EGD News #33 — Helsinki’s gaming ecosystem

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On to this weeks news.

The evolution of Helsinki’s gaming ecosystem

Helsinki is already the Silicon Valley of mobile gaming. We have Supercell, Rovio, Seriously, Small Giant Games, and Next Games. More are coming as dozens of new gaming startups are created every year. But I believe that the potential next stages of the ecosystem’s evolution are being held back.

Photo by Tapio Haaja on Unsplash

Will Luton put it well in a GamesIndustry article:

“At RovioCon 2017, a free annual conference hosted by the Finnish mobile developer, Supercell’s CEO Ilkka Paananen stood on stage and talked about the history of Finnish mobile development. Key to Helsinki’s success, Paananen claimed, was how budding companies viewed themselves: As collaborators not competitors. The founders of Supercell, Rovio and other fledgling companies would get together and discuss making games. This group had a single goal: To help each other succeed. The teams didn’t see themselves as in competition — after all, no player only ever plays one game — and they knew that a rising tide lifts all boats.”

What we can learn from Nordic developers

We have so much talent and capital available. So what could be holding the ecosystem back?

Homegrown talent

If you look at the talent in Helsinki, people who’ve built games companies, it’s mostly people with tech and creative backgrounds. This foundation was forged through the demoscene in the 1990s when people found a way to bond and express themselves through artistic outlets like the Assembly convention.

How business got tangled to this was the activation of talent as the game industry got involved. Games were getting more impressive in the visual sense, and the best coders, who knew how to build visually astonishing software, were growing and learning through the demoscene involvement.

One of the first gaming companies, formed by people from the demoscene in Finland, was Bloodhouse. Jani Penttinen talked on the Elite Game Developers podcast about his experiences when he was hired as a coder.

In 1993, I heard about a games company called Bloodhouse. I went there, and they ‘hired me”‘. Which didn’t mean that they’d pay me any money because they didn’t have any money. So it was just a group of guys in a basement, a group of young people dreaming big and doing something for the dreams. And even though none of that ever materialized, that was the group of people who would later found the Finnish games industry, all the way to Supercell. These people ended up creating big things later on.

EGD 048: Learning From Serial Entrepreneurship with Jani Penttinen, Co-Founder & CEO, Utopos Games

It’s a tremendous legacy that started in the 90s. And it’s still continuing today.

Nokia involvement

The first Nokia color screen phones appeared in 2002, and it was a promise of having a Gameboy experience in every consumer’s hands. Talented coders, teaming up with founders who’d admired the dot com startups, decided to found their own gaming companies, to make Java mobile games.

Finland had dozens of mobile startups, and more and more were coming up through the support of Nokia, who was also launching their gaming mobile phone, the ​N-Gage​ in 2003. The development funding that Nokia gave out made it possible for these gaming startups to bootstrap for years.

The ecosystem would not have been born without Nokia’s help since almost no VCs were investing in mobile games at the time, and the game sales themselves weren’t making that much money.

Now

Moving forward 15 years to today, we can see that the ecosystem is growing, and nothing seems to be stopping the amounts of revenues and the amounts of startups from growing. But the lack of understanding what is needed in 2020 for gaming to succeed, is lacking on so many levels.

Gaming education has been generating technical and creative talent for over a decade already. There are dozens of University level schools in Finland where you can receive education on game development. But, the issue is that these Universities have paid little attention to the real talent gaps in the market.

Yes, we still need more programmers, and we are getting more programmers through initiatives like Hive Helsinki, funded by Supercell. Hive Helsinki is a state-of-the-art coding school, where talented students learn the secrets of coding from the best in class. In a few years time, we’ll most likely see young entrepreneurs with Hive backgrounds, with the ambition of building the next Supercell.

But the real missing talent is in user acquisition (UA) and data science. These areas of expertise have come to the games industry to stay for good.

Recently, I was reviewing a gaming curriculum for a University here in Finland. I was amazed by the lack of UA and data on the curriculum; these subjects were getting lower priority than audio design for gaming. I’m not saying that I don’t love great audio in games, but do we prioritize the education of audio, over UA and data? Where can more jobs be created?

What should be done

Eventually, the imported talent will fix the situation. In my career, I’ve yet to meet a native Finn working in UA in a games company. Data is already there as more people from more traditional industries are moving to games and learning the ropes inside gaming teams.

When it comes to founding new gaming companies, we need more data people and UA people as co-founders, to create a more diverse approach to game development. That is yet to happen.

