We’ve all heard of Angry Birds. But what about King of the Cabbage World? The less-catchy title was Finland-based Rovio’s first development – 51 before their most famous, whose many versions have amassed a whopping 2bn downloads worldwide. But Rovio is just one company in a burgeoning local scene. This week Helsinki’s Next Games secured $6 million in funding for two projects, one of which is a game based on the popular TV show The Walking Dead.
Finland is a smallish slither of snow-swept land in northern Europe, with a population of around 5.5m. It’s best known for saunas, skiing and Santa Claus. But Finland is also a world leader in mobile gaming, with titles such as Angry Birds and Clash of Clans coming from the nordic state. There are plenty of reasons why.
To begin with, Finland pumps a lot of money into its tech sector. The country’s government-backed Tekes agency put $135m into growth startups in 2012, and that spring launched Skene, a games-dedicated project that has pledged $97m towards development. So far, over 100 games have been funded by Skene. Finland also has a high rate of venture capital as a percentage of GDP – 0.041%. That’s dwarfed by Israel, which leads the world with a massive 0.36%, but it’s the fourth-highest in Europe, and eighth globally. Seed funding contributes 80% of that amount.
Little wonder that Finland’s games industry is booming. Comprising over 200 companies, it’s worth just over $3bn – with a turnover of $1.25bn – and has grown by 260% in the past year. Over 50% of Finland’s tech companies were founded in the last two years, and compound annual growth is 39.5%, with a projected 2,400 people working in gaming by the end of this year. That’s one in every couple of thousand Finns working on games.
Finland’s game developers are also a social bunch – and it’s not just the saunas that bring them together (and where a large portion of Finnish business deals are supposedly closed). Its International Game Developers Association (IDGA) brings together over 400 industry pros once monthly across six cities. Slush is a big startup conference for northern Europe and Russia, occurring each November.
Helsinki dominates the scene, with 37% of games companies based in the capital. Electronic Arts even opened up shop there in 2012. But another fifth are located in the windswept north, proving that weather is no obstacle to creativity. Here are seven stars of the Finnish gaming industry to watch out for this year.
Like Angry Birds? Of course you do, and you’re not alone. The series continues to burn brightly with recent petrol-headed platform Angry Birds Go, which has helped the 2003-founded firm continue to exceed expectations. 800 employees now work at its headquarters in the southern city of Espoo, who created revenues of $211m in 2012, from $42m of investments in 2011.
In October Japanese giant paid $1.5bn for a 51% stake in Helsinki-headquartered Supercell, pushing it towards the top of the gaming pile. The company is barely four years old but reportedly makes $2.4m each day thanks to top-grossing titles like Hay Day and Clash of Clans, which top-grossed in 143m countries thanks to its addictive, empire-building gameplay.
Remedy was made famous for its console series, Max Payne, which even made it to a big-screen thriller starring Mark Wahlberg. Those two games sold 7m, but Remedy is turning to mobile for its future: Death Rally has 16m downloads and counting, while its Agents of Storm iOS game is in open beta phase. Like Rovio Remedy is based in Espoo, with over 100 employees.
Founded in 2000 and well-versed in traditional console games, RedLynx was already a stalwart of the Finnish gaming scene before French giant Ubisoft snapped it up in 2011 for an undisclosed fee. Its mobile ventures are currently based around Trials biking – with Trials Frontier becoming the first mobile Trials title in 2012. So far RedLynx boasts 30m downloads.
Supernauts, a Minecraft-inspired ‘social town builder’, has put Grand Cru on the map. It received series A funding of $11.8m from Qualcomm Ventures and Nokia last July, and typifies the sort of hip tech startups dotted about Helsinki right now: its penthouse complex even has a sauna.
This week has been good to Next, a group of experts drawn from Rovio, Disney and Supercell: $6m in series A funding for its two leading free-to-play projects, including the aforementioned Walking Dead fifth season tie-in. Lead investors included IDG Ventures, Lowercase Capital and Jari Ovaskainen, who also helped fund Supercell.
They’re barely on the map, having been founded just last year. But Playraven’s team deserve special mention not just for the $2.3m seed investment secured this January, but for the sheer expansiveness of debut project Spymaster, an iPad adventure based on taking control of a WWII spy ring. Spymaster is due for release this spring and has had several analysts salivating at its depth of ambition. Watch this space.