Angry Birds Evolution (2017)

Angry Birds Evolution is a midcore AAA mobile free-to-play RPG published by Rovio. It’s a visually stunning game with hundreds of birds to collect. It’s up to you to assemble an unstoppable team of evolved super birds, battle and kick the pigs out of Bird Island in turn-based tactical combat. Hatch more than +100 birds (including the original Angry Birds cast!) and level them up in deep progression systems. Players assemble a team of flockers and battle their way through an extensive single-player campaign, test their mettle in PVP and pledge allegiance with other players in the Clan System.

Standout Accomplishments: Grossed over $30 million in one year since launch. Fifth-highest earning mobile game in June 2018, with over $1.1 million earned.

We launched a successful IP crossover event with the heavy metal band Iron Maiden, featuring a birdified version of the band’s mascot Eddie! I designed the underlying event system, monetization reward structures which resulted in a excellent ARPDAU, ultimately laying the foundation for a very successful product for Rovio. The base of this event system is still used in LiveOps today (2023), paving the way for a game that still operates +5 years after launch.

My Role

As the Lead Game Designer for Angry Birds Evolution I was ultimately accountable for all design-related aspects of the game, such as system-, feature-, economy-, level- and UI/UX design. I was involved in the project all the way from early production, to the soft launch phase and well into global launch and live operations.

My role on the project was roughly 50%/50% split between managerial and hands-on tasks – in the beginning it was mostly hands-on, but as we hired more design-talent I transitioned more and more into stakeholder management and representing the design team.

I was leading a team of three very talented designers – in terms of responsibility we did determine “champions” for various design aspects: One designer was the champion of combat (encounter and stage design), one for meta game balancing and one for product & live-ops related tasks.

While being developed 100% in-house at Chimera Entertainment, the game was developed in very close collaboration with Rovio Entertainment due to it being based on the Angry Birds IP. The way this project was structured is that we’ve had daily check-ins with department leads and bi-weekly syncs with all relevant stakeholders. My role in this was to spearhead, pitch and oversee all design-related topics – aligning with the stakeholders and leads at Rovio Entertainment.

The goal in this was to be the unified voice of design, enabling the designers to do their best work, while at the same time making sure stakeholder requests are translated into tangible work orders for the designers.

My Responsibilities

I was involved in pretty much every part of the game’s design. Most feature specs and designs were spearheaded by me with an open feedback culture from the team and Rovio. Later on as the design team grew, the talented designers championed various systems while my job was to make sure the design approach aligns with the high-level strategy of the project.

  • System Design: Designed, pitched and spearheaded multiple f2p features in alignment with the publisher’s wishes. A few select features:
    • PVP System: Design & balancing of the whole system including leagues and divisions, trophy calculations, matchmaking, weekly tournament structure and the combat itself
    • Dungeon Game Mode: A late-game feature which encourages players to build multiple bird teams, those are required to collect essence with which birds can be evolved to further increase their power
    • Event System: Structured and designed the event-system including offers, sub-systems, level design and user interface
  • Economy Balancing: Established and balanced the game-economy & meta-game in a KPI-driven approach and with longevity in mind that keeps users playing for years, not months.
  • Progression & Difficulty Balancing: Evolution features a system with dynamic difficulty scaling and I designed it’s formula and balanced difficulties, power of the pigs and how this all corresponds to the power of your own birds.
  • Monetization Design: Conceived various triggers and sub-systems for our gacha-driven monetization strategy
    • Gacha Pity Counter: A system designed to increase the chance-based odds of gaining powerful birds from the gacha machines
  • Level Design: I built a big part of the levels you see in-game, most notably the stages of the main story, events and random battles.
  • Live Operations: Live care in a iterative design process focused on key-metrics and customer feedback.

In the beginning of the project I was very hands-on, adding and tweaking content, building levels and balancing enemy stats – while later on my responsibilities shifted to a more and more meta & project strategy oriented focus.

Standout Design Contribution & Feature Showcase

The following is a selection of my contributions to Angry Birds Evolution – I picked those which I think were instrumental for the game’s success.

