Ina Fried

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Rovio’s CEO on Growing His Flock and Whether to Fly Solo

Last week was a big one for Rovio, the maker of the hit game Angry Birds.

The company released its Facebook game, joined up with a Finnish theme park and announced plans to blast off into space.

But the company is also at a crossroads.

For all its success, Rovio’s fortunes remain solidly hitched to its flagship birds.

“If everything we did was just about mobile games I’d be more worried,” CEO Mikael Hed told AllThingsD. Hed says the company has branched out into animation, merchandising and other areas.

Plus, Hed notes, Rovio also has a non-Angry Birds-themed game currently in production.

“It will be out in a couple months,” Hed said in an interview in his office in Espoo, Finland.

The focus, Hed said, is on making sure that the company continues to create products that are just plain fun.

“Talking about ‘users’ is totally wrong,” Hed said. “As long as you keep talking about users, you forget they are really human beings.”

Too many companies, he said, focus on the economics over the game play.

“You are not making (things) for essentially a walking wallet,” he said.

Venture capitalist Rich Wong, whose Accel Partners led a massive investment round in Rovio last year, insists people are always predicting that Angry Birds have peaked — and they are always wrong.

“They’ve heard the feedback almost every week from outsiders that they can’t keep it going,” Wong said, but added, “The team has demonstrated the agility multiple times in finding ways to keep the brand fresh and engaging, and the numbers show it.”

Despite all that unflappable enthusiasm, Rovio could, of course, still sell itself. Although the number of potential buyers has shrunk as Rovio’s value has soared, there are still plenty of would-be suitors.

“It is very regular to get contacted by somebody who wants to know if we are interested,” Hed said.

As much fun as he insists he is having, Hed said there is always a tipping point at which it makes more sense to sell. No offer, he said, has yet met that threshold.

“We feel good about our future,” he said. “We are not in a rush to sell.”

One name that has to be on any list of potential acquirers would be Zynga, fresh off its initial public offering.

“I would say there are a number of companies that are very active in the acquisition space,” Hed said. “Zynga is one of them.”

Hed is coy as to whether there have been discussions.

“It’s clear that at one point or another we talk to everybody,” he said.

Rovio is also pondering making its own acquisitions, Hed said.

“That’s another one of the areas we are starting to be ready for -– acquisitions,” Hed said. But Hed said that growth through acquisition is tricky and many purchases don’t work out.

“It would be very easy for us to just go shopping,” he said. “To get lasting benefit is the hard part.”

In addition, the company is evaluating whether to become a publisher for other developers’ games.

“Angry Birds has been the brand that has allowed us to build all of this,” Hed said. But that infrastructure, he notes, could be used for other brands, whether developed by Rovio or not.

For now, though, much of the focus is on the next installment of the Angry Birds franchise, the space-themed game due out March 22. The game will debut that day for iOS, Android, Mac and PC, with merchandise going on sale the same day.

The game features zero-gravity areas and different planets, offering new challenges for Angry Birds vets, while remaining approachable for newbies.

“It’s a really fresh take on the franchise,” Hed said. “Space brings a lot of new features into the game.”

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— Om Malik on Bloomberg TV, talking about Yahoo, the September issue of Vogue Magazine, and our overdependence on Google