Few brands are as recognizable as Angry Birds, the mobile game that has expanded with multiple spin-off games, a cartoon series, and an upcoming movie featuring an all-star cast. Last July saw the launch of the official sequel, Angry Birds 2, which released with high expectations from both the fans and its developer, Rovio.

Eric Seufert, VP of User Acquisition and Network Engagement at Rovio Entertainment, will discuss how franchise recognition impacts user acquisition at his GDC session, “Taking Flight Again: Planning the Launch of Angry Birds 2.” Furthermore, it will “outline the tactics and channels that were used to achieve more than 20 million installs in the first week of the Angry Birds 2 global launch.”

[a]listdaily speaks with Seufert about the challenges Rovio faced when launching a sequel to a game as big as Angry Birds.

Eric-Seufert-2015_400Given the broad recognition of the Angry Birds brand, what were some of the challenges in promoting Angry Birds 2?

One of the big challenges, from a user acquisition perspective, was trying to track the results of our marketing campaigns against the backdrop of the massive volume of media coverage the game’s launch garnered. Mobile user acquisition is a very performance-driven discipline, and the amount of “noise” in the market (that is, the visibility the game enjoyed as a result of the prominence it was given from various media outlets, as well as both Apple and Google) made it difficult to actually try to calculate what our ROI was on various campaigns.

This probably sounds like a good problem to have (and it was!), but it also made us more conservative in spending money on paid user acquisition campaigns, since we wouldn’t be able to easily tell what worked (in terms of generating interest and driving downloads beyond just the direct clicks we achieved) and what didn’t.

What kind of expectations did Rovio have for the game’s launch?

Our expectations didn’t really take the form of a single number: we had a range of installs that we thought we could achieve under different sets of circumstances. That said, 50mm installs was definitely at the very upper end of that range.

What did you learn from the Angry Birds 2 launch? Were there any surprises?

I’d say the biggest surprise, for me personally, was simply how massive the Angry Birds franchise is, and how excited people are about it. This isn’t to say that there was any doubt going into the launch that it would be large, but coming from a strictly mobile gaming background myself, I was blown away by the global scope of the excitement around the launch of the game.

Prior to my time at Rovio, I saw mobile games as a fairly specific form of entertainment that, generally speaking, only appealed to a certain subset of the world. What the launch of Angry Birds 2 taught me is that the entire world can get stirred up over a mobile game: mobile gaming is a truly global, borderless, humanity-wide past time. That was an incredible revelation, and it was a lot of fun to experience!

How different was promoting Angry Birds 2, compared to all-new games like Nibblers?

Any Angry Birds title obviously comes with a built-in fan base numbering in the hundreds of millions (or billions), and the franchise is so unique (in terms of aesthetic style and its premise) that an Angry Birds game is easier to promote than anything I’ve ever witnessed.

With Nibblers specifically, it has been fun (as well as educational) watching the game’s audience develop and evolve over time as the team adds more content and hones the look and feel of the first things players see (e.g. the different artwork in the platform stores or the first-time user session).

With Angry Birds, those things are already more or less defined, or at least, they are in the minds of the fan base. This is a huge boon to the franchise, of course, as that recognition makes it really easy to generate lots of downloads (as in the AB2 launch), but it’s also a standard that needs to be carefully considered when we run campaigns. We need to ask ourselves: Does creating this ad “feel” like Angry Birds? When people see this, will they immediately recognize that we’re promoting an Angry Birds game, or do we need to be more conservative with our treatment?

With Nibblers, that same historical precedent doesn’t really exist, so we can be a lot more experimental with how we promote the game. This allows us to test the limits of what the game’s core demographic is, or how we showcase the game’s characters in ads, or what aesthetic tone we use in ad creatives, etc. to a degree that we can’t with Angry Birds games.

What kind of promotions went into the Angry Birds 2 launch?

The Angry Birds 2 launch was a cooperative effort from many different teams at Rovio, and I’m sure that I’m not aware of every single thing that the company did to promote the game, so I won’t even attempt to list them all.

Within the realm of digital marketing, we ran a variety of traditional direct-response advertising campaigns across a number of mobile marketing networks, and we also ran a premium auto-play video campaign on Facebook. We also ran some influencer campaigns.

In what ways have you seen mobile game promotion grow and change over the past few years?

It has definitely become a lot more diverse in terms of the channels used! When I started in mobile user acquisition, the majority of traffic I acquired into games was generated through mobile app install ads purchased through a large number of advertising networks. With Facebook’s advertising platform as large and mature as it is now, I’d guess that many developers simply use Facebook and a modest (maybe 10-15) number of other networks on a regular basis, outside of game launches.

Influencer (e.g. YouTube star) campaigns have also been generating a lot of buzz, but I question whether most developers can use those effectively to drive large volumes of installs. TV and out-of-home campaigns have also become quite popular with the largest developers, but again I wonder if a developer needs a certain existing install base to achieve positive ROI with those — that is, do people need to have already heard of a game, or have friends playing a game, before they react to a television ad in large numbers?.

What do you think it takes for a game, even one as recognizable as Angry Birds, to compete in the mobile games market?

From a user acquisition standpoint, it takes some degree of virality (cooperative / competitive gameplay) and a very strong degree of retention (people stick around with the game for a long time) to compete on the basis of purchasing traffic.