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It has one of the fastest-grow­ing game in­dus­tries in the world, but where does Fin­land go from here?

This coun­try of just five mil­lion in­hab­i­tants is home to some 250 game com­pa­nies with a com­bined head­count of around 2,500 – and it’s only go­ing to get big­ger as in­vest­ment floods in from back­ers hop­ing to un­earth the next Rovio or Su­per­cell. How can this small na­tion sup­port an ever-ex­pand­ing in­dus­try, and how is its rapid growth to be main­tained? Here, we dis­cuss how these chal­lenges will be met with Mikael Haveri, SVP of self pub­lish­ing at House­mar­que, whose plush new of­fices host our dis­cus­sion; Sami Lahti­nen, SVP of game de­vel­op­ment at Rovio; Joakim Achren and Jay Ranki, re­spec­tively co-founder and head of stu­dio at Next Games; Lasse Sep­pä­nen, CEO and co-founder of PlayRaven; Tero Vir­tala, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of RedL­ynx; Jussi Laakko­nen, CEO of Ap­pli­fier, the com­pany be­hind Every­play; Suvi Latva, co­or­di­na­tor at Fin­nish game in­dus­try as­so­ci­a­tion NeoGames; and Arja Mar­tikainen, se­nior con­sul­tant at re­cruit­ment specialist Barona.

What chal­lenges do you face as the Fin­nish in­dus­try continues to grow?

Tero Vir­tala It’s a very big ques­tion. Look at the last five years. We have al­ways had very high am­bi­tions for the in­dus­try, but we al­ways un­der­es­ti­mate it. I think the cur­rent ways of at­tract­ing talent to the in­dus­try may not be enough; we need to think about how we are go­ing to at­tract the next 2,500 people. Jussi Laakko­nen We have a mar­ket­ing prob­lem. I think fun­da­men­tally it’s an en­gi­neer­ing coun­try – a few ex­cep­tions like Rovio aside, we don’t re­ally do much brand­ing or mar­ket­ing. We pre­fer to be left alone to make money. That needs to change, I think. Joakim Achren It’s part of us as Finns. The hum­ble­ness. Who wants to come here? We’re dis­tant; not that con­nected. But that’s chang­ing now, and we need to do bet­ter, say­ing, “Hey, this is the coun­try where the best games are made”. JL It’s hard to say those words yourself. You see Ilkka [Paana­nen, Su­per­cell CEO] say­ing that, you see Peter [Vester­backa, Rovio CMO] say­ing that, and you’re like, “Oh, well, you know…” We are, as a coun­try, quite shy. Lasse Sep­pä­nen I to­tally agree that we need to at­tract for­eign talent – it’s one of the big prob­lems – but the other is­sue is ed­u­ca­tion, which has come a long, long way. There are hun­dreds of people grad­u­at­ing per year for games and the game in­dus­try. That’s one way to fill a bit of the gap. And one thing we want to do, which oth­ers do, is out­source. There’s fan­tas­tic talent out there who don’t want to move to Fin­land but which we can ac­cess through out­sourc­ing. JL It’s about do­ing more with less. I don’t know how much Su­per­cell is turn­ing over – maybe a bil­lion last year? With 130 people. Look at Rem­edy – 100 people do­ing ti­tles that are done else­where with mul­ti­ple hun­dreds. Bug­bear – 40, 50 people. Fin­nish stu­dios have al­ways been a lit­tle thrifty in terms of man­power.

The coun­try as a whole may have a mar­ket­ing prob­lem, but what can the Fin­nish in­dus­try do specif­i­cally to raise its pro­file?

