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