Among the games news that started circulating at the beginning of the year was a story that is on one level kind of mind blowing: on Christmas day 2011 6.5 million people downloaded some form of Angry Birds. There seem to be two general (read: vocal) camps about all of this: the ones that think that the flurry of downloads proves that smartphones and other devices are the next wave of gaming, and the camp that seems to hate everything that Angry Birds stands for and seemingly wants to leap off of a very tall building upon hearing news of such a large number of downloads.
So, what do I think? Well, perhaps most obviously I think that a lot of copies of Angry Birds were downloaded.
Going deeper than that though, I'm honestly not sure that this really means anything at all. Certainly 6.5 million is a big number, but sometimes a download is just a download.
I feel fairly secure in saying that all of the downloads means that Angry Birds is a fairly popular title: it's the video game that a lot of people who don't even play games know about. Over the short amount of time that it's been around Angry Birds has become the most recent recognized icon regarding gaming: same thing with Mario or Space Invaders or Pac Man. It doesn't seem like too big of a stretch to say that when a person gets a device capable of running Angry Birds, that they might seek it out even if they haven't gamed much, just to see what all the fuss is about.
Which leads me to another point: although the game was certainly downloaded a lot, the statistic I'm interested in is how many people actually paid anything for it. The original Angry Birds is a free app in the Android Marketplace, and as far as I can tell the two other Angry Birds games are either free or have free versions (that are likely ad supported in order to be so). With a free to play version bound to be available on your machine of choice the question needs to be: why wouldn't there be a lot of downloads of this game? If a person downloads it and doesn't like it they can just delete the app and only wasted a bit of time, and conversely if they do like it it was still free to download and didn't pose much of a risk in the first place.
I've got nothing for or against Angry Birds. I've never played the game myself, although I have played something that I consider fairly equivalent (Crush the Castle) and I think it's a solid, if simple, premise. I don't think Angry Birds needs to be validated, the very fact that it's a game that even non-gamers can recognize is testament to that. And while I am impressed at that rather large download number, in the end I don't think it means anything -- either positive or negative -- near as much as some people say it does; it's not the fall of video gaming, nor is it showing the supremacy of smartphones and apps as the new gaming trend. Like I said, the only thing it can certainly mean is that a lot of people downloaded at least one version of Angry Birds on Christmas; nothing less, nothing more.