JA Events are re­ally good. Think about last sum­mer’s Free Your Play that Su­per­cell held: so many people I met at GDC two months ear­lier were say­ing, “Hey, let’s meet up – we’re com­ing to Fin­land for this one-day thing”. It re­ally at­tracted a lot of at­ten­tion for the gam­ing scene here. Su­per­cell – a very in­ter­est­ing com­pany for ev­ery­one in the in­dus­try – host­ing it was bril­liant. Mikael Haveri I to­tally agree. We need to keep with­out Tekes. Our broth­ers in other Nordic coun­tries are very en­vi­ous of hav­ing a fund­ing agent like Tekes, which funds R&D and in­no­va­tion. It’s been ab­so­lutely key to all these com­pa­nies. LS There’s also been a shift in so­ci­ety as a whole be­cause you can now get cul­tural money for games – the Nordic Game Pro­gram, for ex­am­ple. It’s small com­pared to Tekes, but Tekes has also shifted a bit in that di­rec­tion in that they don’t only sup­port en­gines and tech­nol­ogy, they also sup­port mak­ing game con­tent and ser­vices. AM At Barona we have a very close re­la­tion­ship with the Fin­nish labour of­fice. We’ve cre­ated these tran­si­tional train­ing pro­grammes that are com­pletely govern­ment funded. There’s a small fee for com­pa­nies, they get some­one who seems to fit with their cul­ture and has ad­e­quate skills, and then it’s a trainee pro­gramme. Govern­ment is re­ally in­ter­ested in them, be­cause games are a re­ally sexy, hot topic at the mo­ment. Jay Ranki We’ve had great suc­cess be­ing part of that pro­gramme at Next Games – we’ve seen

“In Fin­land we’re dis­tant; not that con­nected. But that’s chang­ing, and we need to do bet­ter, say­ing, ‘Hey, this is the coun­try where the best games are made’”

that in mind; maybe not copy [GDC in] San Fran­cisco ex­actly, but some­thing in that di­rec­tion. Sami Lahti­nen We have so many suc­cess­ful game com­pa­nies now that it low­ers the bar­rier to come to Fin­land. If you don’t feel com­fort­able in one com­pany, there are other op­tions here.

How has govern­ment’s at­ti­tude to games changed in light of the in­dus­try’s suc­cess?

Arja Mar­tikainen The au­thor­i­ties have wo­ken up. I was asked to join the ed­u­ca­tion and em­ploy­ment group of the Helsinki Cham­ber Of Com­merce. I’m there as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the gam­ing scene, and they’re su­per-in­ter­ested and want to lower all sorts of bar­ri­ers to in­te­grate a for­eign work­force in Fin­land. They are re­ally tak­ing this se­ri­ously and un­der­stand­ing the whole thing – some are, at least. Suvi Lata We’re still wait­ing for ac­tion. We’re wait­ing for money, wait­ing for real ac­tions to sup­port the in­dus­try. TV I think the di­rec­tion is good. Po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sions al­ways take time. But the ground­work is start­ing to be done. JL I would maybe dis­agree a lit­tle bit with Suvi be­cause none of us would be around this ta­ble some re­ally great talent. It’s re­fresh­ing for me per­son­ally af­ter so many years in the con­sole in­dus­try, where you need such a spe­cific skillset. Now with the sorts of games most of us are do­ing you can get much less ex­pe­ri­enced people as long as they have the talent. JL The in­dus­try has to lift it­self by its boot­straps. We can talk about gov­ern­ments and all those things, but for those of us round the ta­ble, we don’t have time to wait for the govern­ment to act. We’ll go and make things hap­pen, and the govern­ment will fol­low. We have to be suc­cess­ful; we can­not count on any­body else. MH I think when the govern­ment’s ahead of the curve, that’s when we’re in trou­ble. [Laugh­ter.]

How much of the mar­ket­ing prob­lem stems from the fact that you all have such a global out­look?

JL How many times will a suc­cess­ful game even be de­fined as a Fin­nish game? In the UK, people are much more ac­ces­si­ble for in­ter­views. We’re not. We should do a bet­ter job of say­ing, “This is a Fin­nish game! And here are the guys, they’re avail­able, they speak flu­ent English – let’s talk”. Su­per­cell’s do­ing that, Rovio’s do­ing that, but does any­one know where Quan­tum Break is made,

where Tri­als is made, or Re­so­gun? To some ex­tent, maybe, but the prob­lem when you [make games for] con­soles is that the pub­lisher takes the credit. The suc­cess of self-pub­lish­ers lets us con­trol the agenda: say where we are, why we’re proud of it, and why we make good games. MH Should that be a com­mu­nal ef­fort, though? Should we just do it by our­selves? JL I think we should bring it up, we should be go­ing to the press and talk­ing. When I worked at Bug­bear we were told never to say any­thing to the press that the pub­lisher hadn’t vet­ted in ad­vance be­cause you’d get shut down by a jeal­ous PR rep on the pub­lisher side. You just can’t do that. But self-pub­lish­ing? Of course I’m go­ing to say what­ever I please to the man from Edge. Who’s go­ing to fire me? JR The fact that we’ve al­ways thought global is a pos­i­tive thing. We never had the lux­ury of not think­ing global, so it wasn’t some­thing scary. TV It was a much big­ger chal­lenge ten years ago, but when dig­i­tal dis­tri­bu­tion started, all those chan­nels started to open up for smaller com­pa­nies. It was a huge thing. The chal­lenge turned all of a sud­den into a huge strength.

