Equal parts nervous and excited, Klaus Kääriäinen sat inside the esteemed BAFTA 195 Piccadilly in London. The Mobile Games Awards 2018 were underway, having attracted the world’s top talents for a ceremony that underlined their achievements across a range of categories.
There was one significant reason why the COO of Finnish startup Fitness Village stood out from the crowd that included reps from industry behemoths Apple and Google: his company didn’t have anything on the market. Yet, it was nominated as one of the most technologically innovative companies.
“The organisers discovered that we had figured out ways to combine existing technologies and features and put them into one single application,” Kääriäinen recalls.
An underdog going up against the heavyweights – the stage was set for a fairy-tale ending for the fledgling startup.
Instead, it got one with a healthy dose of Finnish down-to-earth reality.
“Unfortunately, Apple took the prize,” Kääriäinen says with a wry laugh.
Regardless of the result, the world had sat up and started paying attention to this five-person startup from Finland.
Fast-forward six months and the company has unleashed its first title onto the market. Inspired by the skyrocketing AR success of Pokémon Go, Fitness Village – The Game encourages youngsters to be active whilst playing mobile games.
“It’s a real problem for parents these days that their kids are sitting in front of screens, motionless. You can see that some youngsters aren’t in very good physical shape as a result of this. Therefore, we wanted to create an environment to give tools for them to play and have fun,” Kääriäinen states.
While Pokemon Go was explicit in its goal of getting people up and moving, Fitness Village offers real-world exercising possibilities with one crucial difference: it is optional.
If desired, players can remain on the couch tackling dozens of puzzles and reaction-based challenges by themselves or against players worldwide. However, by switching to GO mode, they open up a world map of their current physical location. A range of location-based missions, such as treasure hunts, sprints and distance challenges, then offer carrots to get them in motion.
“At some point, you realise that if you put your sneakers on and leave home you can find power-ups and other boosters for your character, making the game faster and easier for you.”
Once outside, the app further consolidates its real-world benefits by being able to synch with a range of sports tracking devices and fitness equipment.
“It’s pioneering stuff,” Kääriäinen states. “There’s no other such application in the world that combines these technologies.”
Picking up the pace
Fitness Village’s roots can be traced back to one man: Jouni Herranen. The company’s founder has over 20 years of experience in the fitness field and is also the founder of Finland’s most successful training centre concept, SATS Elixia. Over the years, he has worked closely in the field on product innovation, training methods and patenting.
Herranen set out to explore ways to use mobile gaming as a way to bring people closer to fitness after observing its detrimental effects first hand.
The company was founded in 2013 and has since caught the eye of private investors from a range of fields. A funding boost from Business Finland helped spur development further, and a successful Invesdor campaign was another early milestone.
After two years of rigorous development, the game is picking up the pace on the market. Positive reviews and strong word of mouth are cheering it on. Now it’s really time to break a sweat, to see how far the company can run with it, right?
Well, kind of.
“The next stage is to create a lot of products in this field, as there’s interesting market potential,” Kääriäinen outlines. “Certainly, we will update the game, but we will also start creating new applications to encourage people to move.
“We already have the concepts ready for our next product.”