Angry Birds Seeks NFC Magic in Location

Rovio is looking to take Angry Birds local with location-based integration, which will enhance game play for users when they visit real-world locations. The feature, called Magic Places, builds off a previously announced near-field-communication feature for certain Nokia phones, allowing a very limited number of users to unlock additional levels when they tap two NFC phones together or tap an NFC tag at a location.

With Magic Places, when users arrive at a location with GPS-enabled smartphones, they will be able to trigger new content such as Mighty Eagle, the most powerful character in the game, as well as a raft of never-before-released game content. Users will be able to compete with other players on a localized leaderboard for each venue. Stepping back, Rovio is looking to turn Magic into a broad platform that will be built into all of its products, spurring real world interactivity through NFC, GPS, and other technologies.

I caught up with Rovio Mighty Eagle Peter Vesterbacka and Ramine Darabiha, product manager for Angry Birds Magic, who are in New York to talk more about Magic Places. I asked what it means to leverage location in Angry Birds and what the implications are for Rovio's business.

Darabiha said the idea for Magic Places is to build more fun into the game, turning what is often an activity played in isolation into something you do in the real world. He said Rovio is not interested in turning every location into a Magic venue but is looking to use the location option selectively to enhance game play for users. The key is find places that complement the game and make the experience more memorable for users.

Location: "Distribution Point for Us"

"We're using this as a way to encourage people to go and find new places and new content," Darabiha said. "It will be a distribution point for us."

The company is rolling out MagicPlaces to its various Angry Birds games editions later this year and is preparing to announce new U.S. retail partners in the coming weeks. Vesterbacka said that while Magic started with NFC and Nokia to unlock content, he said other technologies such as Bump can be utilized to reward users.

Rovio is focusing on this effort and sees a big opportunity to extend itself into real world interactions, which can make the game more meaningful for people. It contributes to Rovio's more ambitious goal to build 1 billion fans of Angry Birds.

I think this could be a decent revenue source down the road, too. Angry Birds has a rabid, loyal following and can help popularize location-based services by showcasing the feature. Rovio might find merchants sufficiently interested in introducing their locations to the Angry Birds user base to pay a premium for it. If the Magic Places are thoughtfully selected and tied to some real-world actions and rewards outside the game, it could put Angry Birds into a position of uniting merchants and retailers with customers—something Foursquare and other location services are attempting to do.

Rovio's Payoff: Engagement, not Cash

Darabiha—scheduled to reveal more on Tuesday, June 14, at the ReadWriteWeb 2Way Summit in New York—said there is no plan to aggressively monetize Magic though merchants. He said merchants can expect to see increased traffic, but the payoff for Rovio is to build deeper engagement with the Angry Birds brand.

The game is already a runaway success, having been downloaded 200 million times as it spreads across numerous platforms. Rovio is now looking to tap that community and build a larger business from its fan base. Vesterbacka showed me a glimpse of the upcoming Angry Birds cookbook. Rovio has also sold a number of plush toys and is looking to push Angry Birds onto larger screens, potentially as Hollywood fare. The company has also introduced its own carrier billing system for virtual goods.

As my colleague Bobbie Johnson wrote recently, Rovio needs to figure out what comes after Angry Birds. A real-world component of Angry Birds won't answer questions about what the next big hit might be for Rovio. The company is merely showing that it's exploring every opportunity with its hit franchise. With $42 million in funding, Rovio has plenty of resources. I agree with Bobbie that Rovio has to be thinking about what's next. Vesterbacka assured me that the company is doing so. For now, I'm curious to see what Rovio can do with location. Despite all the badges and further rewards, location isn't everyone's idea of fun. Angry Birds could change that some.

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