The small startup with big plans for iPad strat­egy games

EDGE - - CREATE - Lasse Sep­pä­nen Co-founder and CEO

Founded 2013 Lo­ca­tion Helsinki Em­ploy­ees 10 Key staff Lasse Sep­pä­nen (co-founder, CEO), Teemu Haila (co-founder, prod­uct man­ager) URL Cur­rent projects Spy­mas­ter (iPad)

Look­ing at the CVs of its founder group, it’s easy to see why PlayRaven re­cently raised 1.7m in ven­ture fund­ing. Co-founder and CEO Lasse Sep­pä­nen was ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer on Alan Wake; prior to that he worked for Su­per­cell CEO Ilkka Paana­nen at Dig­i­tal Choco­late. PlayRaven’s other founders have a sim­i­lar mix of mo­bile, triple-A and so­cial-game skills, and be­tween them they have 50 years of in­dus­try ex­pe­ri­ence. Their first game, Spy­mas­ter, is a spy man­age­ment game for iPad set in WWII. It’s in­trigu­ingly pitched as “foot­ball man­ager with spies”, with ran­domly gen­er­ated mis­sions and sto­ry­lines to pro­vide the re­playa­bil­ity that’s so es­sen­tial in free-to-play. Here, Sep­pä­nen ex­plains how PlayRaven plans to take strat­egy on iPad to the next level.

Was it your mis­sion to build a team with ex­pe­ri­ence in mul­ti­ple fields?

I have both mo­bile and triple-A ex­pe­ri­ence and I thought I would gather a founder group based on that prin­ci­ple: a good mix­ture so that the team un­der­stands the mo­bile use case, the lim­i­ta­tions of the plat­form, but also can pro­duce re­ally high qual­ity pro­duc­tion val­ues. And also out­sourc­ing – it’s very im­por­tant for us to out­source as much as pos­si­ble and keep a very tight se­nior team at the core. Out­sourc­ing’s an in­ter­est­ing choice, es­pe­cially as you’re work­ing in Unity.

Why not do things in-house?

We like to use ex­perts. Il­lus­tra­tions are a big deal for our game, so we want the best, but we don’t want to hire an il­lus­tra­tor be­cause we don’t have a full-time role. And cre­atively it’s very im­por­tant that you don’t have a large head count. The smaller the team, the more cre­ative you can be; you can pro­to­type things and make quick changes. The more people we have, the slower it is to back­track.

Why choose the strat­egy genre?

For the past 20 years, I’ve wanted to make them. My first game was a tac­ti­cal mo­bile game where you had two sub­marines fight­ing de­stroyer ships. It was asym­met­ric – a new game me­chanic when most other stu­dios at that time were mak­ing Bat­tle­ships. Ever since then, my ca­reer has been mostly fo­cused on mak­ing games with new me­chan­ics, new ideas, in what­ever way pos­si­ble. I’ve al­ways been a big pro­po­nent of be­ing dif­fer­ent. We think it’s time to re­new the strat­egy genre, pro­vide a lit­tle bit more depth, a bit more re­al­ism. This is some­thing I ex­er­cised at Rem­edy for six years: how do you make a game that is an­chored in re­al­ity, in­spired by re­al­ity, but not a copy of re­al­ity?

You have strong in­vest­ment – how will you be spend­ing those re­sources?

The in­vest­ment al­lows us much more cre­ative free­dom. We picked in­vestors who be­lieve in our strat­egy – they un­der­stand that reach­ing new gamers re­quires tak­ing cre­ative risks. So while we of course seek feed­back from ev­ery­one in­clud­ing the board­room, the fi­nal green­light de­ci­sion has to be CEO’s. This kind of ground­break­ing game couldn’t be made any other way, in my opin­ion. The in­vestors asked about our sec­ond game; we said we’d de­sign the con­cepts with the new team we’re cur­rently re­cruit­ing, so we can’t give a di­rect an­swer. It’s go­ing to fit un­der our um­brella: it’s go­ing to be in­no­va­tive, with a new theme, dis­tinc­tive art style and new game­play me­chan­ics be­cause we don’t copy, or clone, or in­cre­men­tally im­prove other games. I think life’s too short for that.

Lasse Sep­pä­nen (left) is clearly relishing his re­turn to the cre­ative process af­ter his time at Rem­edy, where he served as chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer

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