Angry Birds Helps NFC Take Flight

NFC or near field communication, as we’ve noted, involves much more than payments. It can used for a lot of things — unlocking levels in Angry Birds now included. Rovio is partnering with Nokia (s nok) to offer a Symbian version of its popular title, called Angry Birds Magic, in which most of the levels will be unlocked through interaction with NFC tags and NFC-enabled phones.
The game, which will be initially available exclusively on NFC-enabled Symbian C7 smartphones as part of the latest Symbian Anna update, will feature 20 levels, the first five of which can be played normally. After that, players will have to tap another NFC-enabled phone to unlock the next block of five levels. If a user can’t find another NFC-enabled phone, they can also unlock blocks of levels by waving their phones next to certain NFC tags embedded in objects. Nokia doesn’t say where those will be, but it might be tied to a retailer or chain, I’m guessing, perhaps in connection to a promotion.
Nokia said the game will also be pre-loaded on additional NFC-enabled phones shipped this year. And Rovio is working on a full version of Angry Birds Magic for the Ovi Store that will include more levels and more ways to interact using NFC.
While this has limited appeal for non-Symbian users and is more of a gimmicky promotion by Nokia, it still represents another way to exploit the power of NFC. As we’ve noted, NFC has been framed largely as a payment play, but it has a lot more uses outside of that, from mobile marketing and coupons, to app discovery and check-ins. What will help NFC take off and get embraced by users is real-world applications that have value for them.
In that light, it’s not a bad idea for Nokia to use Angry Birds to sell consumers on NFC. Social gaming is relatively comfortable ground upon which to introduce the short-range wireless technology. Angry Birds is not so popular that it would cause people to rush out and get an NFC-enabled Nokia smartphone, but it raises the awareness around the relatively young technology, which is necessary if NFC proponents wants to get the technology off the ground.
If the Nokia promotion goes well, expect Rovio to bring this to NFC-enabled Android (s goog) devices and Apple (s aapl) iPhones (should they get NFC). This is also another case of Rovio, which recently raised $42 million in funding, using its growing heft to champion something. It previously introduced its own carrier billing payment system called Piggy Bank last year. Rovio is also looking at leveraging Angry Birds fame into films, television shows and merchandise. Now with NFC, Rovio is showing again it wants to transition Angry Birds from just a game into something that has broader value and impact.