Saturday, May 15, 2021

Swings and wings, eagles and birdies

Angry Birds are teed off in new branded experience at Topgolf venues

by Judith Rubin and Michael Oliver

Although it is generally not recommended that one play golf angry, it is enthusiastically suggested by both Topgolf Entertainment Group, the global sports and entertainment company, and Rovio Entertainment, creator of the popular Angry Birds franchise, that you combine your next round of Topgolf with a game of Angry Birds for a unique, extended reality playing experience.

In August, Topgolf and Rovio announced the partnership to bring gaming’s “most enraged birds” to Topgolf venues that has since rolled out the new branded experience in 30 locations across the U.S. The experience applies Topgolf ’s proprietary Toptracer ball-tracing technology to blend the physical act of hitting a golf ball with the digital, physics-based destruction that Angry Birds delivers. Taking on a variety of light-hearted challenges, Topgolf guests can partner with much-loved Angry Birds characters Red, Chuck and Bomb to demolish virtual structures placed on the Topgolf targets.

The combination is designed to please the golfers and the gamers and create new audiences for both. “While the Angry Birds brand has a wide global appeal, we’re always looking for ways to provide new experiences for our existing fans, as well as engage those who may not have interacted with our brand in the past,” says Rovio Chief Marketing Officer Ville Heijari (left). “What we have with Topgolf is a mutually exciting opportunity to offer something fun and fresh to their guests.”

Topgolf venues are large, technology-enabled entertainment centers that combine various games based on the golf swing with other amenities including full-service restaurants and bars, event spaces and meeting rooms. Sports entertainment lies at the heart of the experience, although it is not unusual for patrons to come just for the food and atmosphere.

Even if patrons come to Topgolf with no prior knowledge of those pig-defying avian projectiles, after only a few minutes of exposure to the Angry Birds game, it will become abundantly clear why the two work so well together [see below].

Over the past few years we’ve rolled out a number of augmented reality initiatives that blend the physical world with the digital world of Angry Birds,” says Heijari. “However, this experience is on a different level thanks to Topgolf ’s awesome Toptracer technology, which we find highly innovative. Combine that tech with the way Topgolf designs their venues and creates fun opportunities for guests to share their experiences and you have a winning formula. We were able to leverage game code from previous augmented reality and virtual reality projects, which was a perfect fit. However, the way it’s been integrated at Topgolf is first of its kind.”

Angry Birds is a hugely popular game series that, since its 2009 introduction, has been downloaded billions of times worldwide, and has extended into movies and animated TV series and even found its way into theme parks. We asked Heijari what Rovio looks for when it considers taking Angry Birds onto an experience platform. He said, “First of all we look at brand fit and whether a potential partnership could make for a fun and wacky user experience that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Then, of course we look at the platform itself, which needs to be super high quality in terms of production values and tech. So, it’s very much about instinctive fit and proven high quality execution.”

Heijari characterized the partnership with Topgolf as furnishing “that perfect blend of technological innovation delivered as a high quality, super fun offering for all the family.” • • •

How and why Angry Birds and Topgolf combine so well

The Angry Birds game may seem like a stark contrast to the pastoral peacefulness generally associated with golf. After all, the mission of those enraged fowl is to destroy rather eccentric looking fortresses and other structures, “manned” by green pigs, who have stolen bird eggs – hence the “angry” part of Angry Birds. But what connects this odd couple is not so much the what as the how. In terms of play dynamics, Angry Birds is very compatible with the fundamental physics of golf: trajectory, distance and direction.

From a climate-controlled bay, the Topgolf player looks out over a fairway dotted with several large, light-up targets. The player hits golf balls at the various targets, with distances ranging from 50 to 200 yards. The closer one’s ball lands to the center of the target, the more points earned.

Angry Birds Topgolf blends the physical act of golf with the golfer’s action playing out via Angry Birds trademark visuals  on a digital screen in the bay, dragging back the pouch of a giant slingshot (which is holding the angry bird) and releasing it to send the bird sailing through the air, aimed at a structure or fortress. The player waits and watches as the fortress (if properly struck) collapses in stages, to the consternation of the green pigs and the great satisfaction of the player.

The player selects a level of difficulty and a bird to use as a golf ball – perhaps “Red” or “Bomb.” The player hits the golf ball (which, on the screen appears as the chosen bird) at the target on the fairway. On the screen, the fairway and the targets become a representation of the Angry Birds screen, including the fortress the player is trying to destroy.

The main difference in this new combination is that you, the player, become the catapult – that is, your golf swing is what sends the bird/golf ball sailing at its target. The graphics in this iteration of Angry Birds are just as realistic and causally complex as in the regular game; a well-placed shot could result in the total collapse of the target, every detail of which would be rendered on the screen for you to enjoy.

Getting back to the discussion of physics, combining the three elements of trajectory, distance and direction (of course, each influences the other two) on each and every shot is key to a good golf game. Likewise, with a good sense of direction, distance and trajectory an Angry Birds player can defeat those green, egg-stealing pigs, knock their many fortresses to rubble and rescue the eggs, earning high points in the game and high praise from the unhatched hatchlings. If you manage to destroy the structure, you win points and perhaps, eventually, the game. •

Growing the game of golf:

Interview with Lynda Firey-Oldroyd, Chief Customer Officer, Topgolf

How will this branded entertainment experience help build upon the way Topgolf positions itself in the market?

