes to accelerate (a la vert ramp); touch to accelerate downwards. Also, I find it hard to be so angry on the pigs as to bash them for many levels. Tiny Wings doesn't want you to be angry at anyone; you just fly because it's fun, then you will want to fly longer and higher.

Yes, the music is the same. I find this light-hearted tune very fitting to the graphics and gameplay.

To each their own, I guess?

Where's the article for "Apple's "overnight success" only took 25 years?"

Much more profound "success" of course.

Come on, guys, 163 points? This whole article could be summed up in the HN title. There's no additional info there. Dammit.

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