With over a billion downloads, Angry Birds is the most popular casual gaming app of all time, so it’s only natural for social scientists to investigate it. Here’s the results of some recent items I found while searching for what educators and others have been researching about the game.
David Kelly, blogging at Misadventures in Learning, notes design elements in Angry Birds spark positive influences for skill acquisition. Players can jump right in with little to no learning curve, follow multiple paths to success, and are offered incentives toward productivity. Its initial platform design assists in simple productivity as well:
One of the reasons Angry Birds is as successful as it is is its accessibility. Unlike console video games, Angry Birds was designed for mobile devices. It has no tether restricting where it can be played and was in fact designed for mobile phones, a device many people have with them throughout the day.
In addition, the level structure of Angry Birds is packaged in small chunks. An attempt at a level can be completed in less than 30 seconds. It’s the perfect design for mobility.
Pertti Saariluoma, Editor-in-Chief of Human Technology, noted the games’ designers professed they have no idea why the game is successful. Indeed, Saariluoma notes, good game and software design often is intuitive rather than proscribed.
Market research firm AYTM.com offered up a handy infographic showing demographics and other data from the game. Interesting nuggets include: a total of 53% of players use the free version with the majority occasionally feeling “addicted” while playing. The firm noted Michael Chorost’s article in Psychology Today listing the “addictive” elements of the game. These include simplicity, reward, and realistically simulated physics. Dr. Chorost speculates a dopamine burst may be released, making the gaming experience a pleasurable one for players. As far as using Angry Birds in the classroom, Dan MacIsaac over at SUNY-Buffalo State notes that Google returns over a million hits for “physics teaching Angry Birds.”
Mobile apps in general are receiving scrutiny from researchers, and Angry Birds is often mentioned since it’s the most popular game. Matthias Böhmer over at the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence, Brent Hecht, a PhD. student at Northwestern, and their colleagues released a large scale study of mobile app use at Mobile HCI 2011 in Stockholm. They found users spend about an hour a day on their phones, but only about a minute at a time with mobile apps. News apps were found to be more popular in the morning, while gaming apps are more popular in the evening:
Weather checking is, not surprisingly, largely a morning activity, as is the checking of one’s calendar. On the other hand, users’ desire to fling Angry Birds at pigs is absent in the morning, and only picks up in the early afternoon and into the evening. Kindle usage behavior is even more focused in the late evening.
Angry Birds and other popular mobile games will probably continue receiving attention from researchers, with efforts likely to include discerning design details that can be adapted to more educational endeavors, as well as a continued commitment to incorporating the game itself into academics. Research always lags pop culture. By the time several thorough studies of Angry Birds are published, if any ever are, the game will likely have faded in popularity and been replaced by the next new thing.