You’re all work­ing in slightly dif­fer­ent fields and you’ve all ex­pe­ri­enced change. What’s next?

SaL More change. [Laugh­ter.] LS There are lots of tablet and smart­phone com­pa­nies com­ing up. I think the next op­por­tu­nity’s prob­a­bly not on con­soles. There are good op­por­tu­ni­ties there, but if you are talk­ing about the next big hope… JL Us­ing smart­phones and mo­bile hard­ware with TV-con­nected play. Ama­zon, Ap­ple and Google are all launch­ing [in that area]. What is that? How do you play? It’s a very in­ter­est­ing area – I think in­no­va­tions there are go­ing to be fun­da­men­tal in a few years’ time. For ev­ery­one around this ta­ble, that is an area that is go­ing to have a mas­sive im­pact. Some of the con­sole tra­di­tions are ap­pli­ca­ble. MH Right now there’s a split in the in­dus­try be­tween mo­bile and con­sole. That’s go­ing to con­verge: I as­sume that RedL­ynx will be mak­ing more con­sole-type games for mo­bile plat­forms, and then of course mo­bile people will have big­ger screens. TV One huge strength is go­ing to be cross­plat­form gam­ing. Cloud-based games are com­ing; they’re go­ing to be ac­ces­si­ble via just about any plat­form. But if an in­di­vid­ual com­pany tries to out­line the strate­gic vi­sion for where the world is head­ing, it’s a huge bet. It’s hard to say, but I think pas­sion, de­vel­op­ing the kind of games that you love to play, al­ready takes you a long way. If you had to guess which one of these com­pa­nies is go­ing to be the next big suc­cess, no one can say, but I can bet that those suc­cesses will come from Fin­land. JL Never in the his­tory of mankind have so many people played games. It’s the big­gest mar­ket ever and it’s grow­ing in­cred­i­bly fast. What is the next An­gry Birds? The next Clash Of Clans, or Quan­tum Break? I don’t know, but I agree talent, pas­sion, talent base, and ex­pe­ri­ence all help. Ev­ery­one around this ta­ble’s been around the block a few times and we’re still mak­ing these things. Ex­pe­ri­ence brings more suc­cess. SaL: The pace of learn­ing is [im­por­tant]. We know the in­dus­try is chang­ing: the pace that you can fol­low, and learn, and learn again and change di­rec­tion is key here. I think Fin­nish com­pa­nies are very suc­cess­ful in that – not only by them­selves, but also learn­ing from each other. TV That’s a re­ally good point. When you con­sider how project man­age­ment prin­ci­ples have changed in ten years to these flex­i­ble mod­els where you have to es­ti­mate and change di­rec­tion. It used to be about find­ing the fo­cus and only do­ing that. Now the world is chang­ing so fast, you keep all the doors open. JL The world is more flat. From Unity lev­el­ling the play­ing field for cre­ators to dis­tri­bu­tion places like Steam who are democratis­ing it, it’s a lot eas­ier now than 15 years ago. LS I also see a huge op­por­tu­nity in the fur­ther seg­re­ga­tion of the app mar­ket. There are now more tablets and smart­phones than TV sets in the world. TV au­di­ences are very seg­mented: HBO fans, re­al­ity TV fans, The Bold And The Beau­ti­ful and so on. Right now we’re see­ing a very ho­mo­ge­neous se­lec­tion of games on this plat­form. There must be many seg­ments, of mil­lions and mil­lions of people, who could be reached if only the dis­cov­ery mech­a­nism were bet­ter. JL We’re work­ing on it! [Laugh­ter.] LS We know that Ap­ple is aware of the prob­lem – they want to fix it, to evolve the App Store fur­ther, but it’s not easy. There are a mil­lion dif­fer­ent mu­sic styles in the world, but right now we only have the pop list [of games]. There’s no way to find jazz.

“I’d like to see Helsinki be­come a big hub. I think we’ll cre­ate our own thing – it’s not go­ing to be San Fran­cisco or Mon­treal, but it’s go­ing to be beau­ti­ful”

No one’s men­tioned vir­tual re­al­ity. Does that in­ter­est you at a time when games are be­com­ing more so­cial and more con­nected than ever, while VR does the ex­act op­po­site?

