The top seller at Apple's (AAPL) online App Store this month is a fiendishly simple game called Angry Birds. Players use the touchscreens of their iPhone, iPod, or iPad to sling a variety of angry-looking cartoon birds at green pigs that have stolen their unhatched eggs. The pigs have hidden themselves under piles of sticks, stones, and blocks of ice. (The game costs 99 cents.)
Rovio, a mobile-game maker in Helsinki, released the game last December. The company says more than 2.5 million users worldwide have downloaded it. The 17-person shop created Angry Birds over the better part of a year during spare time from contract work for Nokia (NOK) and Electronic Arts (ERTS). They're now working full time on creating updates. Niklas Hed, Rovio's 30-year-old co-founder, says he tested Angry Birds on his mother. "She doesn't play games at all," says Hed. "Last Christmas I gave it to her, and she was still playing even though we had guests coming over. I thought, 'O.K., now we have something!'"
Chief Executive Officer Mikael Hed, Niklas's 34-year-old cousin, says he hopes the game can be parlayed beyond the App Store into other smartphones, videogame consoles, PCs, and perhaps TV or film. Angry Birds: The Movie? Somewhere, Alfred Hitchcock is smiling.
The bottom line: To keep Angry Birds at the top of Apple's App Store charts, Rovio's 17 employees are now working full time on creating game updates.