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Fly on by, Angry Birds: Rovio’s new game stars Shakira, Miami

Shakira and Rovio Mighty Eagle Peter Vesterbacka. Rovio and Shakira collaborated on ‘Love Rocks Starring Shakira,’ a new Rovio game.
Shakira and Rovio Mighty Eagle Peter Vesterbacka. Rovio and Shakira collaborated on ‘Love Rocks Starring Shakira,’ a new Rovio game. Rovio

The birds may be angry about this but it’s Shakira, with Miami in a supporting role, who stars in Rovio Entertainment’s latest game.

Peter Vesterbacka is the “Mighty Eagle” of Rovio, creator of one of the world’s most successful entertainment brands, Angry Birds. He was in town this week because he was a speaker at the technology conference Sime MIA. After Sime, he sat down with the Miami Herald at the LAB Miami to talk about Love Rocks Starring Shakira, Rovio’s newest game “featuring absolutely no birds.” But first a little bird talk.

“It may seem like it was an overnight success, but Angry Birds was our 52nd game,” said Vesterbacka, wearing his signature red hoodie. The Helsinki, Finland-based Rovio was founded in 2003; Angry Birds took flight in late 2009. “It was super difficult.”

When the goal was 100 million downloads for Angry Birds, “everyone told us we were crazy,” said Vesterbacka.

It may seem like it was an overnight success, but Angry Birds was our 52nd game. It was super difficult.

Peter Vesterbacka, Rovio co-founder and ‘Mighty Eagle’

Today: 3 billion downloads. Think about that. Nine out of 10 people on the planet know that brand, he said.

There have now been more than 10 games, stuffed toys, animations (a button for ToonsTV is built into every game), activity parks around the world, including one in Cape Canaveral, and a movie coming out.

“We’re not in the business of making games for 100 days, we are in the business of making brands for 100 years,” said Vesterbacka. Angry Birds is among the top 10 entertainment brands in the world; the others are seven Disney brands, Hello Kitty and Peanuts, brands that have been around for decades. “We're the baby.”

It’s also the only one of those starting digital and that has made all the difference.

Vesterbacka rattles off some examples. The best selling song in 2012 made the same amount in two years as the best selling game did in four days. The Apple App store is bigger than all of the Hollywood box offices combined. China is the biggest market for Apple. “Mobile is the center of gravity for games and video consumption. It’s always there.”

Love Rocks Starring Shakira — a game incorporating love, jewelry, fashion and travel — has been in development about two years and launched Oct. 15. It’s a matching game that starts easy but gets very strategic as you move up the levels. Beyond level 30 it becomes a brain-training game. (If you wonder why you win 520 points instead of 500, that’s because 520 symbolizes I love you in Chinese).

The Shakira character leads the gamer through the journey, all places special to the real Shakira, who collaborated with the Rovio team throughout the process. The game, which also features plenty of Shakira songs selected by the star, starts in Barcelona, then heads to the Taj Mahal in India and then the legendary El Dorado in Colombia. But a couple of weeks ago, the company launched a new destination in the game: Gamers getting into level 150 or so are rewarded by landing in the palm-studded Miami Beach by day and enjoy the Miami skyline by night, even hearing music playing from the cars traveling down a Biscayne Boulevard-like street.

The Shakira character leads the gamer through the journey, all places special to the real Shakira, who collaborated with the Rovio team throughout the process.

Next, the game will hit a winter wonderland of Northern Lights, but no worries, Miami’s heat will be back from time to time in later levels as part of the next update, Vesterbacka said. “Games are a great way to promote different locations. It’s a new way of tourist promotion.”

Vesterbacka first met Shakira at a soccer game in Barcelona, and they clicked. “At Rovio, we’re a fans-first company, and that is something we share with Shakira,” who has more than 100 million fans on Facebook, said Vesterbacka. Successful partnerships start with shared values and a shared passion, he said.

They also share a passion for education and early childhood development, he said. Shakira has schools and early childhood development center projects across Latin America, and Rovio has been doing research on making learning fun and is spinning off a startup in that arena. They recently worked together on a U.N. campaign.

Using Coca-Cola Co. as an analogy, Vesterbacka said Angry Birds will always be Rovio’s Coke, but the company hopes Love Rocks will be its Sprite (and they mix it up a bit with a Shakira Bird.) This time, Rovio has a road map on building a brand, and is concentrating on that from the beginning.

That’s a necessity even if you have the track record of a Rovio because there are about 1,000 new games published every day.

Standing out is critical. That’s engrained throughout the company, and why Vesterbacka wears the red hoodie. There is no way Vesterbacka doesn’t stand out, whether he is in a crowd at Sime, or meeting with the prime minister and other high-ranking leaders of Japan, as he did recently.

Rovio now has 430 employees, including one in Miami who is primarily responsible for the Latin America market. It’s the biggest of about 200 gaming companies in Helsinki, which has an active startup scene. Vesterbacka also helps run a massive startup event in Helsinki called Slush, and it’s fittingly (and distinctively) held in November. Last month the event drew 20,000 people.

His message to Miami’s startup community, which is growing its own ecosystem: It starts with the mind-set and how the area can stand out. “You’re not Silicon Valley, you’re better,” he said. “It’s a great cosmopolitan city, and there’s a massive opportunity with Latin America.”

Oh, and you are all invited to Slush next November.

Nancy Dahlberg; 305-778-3790; @ndahlberg

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