MH Games are more so­cial, more mo­bile, more in­ter­ac­tive, and by de­fault Ocu­lus Rift is tak­ing you away from that, but I think it’s show­ing the next ex­ten­sion of what gam­ing can be: the ul­ti­mate in­ter­ac­tive medium. When we were kids, all we wanted was to have the next level [of gam­ing]. I think VR could be it. It should have been the next level years ago, but now we have the tech­nol­ogy. JR It’s not go­ing to be for ev­ery­body, and it’s go­ing to be ex­pen­sive. I’m not sure if the cur­rent hard­ware is there yet, if it’s con­ve­nient enough for users. It’s go­ing to come, but I think it’s prob­a­bly go­ing to need a big player in­volved. If Sony brings one out with PlayS­ta­tion then Mi­crosoft has pres­sure to bring one out as well. Then they both face pres­sure to make sure they get con­tent for it that people ac­tu­ally care about. And then we’re on to some­thing. JL I think it’s go­ing to be good enough in two, three years. For real this time.

MH It prob­a­bly won’t be a dis­rup­tive force, though. JL I agree. Some­one needs to get it in the hands of con­sumers – that’s the hard part. MH You can see there’s a lot of mo­bile people who are not com­ment­ing here be­cause it’s clearly not part of their strat­egy at this point. I think where the money is right now is ex­pand­ing on that mo­bile ex­pe­ri­ence, and most of those people won’t jump on the VR train. JA It’s a con­ve­nience ques­tion. Is it a con­ve­nient en­ter­tain­ment for­mat com­pared to a con­sole? Or is it even worse? JL I think it’s more con­ve­nient be­cause you’re not hog­ging the fam­ily TV. The wife can be watch­ing The Bold And The Beau­ti­ful and you can be… JA But you’re even more out of the zone then. JL If you’re watch­ing The Bold And The Beau­ti­ful, I want to be out of the zone any­way. [Laugh­ter.]

What about new routes to mar­ket such as Early Ac­cess and Kick­starter? Bug­bear aside, Fin­land isn’t re­ally us­ing them.

JL There are some le­gal is­sues with crowd­fund­ing in Fin­land, and Kick­starter’s not avail­able. Steam Early Ac­cess, I think, is go­ing to be much more ap­pli­ca­ble be­cause we can get a game pretty far along here with a rel­a­tively small team. I think that would fit the Fin­nish model bet­ter, where you let the thing do its own mar­ket­ing, while Kick­starter is all fluff. It’s sto­ry­telling. Good sto­ry­telling sells on Kick­starter, not the ac­tual abil­ity to deliver. TV We’ll def­i­nitely see growth in Fin­nish com­pa­nies us­ing them. We have 250 com­pa­nies, most of them small, start­ing out. Of course they need fund­ing. JR And it never hurts to have more fund­ing op­tions. I’m sure there’s go­ing to be a Fin­nish­based [crowd­fund­ing] thing in the fu­ture as well be­cause people in Fin­land are think­ing, well, games are mak­ing money – how can I be a part of that?

If you had to iden­tify the best thing about Fin­land’s game in­dus­try, what would you pick?

