War and Peeps: What Tolstoy Thinks of Angry Birds

Hate it or love it, Angry Birds is not a title easily ignored. With over 1 billion downloads, 5 sequels, a spin-off cartoon series, a book line, and about every form of merchandise imaginable, the game’s popularity cannot be understated. And there is some substance behind the hype. The game, designed by Finnish company Rovio, is well put-together. It features intuitive controls, appealing graphics, and addictive gameplay.

So why does Angry Birds make for angry nerds? The game is widely snubbed by self-proclaimed hardcore gamers the world over. Is it too kiddie for them? Too popular? Is it disdain for cell phone games as a whole? All of these may have contributed in part, but the overwhelming cry from lifer nerds is that the game is unoriginal, and that its popularity is largely undeserved.

What could be more original than birds with no limbs?

What could be more original than birds with no limbs?

Well, they’re right about unoriginality. Angry Birds comes from a long line of physics-based castle-destroyers. In the late 90’s and early 2000’s Flash and Java games like Angry Birds were a dime-a-dozen. And by a dime I mean free (while Angry Birds costs about a dozen dimes). But whether the popularity is undeserved is up for debate. Certainly Rovio has garnered a lot of cash and acclaim for a stream-lined rehash of old flash games. Do the designers deserve it for brilliant marketing? How did Angry Birds get so popular in the first place?

Leo Tolstoy could tell you the secret to Rovio’s success. He eschewed that a leader, or any other single person, had no real control over the course of history. Instead, events are contingent on the sum of the wills of every person involved. In his historical epic War and Peace Tolstoy wrote:

“…to say that [Napoleon] destroyed his army because he wished to, or because he was very stupid, would be as unjust as to say that he had brought his troops to Moscow because he wished to and because he was very clever and a genius”.

"History is a vast and inexorable process, deal with it."

“History is a vast and inexorable process, deal with it.”

The success and failures of Napoleon’s army had nothing to do with his choices or desire, but instead were the result of external forces. Being a leader to Tolstoy meant happening to be at the forefront of what was going to occur anyway. Genius or ambition might help get you into power, but being a powerful ambitious genius still won’t allow you to bend history to your will. If anything, it forces you to bend further under its ‘will’, lest you be left in the dust.

So like Napoleon, Angry Birds was just in the right place at the right time, offering the right things. When waves of customers snapped up Iphones left and right, and new apps were popping up by the hundreds daily, some game had to rise to the top. The air was primed for a smash hit. Something you could tell your office, your mom, your kids and your dog to try out. Whether it was original didn’t factor in. It only had to be cheap, colorful, simple, and able to entertain for a two-hour bus ride or a 60-second bathroom break. And the collective wills of the people chose Angry Birds.

Orwell's Animal Farm also featured a king pig, and he was named Napoleon in what was ostensibly Russsia! Coincidence? (Yes.)

Orwell’s Animal Farm also featured a king pig, and he was named Napoleon in what was ostensibly Russia! Coincidence? (Yes.)

Rovio isn’t staffed by genius inventors or visionary bellwethers of the gaming industry. To quote Tolstoy they, as ‘leaders’ are “the wave pushed ahead by the ship.” If you want further proof, consider that it was 6 years before they got their big break with Angry Birds. Surely true geniuses could have succeeded earlier? Or if they are visionaries, why not stop milking Angry Birds and produce a new revolutionary title?

But props to them for toiling in obscurity for six years. To me, that means Rovio has earned some time in the sun. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to figure out what Dostoyevsky would think of Grand Theft Auto.


3 thoughts on “War and Peeps: What Tolstoy Thinks of Angry Birds

  1. Alex

    It makes me laugh at the companies who try to cash in on the success of games like this through mimicry, not realizing that the success didn’t come from the game mechanics but from sheer luck. I pity the fools that wasted time developing Minecraft clones.

    It goes beyond games as well. Ever remember all those headlines proclaiming how much of a visionary Mark Zuckerberg is? Sure people, ignore sites like MySpace and Friendster that existed long before Facebook. Mark MUST be some kind of young business prodigy. Yeesh.

    1. zanderwarren Post author

      Definitely agree here. Unless you add something new to the table, like Terraria did, you’re always going to be vastly outsold by the original. Who wants to play a potenially buggy game with no community or mods called Cubeworld (or whatever) when they can just play Minecraft?

      Though I wonder if the fallout from Minecraft’s incredible popularity is enough to sustain knock-off companies. People accidentally buying it – well-meaning birthday presents from Grandma and such. Certainly they won’t make nearly as much, but they could still turn a profit. I mean just look at the ‘mockbuster’-producing film company, The Asylum. They seem to show no signs of stopping.
      And of course, thanks for reading!

      1. Chase

        That reminds me of old records — companies would cut cheap knockoff records and make them look as much like the original as possible eg. “The Beach Guys Greatest Hits.” Then Grandma would buy it for little Timmy, which he would use for further justification for his dislike of the ol’ bag. Unfortunate!

        And yeah, a Zuckerberg knock — maybe Facebook is not completely original, but he took a premise and improved upon it greatly, incorporating his own vision. People rarely come up with genius out of thin air, y’know!



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