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An executive of the maker of “Angry Birds” said the latest edition of the world’s most popular mobile-phone game won’t appear on Microsoft Corp. (MSFT)’s Windows Phone platform, a possible blow to handset maker Nokia Oyj. (NOK1V)
“We’re the No. 1 app in the Windows Phone app store, but it’s a big undertaking to support it, and you have to completely rewrite the application,” Peter Vesterbacka, chief marketing officer of the game’s maker, Rovio Entertainment Oy, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television. He said Rovio, which yesterday started selling the new “Angry Birds Space” game for Apple Inc. (APPL)’s iPhone and handsets running Google Inc. (GOOG)’s Android platform, has no plans to release the title on Windows Phone.
Rovio Chief Executive Officer Mikael Hed later told Reuters the company was “working towards” getting “Angry Birds Space” on the Windows Phone 7 operating system. Hed didn’t return calls by Bloomberg News. Ville Heijari, a spokesman for Rovio, said in e- mailed statement that the company is working toward offering its games on “all relevant platforms” and that it will announce “further platforms as soon as more information is available.”
Nokia is betting on the Windows Phone operating system to revive its struggling smartphone business. The lack of “Angry Birds” may make it more difficult for the company, based in the same Espoo, Finland-based office park as Rovio, to attract gaming-oriented users and persuade developers that its platform is growing.
“This is a worrying development for Windows Phone because it suggests that Rovio does not have much confidence in its future,” Nomura analyst Richard Windsor said today in a report. “As the standard version is already number one on the Windows Phone app store, it gives a strong indication that no one else will expect to be making money writing for this platform either.”
Nokia Chief Executive Officer Stephen Elop has introduced several Windows Phones since October and plans to bring the handsets next to China, where “Angry Birds” took off last year.
“China has been our second-largest market, but it’s actually been the fastest-growing for quite a while, and it could well be that China becomes the biggest market this year,” Vesterbacka said.
Nokia spokesman James Etheridge had no immediate comment when contacted today. The company’s shares rose 0.9 percent to 3.98 euros at the close in Helsinki. The stock has declined 33 percent in the past 12 months.
Elop, who took over at the world’s largest mobile-phone maker in 2010, shifted to Windows Phone last year after determining Nokia’s Symbian and MeeGo systems couldn’t keep up with Android, the fastest-growing smartphone platform, and the iPhone.
Microsoft plans to bring its Windows Phone software to 23 more countries for a total of 63 and put the operating system on less expensive smartphones, it said last month. The company aims to move quickly in developing economies, where Google and Apple are less dominant, before cheaper Android phones can strengthen Google’s position.
“There is a chicken and egg situation here, where no apps means no users and no users means no apps,” Windsor said. “Nokia has tried in the past to get past this by paying developers directly to write applications but it has largely failed to bring any life back to the platform.”
For the time being, it’s too expensive for Rovio to adapt new games to Windows Phones, Vesterbacka said.
“If you look at activations, Apple’s iOS and Android are clearly bigger than any other platform,” he said. “We want to be on all screens, but we have to consider the cost of supplying the smaller platforms. With Windows Phone it’s a lot of work to technically support it.”
“Angry Birds” may reach a billion cumulative downloads in the next few months, boosted by the introduction of “Space,” and 2 billion by the end of the year, he said. That compares to just 50 million in late 2010, a year after the unveiling of the original game. Rovio predicts to introduce four more Angry Birds games by the end of the year, Vesterbacka said.
Basic “Angry Birds” game play consists of using a virtual slingshot to fling birds at structures populated by green pigs. The game zoomed to the top of the chart in Apple’s online app store in 2010 before being rolled out for Android phones, desktop computers and e-readers. The Facebook version is approaching 20 million active users, Vesterbacka said.
Rovio, which has more than 300 employees, also sold about 25 million plush toys last year and has started a book division with a cookbook and comics.
Closely held Rovio published 51 games for Nokia phones and other handsets before releasing “Angry Birds.” The game is on Nokia’s current smartphones and some lower-end models.
The new version of “Angry Birds,” which takes place in space with planetary gravity interfering with the birds’ flight paths, is available for Windows personal computers as well as Apple Mac computers.
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