By Jussi Rosendahl
HELSINKI (Reuters) - Finnish mobile games and animation company Rovio Entertainment is stepping up its hunt for new hit games by opening a studio in London to focus on multiplayer games that would not rely on the company's Angry Birds brand.
Privately-held Rovio has struggled in recent years as profits from the Angry Birds franchise dropped, prompting deep job cuts and divestments.
But last year Rovio launched an animated Angry Birds 3D Hollywood film that it said did well at the box office and yielded new licensing deals.
Rovio is now looking to build a team of about 20 people in London to create "massively multiplayer online" (MMO) games that support a large number of players simultaneously, with a focus on new characters.
"MMO is a genre that is growing in mobile, but it is not fully saturated. We are not looking for a niche position but a very wide, inclusive game," Wilhelm Taht, head of games, told Reuters.
The original Angry Birds game, in which players use a slingshot to attack pigs who steal the birds' eggs, was launched in 2009 and it remains the top paid mobile app of all time.
Rovio exploited the brand early on by licensing its use on a string of consumer products. But the company's failure to bring out new hit games resulted in falling profit, prompting Rovio to cut more than 300 jobs in 2014 and 2015.
"In the long term, our new characters may generate intellectual property and even a brand," Taht said.
Rovio has a series of smartphone games based on Angry Birds characters. In 2015 it published a puzzle game called Nibblers and it will soon put out Battle Bay, a real-time multiplayer game.
Rovio is not looking to launch a large number of games this year, Taht added.
"Perhaps there's been some change in our thinking here," he said. "The market is favorable for games that will live long and that are operated with a service mindset."
Asked about Nintendo's hit smartphone game Pokemon GO, Taht said the game truly put augmented reality (AR) on the gaming map.
"We will, of course, be following AR as a technology and a tool," he said.
In the first half of 2016 Rovio booked a small operating profit, compared with a loss a year earlier, help by growth in game sales.
Rovio has around 200 employees spread between its four game studios in Finland and Sweden and about 400 in total.
(Editing by Greg Mahlich and David Goodman)