As a company that blends technology and entertainment, we’re always looking to create new, fun and dynamic experiences across our eco-system of global businesses for our guests and Topgolf community to enjoy. For us, the launch of Angry Birds at our Toptracer-enabled Topgolf venues is something that evokes the magical experience of having your favorite game and suite of characters come to life through an in-person, interactive environment. We are bringing Angry Birds to life and think it will be a game-changing addition to our existing gaming collection.

Is this collaboration a good fit with the Topgolf customer demographic?

Angry Birds is a fantastic fit with our existing customer base, who tend to be tech savvy, social and into a wide range of sports and games. We are excited for the enjoyment this mutually beneficial partnership will bring to our guests. The variety this game delivers will be a welcome addition for  our regular Guests who may be unfamiliar with Angry Birds and allows us to introduce our full suite of technology and entertainment offerings to a new audience in the Angry Birds mobile game fan base.

Has Topgolf entered into other partnerships of this kind?

Angry Birds is the first time we’ve partnered with a popular brand to launch a new Topgolf venue-based game. However, we have previously developed strategic partnerships in our digital Topgolf business, leveraging new technology- driven capabilities and fan bases with companies like  Oculus and PhiGolf to build on the unique ways anyone can experience Topgolf. As a result, we launched the virtual- reality-enhanced game Pro Putt by Oculus, which digitally brings to life popular Topgolf venue games from anywhere around the world. Additionally, in partnership with PhiGolf, we developed PhiGolf WGT Edition, which is a mobile golf game simulator that generates photorealistic graphics while the user harnesses the power of a real golf swing to play. Each endeavor brings something new and fun to the table while engaging new fans in the process.

How closely does the guest experience of Angry Birds at Topgolf track with the Angry Birds Mobile game?

The Angry Birds at Topgolf game closely aligns with the traditional Angry Birds game, but instead of using a slingshot to fling birds, players use golf clubs and our golf balls become the birds. The game integrates our proprietary Toptracer ball-tracing technology, which allows Guests to use Angry Birds characters as golf balls to smash down structures, defeat pigs, and earn as many points and stars as possible. Just like the physics-based challenges in the Angry Birds mobile games, once the golf ball is hit and becomes the Angry Birds character Red or Bomb, they will take flight in hopes of causing massive mayhem. The player with the most points at the end of the game wins!

What is the rollout plan?

The Angry Birds at Topgolf game will be available at venues outfitted with Topgolf’s exclusive Toptracer ball-tracing technology, which as of now is 30 of our U.S. venues. That said, we are always looking to expand our Toptracer technology to more locations across our other brands and network in the future.

How do you accommodate a wide range of skill levels?

It is important to us to grow the game of golf, whether that means creating new ways to experience the game or simply making it easier for people to participate by reducing barriers to play. Angry Birds at Topgolf is both a welcoming and inclusive game for all Guests – golfers and non-golfers alike. We’ve made it adaptive to all skill levels using three difficulty levels: Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced. Depending on skillset and ability, the game will adjust the virtual target locations to suit each individual player’s needs. By adjusting the skill level settings, it’s possible for the most novice of players to defeat the pigs, earn points and win against more skilled golfers! The game also features an “auto launch” button that helps boost the chances of success among those who are most challenged in the game.

Tell us about how this is being marketed.

The Angry Birds marketing campaign is an extension of our “Let’s Play” campaign, which is an open invitation for all to come and have a great time. The campaign will air on our owned channels and social media, as well as Rovio’s social and media channels. This will enable us to reach a huge audience.

To  further celebrate this partnership, we have released a new, limited-edition “Angry Birds Sauce,” and partnered with former pro football star Roddy White and world-renowned entertainer Ludacris to share a celebratory dance in which Guests can partake while playing the Angry Birds game at Topgolf.

“The Angry Birds Dance” can be viewed by visiting any of our social channels. It is an easy-to-do celebration featuring moves inspired by the actual Angry Birds characters, but with some extra flair and moves woven in. Topgolf Guests are invited to join in on our Angry Birds Dance craze and post videos doing the dance to social media.

The “Angry Birds Sauce” builds on our house ranch, with a hint of garlic and becomes “angry” with the addition of habanero sauce. The sauce – which has just the right amount of heat – is perfect for dipping Topgolf fries, tots or cheesy macaroni bites, and is a great condiment alternative to popular menu items, like our burgers and sandwiches. •

Michael Oliver
Contributing writer Michael Oliver comes to us by way of academia, as a retired literature and philosophy professor whose teaching career lasted some 28 years. Prior to the classroom, his early training and work were in engineering, which took him from nuclear missile silos in North Dakota to the Rhine River, where he worked as a ship’s engineer. Michael brings his dual background and range of experience to write about technology and other subjects for InPark.

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