The bigger the challenge, the bigger the opportunity to learn, believes Miikka Rosendahl, the founder and chief executive of ZOAN.
“We don’t want to do every single virtual reality project in the world, but we want to do the ones that are a bit more difficult and challenging, that really force our team to break boundaries,” he proclaims.
The Helsinki-headquartered virtual reality (VR) studio has certainly adhered to the principles of its founder.
It has produced a virtual time travel experience for The National Museum of Finland, allowing museum visitors to not only step into but also interact inside a portrayal of the opening ceremony of the 1863 Diet by Robert Wilhelm Ekman.
“The National Museum project was special in that we set out to create realistic human characters – which many said was sheer madness – and ultimately succeeded, even though it did take quite a lot of work. We enjoyed it because such a challenging project helped us to move forward as a company,” says Rosendahl.
Bringing Moominvalley and its beloved residents to life in virtual reality is another exciting project for ZOAN, which was named the official virtual and augmented reality partner of Moomin Characters in March.
“We’ll create additional content for the upcoming television series,” reveals Rosendahl. “We’ll tell different kinds of stories to enable people to get to know the characters better and see and experience things in Moominvalley.”
“The project has stirred up a great deal of interest. A Japanese fan has already said she plans to move there permanently.”
A global, growing team
ZOAN’s success has not come overnight.
Rosendahl has over the past seven-and-a-half years assembled a team of professionals around him from three continents to transform what was originally a one-man operation into a VR studio with annual net sales of 900 000 euros and a total of 32 staff members in Brazil, Finland and the US.
“We started growing rapidly some three years ago, after which we’ve doubled our revenue each year,” he tells.
A central building block in the growth has been the real estate industry. The industry has embraced VR as a means to show residential and commercial units in buildings that have yet to be completed or are scheduled for a thorough refurbishment to potential buyers and tenants.
“Real estate is still the largest segment for us. It’s clearly where we’ve grown and been able to operate profitably, which has allowed us to also expand to other business segments,” says Rosendahl.
ZOAN, he reveals, will launch a campaign to recruit top talent from overseas later this year in anticipation of what should be a surge in demand for VR content.
“If Google and Facebook deliver on their promise to bring one billion people to VR, there’ll be an enormous need for new contents. Virtual travel will definitely be part of that. It can be an interesting way for people who can’t travel due to financial or physical limitations to get to know the world and different cultures,” envisions Rosendahl.
Part of a single ecosystem
The vast possibilities have not gone unnoticed for others, either. In Finland, for example, the number of companies involved in virtual, augmented and mixed reality development has more than doubled from fewer than 30 to 60 over the past three years, according to the Finnish Virtual Reality Association.
Rosendahl believes the companies should recognise each other not as competitors but rather as pieces of the same ecosystem.
“We think you’re on the wrong track if you start talking about competition in a country the size of Finland,” he says. “It’s much more important to create value for the entire VR ecosystem, which has global growth potential.”
“We can produce world-class quality. And if we take the right steps, we have an opportunity to create larger, global companies,” he affirms. “What sets us apart is our ability to create high-quality and interactive content. Our budgets may often be relatively small, but our production methods enable us to do three to four times more with the same sum of money than our competitors abroad.”