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Peter Vesterbacka

LONDON, United Kingdom – It all would have been so different if it hadn’t been for Swine Flu. Rovio’s Peter Vesterbacka lives in a parallel universe where Angry Birds rule the planet, and pigs are green.

“You might not believe this but there was a time back in ancient history when people thought pigs were pink.” Vesterbacka is feeling hot in a red Angry Birds top. But there’s a cool part, too: he’s the star of the show at Nokia World after announcing that his fantastically popular game is going to be available on the new Series 40 Nokia Asha range

Now the population of China, India and most of Africa will know that pigs are, in fact, green. “The pigs are not actually evil you know,” Vesterbacka tells a Nokia audience, “They’re just hungry. And the green color was influenced by the Swine Flu outbreak.” 

Before President Obama, and British Prime Minister David Cameron, announced that they switched off from war in Afghanistan by zapping a few green pigs in their free time, Rovio were once a small band of developers, nurtured by Nokia, with a portfolio of fifty one other little-known games to their name. Then along came a designer with a love for parrots and the rest was history.

“We didn’t like the game at first, but we all fell in love with the characters,” Vesterbacka says. “Now we haven’t thought of Rovio as a games company for a very long time. The game is the basis for building the brand.” 

Vesterbacka is a marketing man who joined Rovio with big ambitions: “We want to be the world’s first brand with one billion fans.” Notice the word fans, not customers or users. The company also now has toys, board games, a new animation studio, a movie in the pipeline, and even an Angry Birds cookbook (great if you like eggs). Chinese Angry Bird lovers have taken matters into their own hands and started making unlicensed toys. Some have even built unauthorized theme parks. 

Peter Westerbacka at Nokia World 2011

“We’re building the next generation entertainment franchise around Angry Birds,” says Vesterbacka. “If you build a brand that’s loved there’s no reason why it shouldn’t have a physical form.” 

Angry Birds has just been shot into space by NASA, and now Vesterbacka says the game will develop in all sorts of “surprising ways,” and go to “unexpected places.” 

Now the game is serious business, with an estimated 400 million downloads. Vesterbacka wants to build a game that becomes a towering brand. He refuses to be drawn on how much money Rovio makes from its most well-known product but adds that the company is “insanely profitable.” In a dig, he adds: “This is not like a hobby. We’re not like Apple. We can’t afford a hobby.”

No one could accuse him of taking Rovio’s success lightly. What is he like to work with? “He’s intense,” says the Rovio minder who is shepherding him around Nokia World. Vesterbacka tells me he is training himself to sleep for only three hours a night. This may be a joke, but he doesn’t crack a smile. 

Angry Birds on Nokia Asha seems to make him happy though. It’s “fluid,” and “magical” to play, he says – and it opens up a vast new world of potential fans. There are no limits to where Vesterbacka’s parallel universe can take him and the company:

“The only thing bigger than Angry Birds is our modesty” he says with a glimmer of Finnish humor. 

image credit: hj_west