Ex-Angry Birds employees raise $3.6 million for gaming startup

May 6, 2014, 3:00 PM UTC
“They’re a great success story for a Finnish game company,” says Boomlagoon CTO Ilkka Halila of Angry Birds-maker Rovio.

FORTUNE — Can lighting strike twice? The folks at Boomlagoon certainly hope so.

After three years of working on Angry Birds at Rovio, Tumoas Erikoinen was tired of drawing birds and pigs. So in 2012, he teamed up with two Rovio colleagues — lead server architect Antti Stén and web game programmer Ilkka Halila — and raised some seed funding to start Boomlagoon, a studio that makes mobile games. This week, Bloomlagoon, based in Finland, closed a $3.6 million Series A funding with investors such as Northzone, Inventure, and 360 Capital Partners. Previous backers Jari Ovaskainen, who also invested in hit gaming studio Supercell, and London Venture Partners also contributed to the round.

“I think many game [companies] focus too much on the technical game design point of view and don’t look enough at the character side of things,” explains Erikoinen, who was lead game artist at Rovio.

As a result, when Boomlagoon goes about designing a game, the team’s primary focus is to build a compelling world, characters, and narrative. Their first game, Noble Nutlings, launched for Apple’s iOS operating system in January 2013, sports the same kind of quirky cartoon visuals of Angry Birds — thank Erikoinen for that — but swaps out the aviary antics for three squirrels that players guide on a joyride through virtual obstacle courses. Noble Nutlings was downloaded over 2 million times, but reviews generally pegged the game as an above-average puzzle game at best.

Boomlagoon’s games are free to play. To make money, the company charges players for “virtual goods,” items purchased inside a game with real cash.

More: Why Apple remains king of the mobile game

Stén, Boomlagoon’s CEO, says the studio will unveil their next “character-centric” game Monsu, or “monsters,” in the coming weeks, in which case, the company will get another shot at a hit. That puts them in the same boat as Rovio itself, which recently reported a 52% drop in profits last year. While a significant amount of that money went toward growing Rovio’s staff from 500 to 800 employees, there’s no denying that Angry Birds as a property has plateaued — unsurprising given it’s been around for four years and downloaded over 2 billion times.

Moreover, the Angry Birds franchise isn’t a huge moneymaker from a business standpoint because its core gameplay doesn’t incentivize players enough to pay for virtual items. “In Angry Birds, you don’t run out of lives,” Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter told Fortune recently. Pachter argues it lacks the arcade game-like mechanisms at its core that really drive users to pay. Whether they’ll admit as much, Stén and crew are likely taking the lessons learned from their time at Rovio.

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