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What is it about those angry birds? A look at the “rich-get-richer” phenomenon


As I watch my roommate play Angry Birds for hours a day, I find myself wondering, what is it about those silly birds that has made this game so popular, not only with my roommate, but around the world.  Angry Birds, a computer game that was first released in December 2009, has now reached a total of over 500 million downloads.  This game, in which the player uses a slingshot to launch birds at evil pigs as they are stationed in different structures, continues to be one of the top paid-for apps, and the popularity has yet to die down, even after two years.  How has this game’s popularity grown to reach millions and how has it been able to stay so popular for so long?  The answer lies in the explanation of diffusion of innovations through a network, as well as the “rich-get-richer” effect.

While the game has been noted for its low price, physics-based game play, and accessible game genre, a large portion of its success is based on the way popular items diffuse through a network.  As the textbook explains, “information cascades can depend on the outcome of a small number of initial decisions,” explaining that if a few random actions in the introduction of a product to a market are successful, or grab a small, but connected part of society, then that success can take off and lead to diffusion in the market.

In addition, popular items that diffuse into the social network tend to experience increasing popularity at an exponential rate.  The rich-get-richer theory states that, “the more well known something is, the more likely you are to hear their name come up in conversation and hence the more likely you are to end up knowing about them as well.”

These two phenomenon are exactly what happened recently with Angry Birds.  It was randomly introduced to the market, yet it was introduced to a connected part of society: iTunes users.  Furthermore, it was suggested to people as a cheap app to buy when they purchased an iPhone.  Slowly, the game spread through the iPhone/iPod world.  This was also aided by the fact that people would see what their friends were playing, and thus the popularity of the game spread.  For example, Person A would download Angry Birds, and then at some point while sitting in a group, Person B next to them would see them playing this game.  Then Person B could ask to play and would find it enjoyable, and thus would be inclined to buy it for their iPod.  This would continue to occur and reach more and more of society.

Eventually as the success of Angry Birds continued to grow exponentially, it spread past the iPhone/iPod market and was introduced to the Android market, as well as app markets for other phones and computers. In summary, Angry Birds has infiltrated every gaming system, thus increasing its popularity even more and making it available to even more users.  While the success of Angry Birds does seem random and perhaps even a bit strange, it fits perfectly with the “rich-get-richer” theory and can be explained by examining how information diffuses through a network.  At this point, there are no indications that its popularity is going to die down anytime soon either.  Thus I guess I should just come to accept my roommates growing addiction, seeing as how clearly she is not the only one.









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November 2011