Angry Birds is not really an amazing game in itself. It's certainly a massive hit, with over 500 million downloads as of this writing, but when you break it down, it's nothing more than a standard action physics puzzler using a formula and playstyle that has existed for many years. It's not the game that puts Rovio on our list -- it's how the company has supported it.
Once it was clear that Angry Birds was going to be a success, Rovio didn't start planning a sequel, or even a new game. It took the "games as a service" model touted by MMO developers, and shrank it to mobile size. The company has released extra levels, holiday-themed versions, and other updates and upgrades (including some item purchasing) consistently throughout the game's now nearly two-year lifespan.
People are still buying Angry Birds even now, because Rovio knows when people are playing a game, they talk about it. And when people talk, others become interested. Consistently building buzz has been critical for the title, but so has a massive campaign of porting to every device under the sun, including upcoming versions for Nintendo's Wii U and 3DS, but also older phones and operating systems.
Rovio began as a mobile company doing J2ME games and working from contract to contract, and some of that shows in its porting lust. But the clever bit is that when they found a hit, they stuck with it, instead of moving on to the next contract again. The company also used new platforms to prove out new business models (the first version on the Android OS was free-to-play with ads).
Is this sustainable? Rovio certainly thinks so, bragging that when it goes public, its IPO will be worth more than PopCap's. This remains to be seen, but the company is doing a fantastic job of pushing Angry Birds out to as many people as possible, without a huge backlash saying that it's just milking one franchise. And that takes real ingenuity.
The Humble Indie Bundle was an intriguing experiment -- pack several indie games together, and give people a "pay what you want" model for downloading them. The profits were to be divided up among the developers. There had been attempts at models like this before, but not on this scale.
The quality of the titles as well as the buzz generated meant that the first bundle went on to generate almost $1.3 million. Subsequent bundles have done even better, helping all companies involved generate additional income without the bundle claiming any ownership over the products themselves.
One of the project's additional successes comes from its ability to retain that indie feeling while growing massively. As the bundles have gotten more successful, they attracted the attention of investors. Sequoia Capital provided venture funding of $4.7 million to the bundle's future growth, which is a decidedly un-humble amount of money.
Even so, the third "Indie"-branded bundle has surpassed the previous two in sales, and only a minimal amount of ill-will has been generated from fans decrying the less-than-indie funding source. So long as the games are indie, and no royalties are asked for, it appears the Bundle will continue changing the way indies look at their own post-release business.
The Kinect was Microsoft's answer to the motion control craze in games that started in earnest with Nintendo's Wii. Through the power of a 3D camera, Kinect was to make your full body the controller, and early numbers looked good.
Though Microsoft hasn't released any statistics in the last several months, as of March, 2011, the peripheral had sold over 10 million units. The Kinect camera was instantly the cheapest 3D camera on the market, and the device was quickly modified by hobbyists for non-standard use, with early demos showing some amazing technologies, from 3D rendering of a space in real time, to curious visualizers.
It quickly became clear that Kinect was a hit among not only game players, but the tech community at large, and if Microsoft didn't get in front of the bus, the hobbyists were going to drive it away. So in February, 2011, MS released a non-commercial SDK for Kinect for PC, and while the third party market for PC-oriented use has only begun, a great number of impressive strides are already being made.
Scripts exist in Google Chrome to control the browser with hand gestures, MotionBuilder is using Kinect for cheap motion capture (as are some hobbyists), and others have found virtual reality game applications for the hardware. Outside of games, Kinect has been used in video surveillance, for trying on new clothes in Topshop, and medical imaging.
Kinect is proof positive that if you provide intelligent people with an affordable and intriguing product, it will take on a life of its own. While the Kinect's greatest success will likely be in games, when our world crosses over into other spheres, even greater things can happen.
It wasn't too long ago that ZBrush, and later Mudbox took the game art world by storm, offering 3D modeling environments that were closer to sculpting than they were to traditional Maya modeling. The high-polygon models couldn't be beat -- but for some, the software was too complex and labor-intensive.
And so it was that hobbyist Tomas Pettersson set about developing Sculptris in his spare time in 2009. The software is still in alpha, but already has artists excited, with its simpler user interface and speedier entry into the world of digital sculpting.
Though some call it a "ZBrush lite," the software is now under the guiding hand of the the ZBrush company, Pixologic, and packs nearly as much power into a more user friendly package.
Artists, indies especially, have gotten excited about the development of the software, which looks to open up the world of digital sculpting to a whole new audience. What's more, it's free to download, though of course Pixologic hopes to transition users into ZBrush and its more robust, deeper toolset, allowing interoperability between both packages.