Angry Birds vs. Pac-Man: Is it as Big of a Hit?

John Gruber, in his Talk Show podcast, says Angry Birds is the new Pac-Man.

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.

Revenue

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.

Audience

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.

Other Media

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.

Flopped Ports

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.

Food

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.


20 comments

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  1. beanfresser December 3, 2010 at 11:34 am #

    $1 billion in quarters would equal 4 billion quarters, not 250 million.

    Love the comparison and your research!

    • JaredNewman December 3, 2010 at 11:50 am #

      D'oh. I'll modify.

  2. Harry McCracken December 3, 2010 at 11:48 am #

    When I took a plane flight last week, I was struck by the pervasiveness of Angry Birds on the screens I saw (including an iPad being used by a flight attendant). Maybe it's not the new Pac-Man, but rather the new Windows Solitaire…

    –Harry

    • Steven Fisher December 3, 2010 at 12:22 pm #

      That's a really good comparison, Harry.

  3. Peter Vesterbacka December 3, 2010 at 12:42 pm #

    Pac-Man is a huge pop culture icon, even being mentioned in the same sentence is a huge honor. The quarters analogy is not really relevant though, at the time the best way (and for most people the only way) to enjoy Pac-Man was at the local arcade. And that meant spending quarters. That is of course a good way to measure financial impact, but it says nothing about the power of the brand. Today people play Angry Birds on their iPhones, Androids and Nokias for free. They play over 10 Billion levels a week spending well over 100 million minutes playing the game every day. Even at it's peak Pac-Man didn't come anywhere close. Does this make Angry Birds bigger than Pac-Man? Not neccessarily, but it's very different. We have only seen a very small glimpse of the Angry Birds world so far…

  4. peter griffin December 3, 2010 at 2:04 pm #

    you forget that there is much more variety in 2010. if pacman was released earlier this year, i doubt it would be as successful.

    • Mike December 3, 2010 at 9:52 pm #

      That's very true, and idk how you got a thumbs down lol

  5. Ryan Villanueva December 3, 2010 at 2:38 pm #

    Don't forget these are 1980s quarters – adjust that for 2010 inflation.

    • The_Heraclitus December 3, 2010 at 4:49 pm #

      About 400% since then.

  6. Harry October 18, 2011 at 2:30 pm #

    I remember my missus being a pacman addict back in 1982.
    Drove me nuts.

  7. Eric October 19, 2011 at 11:46 am #

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  8. Cure Fungus Toenail October 20, 2011 at 2:19 pm #

    I grew up playing pacman… spent hours on end in front of the arcade machines trying to beat my own records… I was an addict and part of what made the 80's so great!

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  10. JasonC November 4, 2011 at 4:33 pm #

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  11. ASSE November 15, 2011 at 1:08 am #

    ASSE
    Thanks for writing this blog post, it was informative, enjoyable, and most importantly – a good length!

  12. BobH22 December 29, 2011 at 3:12 am #

    Pacman is a classic game that we all loved. But then sometimes, we have to pave way to new games which can entertain us and Angry Birds is one of them. I still love playing Pacman though. Cheapest Tickets to India

  13. chris smith December 31, 2011 at 1:20 am #

    Not only is pacman a classic it is so much better than angry birds any day.
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  14. denisat January 23, 2012 at 8:33 am #

    That's very true, and idk how you got a thumbs down

  15. Marty January 30, 2012 at 2:38 am #

    Very true! But a classic Pacman game will truly be adored until now. Pacman is still being played today. Best Semi-Pro Digital SLR Cameras

  16. iphone 5 February 22, 2012 at 1:43 pm #

    I think it is as much a classic as the original Pac-man. Will it have as much spins offs as Pac-man did with Ms. Pac-man, Baby Pac-man, etc . – I dont think so.