LS Cre­ativ­ity. It’s won­der­ful to see so many star­tups and be able to start one of your own and make new things in­stead of just re­cy­cling, re­mak­ing game X and adding five per cent to it. JR The di­ver­sity of stuff go­ing on here. New in­de­pen­dent teams pop­ping up every­where. There are more op­por­tu­ni­ties in the game in­dus­try in Fin­land than there have ever been in my life­time. MH It’s a brave new world. It’s pretty much down to what we make of it. I’d like to see Helsinki be­come a big hub. I think we’ll cre­ate our own thing – it’s not go­ing to be San Fran­cisco or Mon­treal, but it’s go­ing to be a beau­ti­ful thing. Fin­land has a re­ally good ba­sis that’s very unique. I think we know it’s unique, but we don’t know what we’re go­ing to cre­ate. SuL It’s the lack of a his­tory that gives us flex­i­bil­ity. There’s no map for how to do it. And there’s pas­sion, of course, and the com­mu­nity. We have a re­ally strong game de­vel­op­ment com­mu­nity – we’re all a big fam­ily with the IGDA. AM And we work for a com­mon cause with­out any goal. It’s so­cial­is­tic. It’s deep in our heads, at least some­times. In the IGDA, and the Fin­nish gam­ing com­mu­nity as a whole, people share knowl­edge in­stead of hid­ing it. JA The nicest thing to see is en­gi­neer­ing talent – there’s a lot of it avail­able in Fin­land – tran­si­tion­ing into game in­dus­try talent. I have a de­gree in en­gi­neer­ing, so I came to the in­dus­try from be­ing a pro­gram­mer. It’s re­ally nice to see ex-Nokia en­gi­neers start­ing up game com­pa­nies – they’re re­ally pas­sion­ate, mak­ing re­ally good tech as well. It’s go­ing to con­tinue for many years, the Nokia en­gi­neer flow into the game in­dus­try. MH The best thing ever to hap­pen to Fin­land is the col­lapse of Nokia. [Laugh­ter.] JR Nokia did a lot of good while they were go­ing well, and we should never for­get that. They did a lot of good for the in­dus­try: many of us started in game com­pa­nies with close ties to Nokia. But the fact Nokia col­lapsed so fast has re­ally pushed the startup scene in Fin­land. That’s great for Fin­land’s fu­ture: we’re not as frag­ile. We can main­tain this startup men­tal­ity and many com­pa­nies are driv­ing the coun­try’s econ­omy, not just one big com­pany. More di­ver­sity is good for the coun­try. We have House­mar­que, one of the key play­ers in the down­load­able con­sole game space. We have Rem­edy work­ing on ab­so­lutely the high­est qual­ity tech­ni­cal marvels on the next gen­er­a­tion of con­soles. Then we have all of us mo­bile guys push­ing bound­aries, try­ing to find the next thing and not just try­ing to copy Rovio or Su­per­cell.

How do you en­sure that you all re­main friends as the in­dus­try gets big­ger?

MH If you’re a Finn, in my opin­ion, it’s in your blood. You en­ter a cir­cle as a new­bie and it’s just great to see ev­ery­body and they take care of you. I don’t see that go­ing away un­less we have some re­ally strict rul­ing with NDAs and so on. As long as we have beer and IGDA, it’s go­ing to con­tinue. JR But let’s not fool our­selves – it means that ev­ery sin­gle one of us needs to rep­re­sent that cul­ture, and ed­u­cate the ones that come from abroad or out­side the Fin­nish game in­dus­try, [to en­sure] that they un­der­stand this cul­ture and adapt to it. SuL It’s for­bid­den to do any re­cruit­ment work in IGDA gath­er­ings, so that also gives things a cer­tain peace. AM Let’s hope they don’t kick me out next time! JR That’s one of the big prob­lems in many of the IGDA chap­ters around the world. They’re very much taken over by stu­dents and aca­demics, and the ac­tual de­vel­op­ers who do it for a liv­ing don’t want to go be­cause they get ha­rassed by so many stu­dents [look­ing for work]. We’re try­ing to main­tain that bal­ance so de­vel­op­ers still like to come and net­work – and of course drink beer, be­ing Finns – but stu­dents are also wel­come. We’re not shut­ting them out. LS Dur­ing the past year we’ve gone for max­i­mum open­ness with Spy­mas­ter. We showed it to as many people as we can: there are people from other com­pa­nies who play it over Test­flight and give us feed­back. Not for one sec­ond have I been wor­ried that some­one would copy the game. MH I do worry that we’re leav­ing our doors open for a Tro­jan horse at­tack. We don’t see greedy people com­ing in and spoil­ing our per­fect in­fra­struc­ture. JR Well, we’ve al­ready had Ubisoft and EA here, and we used to have THQ, and they haven’t done much dam­age. Can we find some­one more evil than that? Maybe Zynga’s com­ing…

Mikael Haveri SVP of self-pub­lish­ing, House­mar­que

Tero Vir­tala Man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, RedL­ynx

Arja Mar­tikainen Se­nior con­sul­tant, Barona

Jay Ranki Head of stu­dio, Next Games

Sami Lahti­nen SVP of game de­vel­op­ment, Rovio

Suvi Latva Co­or­di­na­tor, NeoGames

Lasse Sep­pä­nen CEO and co-founder, PlayRaven

Joakim Achren Co-founder and CPO, Next Games

Jussi Laakko­nen CEO, Ap­pli­fier

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