Its fo­cus may have widened, but games still lie at the heart of the An­gry Birds maker

EDGE - - CREATE - Sami Lahti­nen SVP of game de­vel­op­ment

Founded 2003 Lo­ca­tion Espoo Em­ploy­ees 800 Key staff Mikael Hed (CEO, co-founder), Nik­las Hed (co-founder), Peter Vester­backa (CMO) Selected soft­og­ra­phy An­gry Birds, An­gry Birds Space, An­gry Birds Star Wars, An­gry Birds Go, Bad Pig­gies URL Cur­rent projects Mul­ti­ple unan­nounced games

Fin­land’s big­gest videogame com­pany spent much of 2013 broad­en­ing its reach. Its An­gry Birds Toons an­i­mated se­ries, launched in March 2013, has al­ready gar­nered over a bil­lion views. A range of Tele­pods based on the com­pany’s games fur­thered its move into li­cens­ing, as did the an­nounce­ment of an An­gry Birds film. The stu­dio kept its feet wet, how­ever, with downhill racer An­gry Birds Go. Here, SVP of game de­vel­op­ment Sami Lahti­nen ex­plains how Rovio is man­ag­ing its trans­for­ma­tion while re­main­ing true to its roots.

An­gry Birds Go was your first free-toplay re­lease – what did you learn from that process?

It af­fects how we or­gan­ise teams. The amount of com­plex­ity in build­ing those games is just mas­sive, and the only way you can tackle that com­plex­ity is to build some­thing, test it, learn and re­peat. We re­alised that maybe our learn­ing pace hasn’t been fast enough – that’s some­thing we’ve also fixed dur­ing the year, and I think we’re in a good po­si­tion. But it is a dif­fi­cult busi­ness. To pre­dict where the mar­ket goes, and what’s in the player’s brain – it’s a com­plex an­i­mal.

What else have you had to do in this tran­si­tion from pre­mium games to freeto-play, from game de­vel­oper to en­ter­tain­ment com­pany?

We’ve had mas­sive growth and we’re still grow­ing, mainly through new busi­ness ar­eas – be it an­i­mated con­tent, books, comics or other li­censed prod­ucts, you’ve seen a lot of that – but also ramp­ing up our game de­vel­op­ment. We now have stu­dios in Espoo, Tam­pere and Stock­holm. Games rep­re­sent less than half of our head­count to­day, but it is of course im­por­tant for the whole com­pany. It’s where it all orig­i­nated. But we’re not a games com­pany; we’re an en­ter­tain­ment pow­er­house-to-be.

How does your game de­vel­op­ment arm func­tion these days?

There’s lots of free­dom. We be­lieve suc­cess is pretty much a func­tion of a team and an en­vi­ron­ment. What we want to do is get the best talent, for­mu­late teams which work to­gether very well, and of­fer them an en­vi­ron­ment where they can give it their best shot. It’s like a startup in­side the com­pany, the ide­ol­ogy we have.

You’re a big com­pany in a small coun­try. Where are you find­ing new talent nowa­days?

It’s been a chal­lenge, and it’s be­com­ing even more chal­leng­ing. The Fin­nish ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem is ramp­ing up, but it can’t feed the amount of talent that our in­dus­try needs. There’s been lots of in­ter­na­tional talent com­ing to Fin­land also, and that’s some­thing I see hap­pen­ing more and more. We can’t change the weather and we can’t change the lo­ca­tion, but at the mo­ment the Helsinki area seems to be a very at­trac­tive place.

What does the fu­ture hold? You’ve com­pared the com­pany to Dis­ney, but Dis­ney’s in­ter­ests are ob­vi­ously wider than Rovio’s at the mo­ment. You need some­thing else, right?

I think the com­par­i­son is that we are build­ing what Dis­ney built in decades in a much shorter time. What’s our tar­get? En­ter­tain­ing and de­light­ing our fans by di­ver­si­fy­ing new businesses and new ar­eas. An­gry Birds and Bad Pig­gies are im­por­tant for us, but there is some­thing more com­ing from us for sure. We’re not go­ing to be a sin­gle-brand com­pany.

Rovio’s Tam­pere stu­dio, opened in 2012, has re­duced its re­liance on the Helsinki area for talent; now it’s in­creas­ingly hir­ing from over­seas, too

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