Given how popular Angry Birds has become, and how it’s now part of popular culture, my first reaction is to agree. But Pac-Man is an icon that has endured for three decades, so we can’t take the comparison at face value. Let’s have some fun with the analogy and dig a little deeper.
Pac-Man had earned $1 billion in quarters within 15 months at the arcades, according to a Time report from 1982. With Angry Birds sales over 10 million in the App Store as of late October, plus a more expensive iPad app and ad revenue on Android, Angry Birds has earned well over $10 million. Not even close to Pac-Man.
The size of Angry Bird’s audience is probably a fairer comparison. When you count the free version, Angry Birds has been downloaded more than 30 million times on iOS devices, and more than 7 million times on Android. That’s nowhere near the
250 million 4 billion quarters spent on Pac-Man. Even if you assume that arcade-goers play the game more than once, Pac-Man still has a healthy lead.
Pac-Man had a TV show, and a song called “Pac-Man Fever” reached ninth place on the Billboard charts, according to that Time article. Weird Al Yankovic wrote a parody to the theme of The Beatles’ “Taxman.” Angry Birds’ soundtrack and ringtones are sold on iTunes, but I’m not sure how popular they are. A satire of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with Angry Birds characters has gone viral on YouTube. There have been murmurs of an Angry Birds movie. I’m giving the edge to Pac-Man here, but it’s pretty close.
In an attempt to bring Pac-Man home, Atari developed a port for the Atari 2600. The game sold 7 million units, but it was so awful that it’s considered to be a major contributor to Atari’s meltdown. If Angry Birds comes to consoles, I doubt the effects will be so disastrous.
Pac-Man had a breakfast cereal — a young Christian Bale reportedly starred in one of the delightfully cheesy ads — and pasta from Chef Boyardee. I’m not aware of any official Angry Birds food, but there’s no shortage of fan-made concoctions.
My verdict? Even in its early years, Pac-Man had an impact that’s hard to match. I have a hard time picturing any game achieving the same iconic status in the decades following its release, but if there’s one game that represents the rise of smartphone gaming, Angry Birds is certainly it.