GO­ING GLOBAL

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With rapid growth con­tin­u­ing apace, Fin­land is spread­ing its wings far be­yond An­gry Birds

This win­ter has been a dis­ap­point­ing one in Fin­land. There’s been snow, of course: it’s piled up at road­sides and on the bon­nets of parked cars that seem­ingly haven’t been started since sum­mer. And it’s icy un­der­foot, too. But dur­ing our visit the tem­per­a­ture rarely drops be­low freez­ing, and in Fin­land, that’s bad news. Once the ice and snow starts to melt the kids have to stay in­side: there’ll be no skat­ing on frozen lakes. As one in­ter­vie­wee puts it, it’s al­most like Fin­land’s had no win­ter at all. Yet the state of the weather is just about the only note of dis­ap­point­ment we hear dur­ing our visit. Else­where there is only op­ti­mism.

It’s easy to see why. This time last year the Fin­nish game in­dus­try com­prised some 150 com­pa­nies with 1,500 staff. Now, ac­cord­ing to in­dus­try as­so­ci­a­tion NeoGames, there are over 200 firms with a com­bined head­count of around 2,400. Af­ter years of sta­ble, if mod­est growth, Fin­land’s game in­dus­try is ex­plod­ing.

And it’s not just be­cause of Rovio (p138). The An­gry Birds maker re­mains the Fin­nish’s game in­dus­try’s big­gest global suc­cess story and its largest videogame com­pany, even if fewer than half of its 800 staff work on games nowa­days as the tran­si­tion into a Dis­ney-style me­dia em­pire continues. The in­vest­ment by GungHo On­line En­ter­tain­ment, the com­pany be­hind Puzzle & Drag­ons, in Clash Of Clans de­vel­oper Su­per­cell – $1.53bn for a 51 per cent stake – proved to the world that Fin­land was no one-hit won­der. In­vestors have flocked to the re­gion look­ing for the next big thing, hop­ing to un­earth the com­pany work­ing on the next An­gry Birds or Clash Of Clans. That, com­bined with the con­tin­u­ing good work of govern­ment fund­ing agency Tekes – which matches a com­pany’s pri­vate fund­ing and es­sen­tially lets star­tups dou­ble their money – has fos­tered a sud­den surge in fledg­ling con­cerns with big ideas and the fi­nan­cial free­dom to fail.

Which isn’t to say that fail­ure is part of the plan. Fin­land’s new breed of gam­ing star­tups have been founded by people with a rich mix of in­dus­try ex­pe­ri­ence. PlayRaven CEO Lasse Sep­pä­nen (p144) was ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer on Alan Wake and rose to chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer at Rem­edy En­ter­tain­ment be­fore found­ing the com­pany be­hind iPad es­pi­onage man­age­ment game Spy­mas­ter. He be­gan his ca­reer in mo­bile, ben­e­fit­ing, like so many Fin­nish game de­vel­op­ers, from close ties to Nokia in the for­ma­tive years of mo­bile gam­ing. His co-founders bring a sim­i­larly rich mix of ex­pe­ri­ence from Rem­edy, Dig­i­tal Choco­late and Wooga.

It’s a sim­i­lar story for Next Games (p142), a com­pany set­ting out to de­fine the next gen­er­a­tion of free-to-play mo­bile games. One co-founder left an ex­ec­u­tive po­si­tion at Rovio; an­other came from Su­per­cell, where he was di­rec­tor of met­rics and an­a­lyt­ics. Its head of stu­dio spent years at not just to its seem­ingly ever-in­creas­ing size, nor merely work­ing on two of its most com­plex projects to date, but also how it is find­ing life fit­ting in to the Ubisoft fam­ily.

House­mar­que (p134), mean­while, has grown with­out the help of a pub­lisher. It has close ties to Sony – hav­ing kept its Su­per Star­dust se­ries exclusive to PS3 and PSP dur­ing the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion – but the PlayS­ta­tion maker is a part­ner, not a bene­fac­tor. The suc­cess of Re­so­gun – PS4’s best-re­ceived launch ti­tle, and one that reached a huge chunk of early adopters as a launch-day give­away on PS Plus – might have some stu­dios ex­pand­ing ag­gres­sively, reach­ing for the stars. But House­mar­que’s been in busi­ness since 1995, and has had its ups and downs. It’s tak­ing noth­ing for granted. Nor is Every­play (p140), which is chal­leng­ing App Store con­ven­tion with a novel game­play video shar­ing and stream­ing plat­form that might just be the ticket for solv­ing mo­bile gam­ing’s dis­cov­ery prob­lem in a way that ben­e­fits de­vel­op­ers and play­ers alike.

What unites all these com­pa­nies, and Fin­land’s in­dus­try as a whole, is the ob­vi­ous de­sire to be dif­fer­ent. None of the six stu­dios on the pages that fol­low are in di­rect com­pe­ti­tion with each other. Quite the op­po­site, in fact, with in­for­ma­tion freely shared be­tween com­pa­nies for the com­mon good. It’s per­haps a rather so­cial­ist out­look, but it has its ba­sis in com­mon sense.

What unites these com­pa­nies, and Fin­land’s in­dus­try as a whole, is the ob­vi­ous de­sire to be dif­fer­ent. None of the stu­dios fea­tured here are in di­rect com­pe­ti­tion

Rem­edy, then set up Swedish Need For Speed Ri­vals de­vel­oper Ghost Games for EA. It’s the sort of talent base that VC in­vestors find im­pos­si­ble to ig­nore. Fin­land is far from the only coun­try in the world where staff from big com­pa­nies are strik­ing out on their own, but there’s a key dif­fer­ence here: free will. The big­ger stu­dios aren’t clos­ing down.

In fact, they’re thriv­ing: RedL­ynx’s growth mir­rors that of the in­dus­try as a whole. When it was ac­quired by Ubisoft in 2011 it had 45 em­ploy­ees. Last year that hit 75, and now it has 110 staff work­ing on its most suc­cess­ful IP. Tri­als Fu­sion is its most am­bi­tious project to date, span­ning pre­vi­ous and new-gen­er­a­tion con­soles and PC, the com­pany’s first game to launch on mul­ti­ple plat­forms. It’s tak­ing the se­ries to mo­bile de­vices, too, with the free-to-play Tri­als Fron­tier. On p136 we dis­cover how the stu­dio is ad­just­ing Fin­land has to think glob­ally: a coun­try of just five mil­lion people can­not sup­port a game in­dus­try that looks only within its own borders. These stu­dios aren’t just try­ing to do things dif­fer­ently to each other, but the whole world.

The term ‘next gen­er­a­tion’ means many dif­fer­ent things in Fin­land, from the con­sole de­vel­op­ers work­ing on PS4 and Xbox One to those seek­ing to re­de­fine ex­pec­ta­tions of free-toplay on mo­bile; from the log­i­cal evo­lu­tion of video cap­ture and shar­ing to us­ing games as a spring­board into the cross-me­dia strato­sphere. At this rate the Fin­nish game in­dus­try work­force will be long past 2,500 by the time the ice melts: where, in a coun­try of just five mil­lion, are the next 2,500 go­ing to come from? The Fin­land of 2014 faces per­haps its big­gest ever chal­lenge, and it’s posed by its own suc­cess.

Fin­land’s ar­chi­tec­ture has its own sig­na­ture style, un­like its games. A global out­look has, how­ever, helped stu­dios suc­ceed

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