Angry Birds - What motivates a Bird-aholic?

Angry Birds, the game app where players slingshot birds to attack pigs who have stolen their eggs (yep), has this month exceeded 500 million downloads ( Quite an extraordinary achievement in under two years. The company behind the game has even managed to raise $42 million from venture capital, so you can expect plenty more spin-offs from soft toys to movies.  In 'researching' this week's blog, I've discovered there are basically two groups of people when it comes to Angry Birds:

  • Those who have played it and confess to at some point becoming at least slightly obsessed
  • Those who haven't played it and wonder what all the fuss is about

I need to make a confession at this point - I'm a recovering Bird-aholic. I couldn't count how many hours I spent perfecting my launch angles and tap timing to work through Angry Birds, Angry Birds Seasons and even Angry Bird Rio (the somewhat dubious off shoot of the kids movie Rio). Most of this time was on public transport, but still...

I grew up with classic video games where things just became gradually more challenging, but the basic premise between levels was exactly the same (Space Invaders, Donkey Kong, Frogger or Ms Pac Man anyone?). So app games on the iPhone seem familiar to me. They're not complicated, there aren't a lot of controls to learn, and they're often addictive. 

So that got the psychologist in me thinking: Why on earth would people spend so much time playing these games? What is it that takes normally functional and mature adults, and makes them obsessed with destroying the elaborate structures those giggling, smug, sneaky pigs are hiding in? There isn't an obvious reward for the behaviour, so what's going on that explains the billions of Angry Birds we have collectively launched over the past two years?

In the recent book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us   (, Daniel Pink explores why we're not simply driven by the hope of gain and the fear of loss. Daniel argues that our motivation is in fact linked to concepts he titles Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. He also explains how these concepts help explain why incentive schemes so often fail despite the attempt to clearly link behaviour to tangible monetary rewards.

These concepts of human motivation highlight: 
  • People will work at novel activities even when there isn't a reward
  • We want to get better at what we do - and in fact we enjoy getting better at what we do
  • Hooking into this intrinsic motivation can be a win-win for employees and their employers

Daniel's book highlights a range of different approaches organisations have used to try to capture the hearts and minds of their people through unlocking intrinsic motivation. One you can try as a leader this week is to give people free time (e.g. half a day or even a day if you're feeling brave) to work on whatever they want - anything they would enjoy doing that may benefit the organisation. You might even release some of that focus, determination and enjoyment that your employees usually reserve for Angry Birds.