Iron Maiden Event

Business Goals: Increase spike monetization KPIs (ARPDAU/ARPPU), establish the game event structure, reduce UA costs
Achievements: ARPDAU of over $1.00, Commercially most successful event in Angry Bird Evolution’s history, Significant uptick of organic installs through cross-promotion and the IP and game crossover

One of my all-time favorite moments in my game development career was the Tribute To Iron Maiden crossover event, which pays homage to the critically acclaimed metal band Iron Maiden. The event was released to players worldwide in October 2017. It was simultaneously also the commercially most successful event in Angry Bird Evolution’s history.

I designed the underlying event system and monetization reward structures in collaboration with Product which resulted in an ARPDAU of over $1.00, ultimately laying the foundation for a very successful product for Rovio that is still operating as of February 2023.

Announcement trailer for the Angry Birds Evolution x Iron Maiden Event.

The specialty of this event was that we could “birdify” Iron Maiden’s mascot Eddie – including four evolution forms, each one based on one of select works from Iron Maiden’s discography – as a huge metal fan it was an honor to be working on this initiative.

The Event Teaser showing Eddie’s “birdified” form. This one is based on the 90s “Killers” LP by Iron Maiden.
The reward structure of the event. Note both the player and clan progression lanes.
The world map also got the halloween treatment.

It didn’t end there though, as in February 2018 the team behind Iron Maiden did release these birds in their own game called Legacy of the Beast which was a great exercise in cross-promotion for both games.

Eagle Mountain

Business Goals: Improve baseline monetization KPIs (ARPDAU/ARPPU), Improve D7+ retention and habitualization
Achievements: Doubled ARPPU on regular non-event weekdays, Increased D7-D30 retention by about 30% on average.

This feature was added post-launch and greatly contributed to the baseline KPIs of the game. While our KPIs spiked very well on event-heavy weeks, the post-event hangover often resulted in a low baseline of KPIs, meaning players were waiting to spend and amassing resources until the next event – bad! A solution was needed.

Pick the right door to advance floors!
Jackpot Floor with a 3x Reward Multiplier.
Pay Hard Currency or lose all rewards. Unlucky!

I was in charge of designing the Eagle Mountain feature which ultimately increased retention via habitualization due the appointment-like nature of this game mode (limited daily tries). It also increased ARPDAU and especially ARPPU – almost doubling it – on days where no events were running, due to the high-risk high-reward nature of the game mode. All of this is a culmination of the simple nature of the mode, it’s addicting quality and the very high spending cap that’s repeatable daily – loss aversion is the name of the game here.

Players can play this game mode once per day. It’s a mini-game where players simply need to tap on one of four doors – once tapped the door will open reveal one of several rewards and then players advance to the next floor, with a new set of four doors to tap on.

But beware! There’s a piggy thief that’s up to no good. If players open a door with the pig, he will steal all the items that the player has collect in his current run. Player’s can press on by paying hard currency. But the costs will increase each time the player encounters the pig, so players need to weigh the odds vs the costs.

Logic Flowchart I’ve created to aid the engineers in implementing this feature.

There’s a lot of strategy in how to approach this deceptively simple game mode and due to it’s limited daily availability players came back daily to try their luck on getting already evolved special birds, soft currency, evolution material and more each day. The daily rotating color-theme provides a different set of rewards throughout the week and keeps the game mode fresh for years to come.

Rescue Mission: Red

Business Goals: Improve D1 Retention, NUX, FTUE Funnel Completion Rate
Achievements: Increased D1 Retention by over 30% (in relatives, e.g. 35% > 45%), Improved the FTUE Funnel completion rate by about 60%, 40% longer first session, players played 10 stages more on average in the first session.

The primary goal of this feature was to increase D1 Retention by providing players with a clear motivation to complete the FTUE.

This feature also aimed to give players a strong incentive to continue playing and/or prolong their first session after the FTUE concludes. It secondarily provides a compelling reason to check back for players who naturally end their first session immediately after the FTUE. 

Red appear on the map right after the onboarding phase.
He talks to the player directly to establish an emotional rapport.
The Bird is then clearly featured on the world map, always drawing attention.

