Has Angry Birds jumped the shark, and is that shark an eagle?

Rovio, publisher of Angry Birds, just released version 1.5. The release notes mention a new bird-weapon: the Mighty Eagle. They tout the M.E. as the weapon to use when you are stuck on a level you can’t complete. The M.E. even has its own YouTube video

So, what is it? A ha! It’s going to cost you to find out—$.99, to be exact. Because the Mighty Eagle is what they call in the trade an “in-app purchase.” Which means that yes, Virginia, you too can spend actual money on virtual goods.

Now, I spent $.99 to buy the game, but it’s at least somewhat arguable that there is some real-world value (amusement, diversion) in that purchase. But spending real-world money on something that only has value in the game’s virtual world? Not in this lifetime, kids. 

Now, I can’t blame Rovio’s new owners for trying to recoup their investment, just as one couldn’t blame P.T. Barnum for freeing all those nineteenth century suckers of their nickels. But anyone who buys a Mighty Eagle I got a problem with.

User comments on the upgrade are—shocking!—apocalyptically negative. 

PS. I meant to include Angry Birds on my 2010 year-end list because the success of the game up til now has been mostly a feel-good story. The Mighty Eagle injects a healthy dose of cynicism into that story.