June 10, 2016

Finland’s games scene – all work and all play

Finland has the fastest growing games industry in the world. The compound annual growth rate of the industry has been over 40 per cent year-on-year between 2004-2015, even ballooning to 260 per cent from 2012-2013.
Finland has the fastest growing games industry in the world. The compound annual growth rate of the industry has been over 40 per cent year-on-year between 2004-2015, even ballooning to 260 per cent from 2012-2013.
FInland Promotion Board / Sakari Piippo

With a mere 2 700 employees, last year Finland’s games industry generated a turnover of almost 2.5 billion euros. So, what gives?

Finland has always punched above its weight on the world stage. Whether it’s having world-renowned education, the globe’s densest forests or even the most heavy metal bands per capita, there is no shortage of international indexes that feature Finland at the top these days.

However, when it comes to its games scene, Finland really comes into its own. Spearheaded by the successes of Rovio’s Angry Birds and Supercell’s Clash of Clans and Clash Royal, it has the fastest growing games industry in the world. The compound annual growth rate of the industry has been over 40 per cent year-on-year between 2004–2015, even ballooning to 260 per cent from 2012–2013.

A rising tide lifts all boats, or so the saying goes. In the wake of the pioneering duo, the influx of interest around the local industry has spawned a wave of second round companies including Next Games and Seriously, as foreign investors clambered onboard.

In fact, some 1.3 billion euros in international funds was pumped into the industry through investments and acquisitions between 2013 and 2015 – a figure not included in the industry’s most recent annual turnover of 2.4 billion euros.

Community-minded

“The Americans are really surprised at how much we share between different companies,” says Teemu Huuhtanen, CEO of Next Games. “But it helps a lot in so many different ways. It’s smart for the investors as well. The more that these companies share, the more likely it is that they are not all going to make the same mistake.”

“The Americans are really surprised at how much we share between different companies,” says Teemu Huuhtanen, CEO of Next Games. “But it helps a lot in so many different ways.”

Teemu Huuhtanen home album

However, contrary to these recent dazzling numbers, the industry is far from being an overnight success. In fact, Finland’s deep roots in games development stretch back over 30 years. Add to this a pinch of tech saviness, along with support from the government’s innovation fund Tekes, and this recipe for success starts to take shape.

The final ingredient is perhaps its most unexpected: transparency.

“We share information, knowledge and networks,” states Koopee Hiltunen, director of local games hub Neogames. “Since we don’t have a domestic market and all our companies get more revenue from export markets abroad, it makes sense for Finnish game developers to cooperate inside Finland.”

To some outsiders, this openness and exchange can certainly seem unusual.

“The Americans are really surprised at how much we share between different companies,” explains Teemu Huuhtanen, CEO of Next Games. “But it helps a lot in so many different ways. It’s smart for the investors as well. The more that these companies share, the more likely it is that they are not all going to make the same mistake.”

Given his company’s success with mobile game The Walking Dead: No Man’s Land, rather than close ranks, Huuhtanen remains an active member of the local scene. An advisor on the boards of various games companies, he also attends monthly community meetups where open dialogue is encouraged between companies both big and small.

Learning to play

With all this in mind, one could be forgiven for thinking that there is no room for improvement for the local scene. Yet, when asked what advice they would give to young upstarts, both Hiltunen and Huuhtanen emphasise the same thing: differentiation and having an overall strategy. With 600 new games arriving everyday, relying solely on being featured on the App Store is not enough. A unique angle is needed to break into the world’s most competitive industry.

Also, in light of the recent cinematic success of The Angry Birds Movie, creating opportunities for branching out across other industries is of growing importance. Having sound business acumen and a good marketing strategy from the get-go is proving to be more valuable than ever. So too, then, is the need for education and training in the industry.

“Usually it’s graphic designers or programmers launching the company, so the business side might be missing,” explains Minna Wickholm, business area director at Aalto University Executive Education (Aalto EE). “The game doesn’t succeed if you don’t have that business part in there.”

Currently, more than 20 educational institutions in Finland offer gaming-focused programmes. Aalto EE’s Game Executive programme is currently the only one of these with a business skills and leadership focus. And it’s not just local students that wish to learn a holistic approach to the industry. To meet growing international interest, Aalto EE recently restructured its programme and launched it under the Aalto ENT brand.

“Apart from Finns, we have students applying from Germany, Switzerland, Australia, Guatemala, Japan and Russia,” explains programme manager Walid O. El Cheikh. “We are not only helping big companies, but also startups in the industry. Part of the programme is to meet people and build strong connections.”

These networks also fuel a better collaborative environment within each individual game company – something that Next Games’ Huuhtanen emphasises as a key to success.

“There’s a lot of talent in Helsinki, more and more as we go,” he observes. “People are moving here from other countries, getting educated and joining the gaming industry. There will be great success stories in Finland in future, for sure.”

Neogames’ mission is to accelerate, coordinate, and support the development of the Finnish game cluster. Neogames team pictured from left to right: J-P Kaleva, Koopee Hiltunen and Suvi Latva.

Neogames’ mission is to accelerate, coordinate, and support the development of the Finnish game cluster. Neogames team pictured from left to right: J-P Kaleva, Koopee Hiltunen and Suvi Latva.

Neogames

Text: James O’Sullivan

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