Once the founding mix is creative (think traditional game development), UA and data, the Silicon Valley of gaming will move to the next stage in its evolution. For example, these are the underlying reasons why we don’t have any big hyper-casual studios in Finland. And also why companies like Applovin and Ironsource aren’t Finnish companies.

Ultimately, getting the right mix of creative and data talent will evolve Helsinki to the next stage.

Blog 📄

Retention Metrics in Free-To-Play — In the early days of free-to-play, people were mostly talking about ”whale” monetization as the keys to success. But successful games have shown that long-lasting success comes from retention, meaning that the game can retain players for a long time. Think Day-360 or Day-720.

In this article, I attempt to cover the most important aspects of retention metrics that game developers need to understand. There’s also a 15-page eBook available on advanced retention metrics, you find the link at the end of the article.

Podcast 🎙

Kristian Segerstrale, Super Evil Megacorp — If I were asked to point you to one episode that perfectly encapsulates the knowledge that I want to share with Elite Game Developers, it would be this one with Kristian Segerstråle, the Co-Founder and CEO of Super Evil Megacorp.

Kristian is a true Finnish gaming legend. He founded his first games company Macrospace some twenty years ago, IPOed that as Glu Mobile. Then went on to found Playfish, with EA acquired for up to $400m in 2009.

I recently shared a breakdown on Kristian’s 2011 talk at the Aalto University, on his Five Lessons Learned In Gaming. In this podcast episode, I ask Kristian what he would add to those lessons now, nine years later.

In a recent Finnish interview, Kristian said something like this: “The entrepreneur’s journey is hard. More things will go wrong than right. If you want to still carry on through all the hardship that a startup can offer, it makes sense to be in an industry that you deeply care about.”

Check out the podcast episode here. And here is the Aalto University lecture breakdown.

Recent webinar on PC game sales projections 🔢

On Friday 5th of June, me and Jussi Autio from Resistance Games had a webinar on how Jussi and his team are calculating sales projections for premium PC games.

The webinar recording and the Google Spreadsheet template are now available on the EGD website. You can access these by going here.

Articles Worth Reading 📃

+ Expanding on the perfect funding pitch deck — A few weeks ago, we shared a breakdown on the pitch deck for gaming companies, shared by Ilya Eremeev on LinkedIn. This VentureBeat interview is an excellent expansion to the series of understanding this deck. “I see hundreds of mistakes every year with messed-up pitch decks,” Ilya said in an interview with GamesBeat. “I realized there was no framework. I thought it would be easier for game startups to reach potential investors and provide them with information relevant to the assessment.”

+ Voodoo Berlin Q&A: How To Build A Multicultural And Remote Team In Games — The Voodoo Berlin team shares their experiences of launching a new game studio and then having to adapt to work-from-home. “Being able to joke around before, after, or even during meetings is a virtue, as long as it doesn’t impact the team’s effectiveness, of course. Messing about with your webcam filters, pouring a well-deserved drink on Friday afternoon, or having team-wide gaming sessions can massively help alleviate the feelings of isolation.”

+ Game and UA Teams That Work Together, Grow Together — I found this article insightful, especially the thoughts around CPM as the product/market fit metric, and that a good CPM is a result of the combined effort of creative and product teams. “In this setup, the UA team is involved in the product development process from the beginning and makes sure that the product team understands the current market conditions.”

+ Solving online events — Benedict Evans strikes again, this time on the topic of virtual conferences and how all the benefits of trade shows and conventions could be moved online. “I do expect to get on planes to conferences again in the future, but I also hope to have completely different ways to communicate ideas and completely different ways to make connections, that don’t rely on us all being in the same city at the time – or pretending that we are.”

Something cool 🛢

+ A lost Maxis “Sim” game has been discovered — SimRefinery starts, and a dialogue opens, saying “SimRefinery. Created for CHEVRON by the people at Maxis.” Will Wright, the creator of SimCity and the Sims, says: “[SimRefinery was] a simulation of their refinery operation, for orienting people in the company as to how a refinery works. It wasn’t so much for the engineers as it was for the accountants and managers who walked through this refinery every day and didn’t know what these pipes were carrying.”

Online course on fundraising 🔍

Pitch Your Games Company, our online course on fundraising, is a tailored experience for gaming entrepreneurs who want to raise funding for their startup. We provide a template pitch deck with an instructions video, for hours of video lectures, plus three 30-minute one-on-one call with me, Joakim Achrén. Find out more about the course by going here.