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Finnish game industry not satisfied to rest on its laurels

The Finnish games industry has provided the public with pastime activities for a quarter of a decade.

RODNAE Productions / Pexels

The Finnish game industry does not shy away from the spotlight, with new games and training programmes on the way.

A positive buzz continues to surround the game industry in Finland.

The industry reported a year-on-year jump of nine per cent in net sales to 2.4 billion euros in 2020, exceeding the two billion-euro mark for already the sixth consecutive year, according to an annual state-of-the-industry report by Play Finland.

The 25-year-old industry has matured into one of over 200 game studios, including 46 with net sales in excess of one million and four with net sales in excess of 100 million euros. The studios put out almost 100 new games in 2020, including the hit mobile titles Noita by Helsinki-based Nolla Games and Space Haven by Turku-based Bugbyte.

Space Haven is a spaceship colony simulation game developed by Bugbyte, an experienced game studio located in Finland. Image: Bugbyte

While the number of studios was about 10 per cent lower than the previous year, the number of people employed in the industry rose by more than 10 per cent to 3 600, with another 400–1 000 new positions to open in 2021. Whether or not all the positions can be filled, though, remains unknown amid a pressing shortage of game developers, casting some doubt on growth projections.

A partial solution to the shortage is Game Developer Academy, a six-month programme created and launched by Next Games.

The Helsinki-based game studio, known for mobile games such as The Walking Dead: No Man’s Land, reported last month that it received nearly 180 applications for the second iteration of the programme designed to provide programming students and professionals entry to the industry, be it at or outside Next Games.

The programme covers various areas of game development – from building games from the ground up to updating live games – and consists of a two-month period of lectures and studies and a four-month period of working on projects at Next Games. The students receive an entry-level wage throughout the studies.

According to Next Games, its Game Developer Academy creates opportunities to enter the industry and learn the tricks hands-on, in real game projects. Image: Gorodenkoff / Adobe

The eight successful applicants began the programme on 4 October.

“There is a high barrier to enter the games industry, and we have recognised this as a real issue,” saidJoonas Laakso, chief people and culture officer at Next Games. “Our academy lowers this barrier and creates opportunities to enter the industry and learn the tricks hands-on, in real game projects.”

Next Games, he told, has identified three interconnected problems in finding and attracting skilled game developers: a lack of applicants, a lack of diversity within the industry and a disconnect between what aspiring professionals learn in school and what they actually need at the workplace.

“The lack of diversity within the industry is also a large-scale problem, and not just in Finland. In fact, current game development and game programming positions are still offered to a very homogenous talent pool. We want to ensure more diversity, so changing the terms of entry is the second and key part of that,” stated Laakso.

The studio is presently working on mobile game adaptations of Blade Runner and Stranger Things.

Psyon Games, a Jyväskylä-based studio specialising in science and health games, in October announced the launch of a game designed to promote public awareness of the coronavirus, vaccinations and other preventative measures, Antidote COVID-19. The mobile game, it said, is an attempt to reach population groups that are beyond the reach of traditional health awareness campaigns.

“Despite the fact that vaccination rates are on the rise globally, there are also alarming signs of vaccine-related passivity especially among the youth,” remindedOlli Rundgren, CEO of Psyon Games.

Antidote COVID-19 is a mobile game developed by Psyon Games to promote public awareness of the coronavirus, vaccinations and other preventative measures. Image: Psyon Games

“The reality is that we need everybody on board to put a stop to this pandemic and to return to normal.”

The launch campaign was carried out in co-operation with the World Health Organization (WHO), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and UNICEF Finland. The WHO is supporting the game also by lending its logo to the game – a significant gesture of support from an organisation that is tremendously selective about what initiatives it backs publicly – and by contributing to the information content of the game and verifying its validity.

Andy Pattison, head of the digital channels team at the WHO, pointed out that misinformation on the pandemic is hindering vaccine acceptance and public health efforts around the world, including in countries where vaccines are readily available.

“Games like Antidote COVID-19 can help people to digest complex scientific information about the virus while building up their resistance to misinformation on COVID-19 protective measures like masks and vaccines in engaging ways, in the palms of their hands,” he commented.

Supercell, the studio behind Clash of Clans and Hay Day, has been quietly gearing up to launch its first new game since Brawl Stars in 2018, Everdale. The peaceful, cooperative world-building game was launched in beta in markets such as Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Malaysia, the Nordics and the UK in August.

“The starting point was that the team wanted to do something quite different,” Ilkka Paananen, CEO of Supercell, told GamesBeat.

Supercell is working on three additions to its family of Clash games. Image: Supercell

“This game has no battles at all. They wanted to offer a very peaceful, relaxing experience for all the players. They were talking about some zen-like feeling for the player,” he added. “From a technology perspective, we are proud of this real-time technology that has been developed for the game.”

“The whole starting point of this game was that they wanted to make it extremely social.”

Famous for its ruthless approach to product development, the world-famous studio has cancelled a number of games in the past years for failing to meet its high standards or underperforming in soft launch. While Everdale has cleared many of the internal hurdles, its global launch remains uncertain, according to Paananen.

“We are super optimistic and excited to have the game go out,” he said.

Nitro Games, another industry heavyweight from Finland, stated last month that it has inked an agreement to provide game development services for an undisclosed mobile games publisher in the US. The 200 000-euro agreement marks already the second expansion to the initial order by the same client, bringing the total order value to 500 000 euros.

Nitro Games is a Kotka-based game developer studio with a professional team focused on designing shooter games for mobile platforms. Image: Facebook / Nitro Games

“We are happy to continue our collaboration with an industry-leading mobile games company,” saidJussi Tähtinen, CEO of Nitro Games. “This second expansion further strengthens the synergies we’re seeing with this service project.”

Nitro Games has adopted a strategy that places an emphasis not only on in-house development, but also on the provision of its expertise to other game studios as a service.

Article was originally published in November 2021.

By: Aleksi Teivainen