The player is tasked with a time-sensitive rescue mission, the signposting for this happens immediately after game start and loading. This feature was framed as a combination of a “new player event” and “special offer” combo that triggers for every new player. The feature is comprised of a few key components:

  • Feature Signposting: Right after the onboarding (when the player sees the world map for the first time).
  • Visual Hero Representation on the Map: A 3D Model of Red, the most famous Angry Bird appears on the map to draw attention.
  • Limited Time: A relatively short timer conveys urgency and pushes the player to complete said objective. 
  • HUD Event: An icon with a timer in the HUD provides another cue to this feature
  • Info Panel: When the hero or the HUD icon is tapped, a stylized panel outlines the goal, time left and rewards to get. 

Players are tasked to progress through the early game in a reasonable amount of time in order to unlock said desirable hero placed at a major progression point. Along the way players will encounter strategic battles which culminate in a climax battle at the end of the first chapter – successfully overcoming said battle will reward players with said hero and rewards. Naturally, the usual features will unlock along the way. 

General Game Design

Angry Birds Evolution took heavy inspiration from the back then “obscure” japanese mobile RPGs and gacha games which couldn’t really find a foothold in the relatively new western market. In discussions with Rovio the main idea of using the well-established Angry Birds IP and mixing it with a japanese mobile RPG meta system at it’s core quickly emerged.

Action Phase: One of the many battle arenas.
A selection of over +300 collectible birds.
The gacha system with a visible “pity counter”.

Angry Birds Evolution was pitched with physics-based core gameplay, a deep character collection & progression system and was designed around three main core game pillars:

  • Action Phase: The 3D turn-based puzzle physics gameplay around “catapult mechanics” similar to billiards/pool was inspired by Monster Strike, a crazy successful japanese mobile RPG hit as well as the original Angry Birds.
  • Character Collection & Progression: A deep meta around character fusion, leveling and evolution took inspiration of GungHo’s Puzzle & Dragons, another ultra-successful japanese mobile match-3 and RPG hybrid that has grossed over $8.13 billion(!) as of 2019 as well as Heroes Charge.
  • Gacha Mechanics: The basis of the gacha system was taking cues from Rage of Bahamut, Puzzle & Dragons, Magic The Gathering and various real-life “Kompu Gacha” mechanics.

Game Info

“JOIN THE EVOLUTION! The eggs are in danger once again. It’s up to you to assemble an unstoppable team of evolved super birds and put a stop to the pigs’ shenanigans once and for all. Or at least until the next time they pull a stunt like this…”

Store Description

Based on the look & feel of the popular Angry Birds movie, Angry Birds Evolution lets players choose their favorites from over 100 birds, build and develop their personal teams and evolve the birds into their ultimate form. Angry Birds Evolution is combining the gameplay of the popular Pinball-Mechanics with the charms of the globally successful Angry Birds characters and was released globally in June 2017.

Game Features

  • Angry Birds Evolution is a upcoming 3D puzzle RPG game, developed by Chimera Entertainment and Rovio Entertainment, which is currently in softlaunch.
  • 100+ crazy new Angry Birds? That’s right, the flock is bigger and badder than ever before! Build your own team, combine super skills and evolve your birds into their ultimate form.
  • Claim awesome rewards by taking part in weekly events by yourself or with your clan buddies. Build the strongest, most awesome clan on Bird Island and show YOU RULE THE ROOST!
  • The Oinktagon – two teams enter, but only one leaves. Challenge other players in PVP tournaments of Pigball and dominate the leagues for awesome rewards.
  • What’s worse than egg-stealing pigs? Over 90 different kinds of egg-stealing Pigs, that’s what. Pirates, ninjas and the dreaded Bacon Corp. – it’s up to you to FIGHT ‘EM OFF THE ISLAND!
  • Something sinister is brewing on Bird Island… who is behind the mysterious Bacon Corp? What’s the Eagle Force? Who lost the dungeon keys? Find the answers – only in Angry Birds Evolution!

* Numbers seen here are for illustrative purposes only and do not reflect real-world data.

About the Author

Hey, I’m Steve!

Written by Steve Haßenpflug, a seasoned game designer with a strong product & technical background. His focus is on creating engaging games for companies that want big results.

Steve has developed top-grossing AAA games for IPs beloved by players around the world (Angry Birds, Trolls) with international companies (NBC Universal, DreamWorks, Rovio) and helped bootstrap gaming startups in the early stages of seeding. He’s an expert in mobile free-to-play mechanics.

He also manages GameDevGems, a resource that aims to help game developers to get better at making games through gamedev concepts, tutorials and techniques and is a passion-project of him.