Bring almost any game to mind and more often than not, you’ll be able to stick a pin into a mental map marking where it came from. Be it Lionhead’s resolutely British Fable series, for example, Activision’s all-American Call Of Duty titles or even the esoteric output of defunct French studio Delphine, games evoke a sense of origin. But despite its prolific output, most would be hard pressed to identify many games heralding from the Nordic country of Finland.
This is due, in no small part, to an international focus stamped not just into the DNA of developers here, but of nearly every Finn. Finland has a population of only 5.4 million and, as we learn, the small domestic market provided by this modest population means that companies from every sector are looking outwards to the global market. More than that, high localisation costs result in the nation’s children watching films and TV, listening to music and playing games in English.
The Esplanade, Helsinki’s stylish boulevard and lively park
None of the studios we visit during our trip lament any lack of national identity in the games they produce. The commercial benefits of appealing to so large an audience contribute to their contentment, but the focus on making titles that are streamlined, high-quality and fun has pushed patriotism to the back of their minds.
“It’s important that we get the word out to professionals in the industry that we have a viable ecosystem here; if you come to work for a company you will have other opportunities as well,” explains Remedy Entertainment CEO Matias Myllrinne when we suggest that companies here are missing a trick when it comes to putting Finland on the map. “But in terms of end consumers, we’re not going to be communicating Finland. There’s enough to take in with: ‘By the way, it’s Alan Wake from Remedy, published by Microsoft.’ By the time you get around to ‘…and we’re from Finland,’ it isn’t really vital. The end consumer doesn’t really care – and why should they? They buy into the brand. Nokia’s slogan is ‘Connecting People,’ it’s not ‘Nokia: from Finland, by the way.’”
Rovio’s Petri Järvilehto, one of the exponents for the highly active mobile development scene that has grown around Nokia’s presence, echoes Myllrinne’s sentiment: “If you look at Angry Birds, do [Rovio] care more about that in itself becoming a big brand or do we necessarily associate it with where it’s coming from? Obviously we want to push the brand to centre stage as much as possible, and any extra information you attach to the brand makes it harder to communicate that.”
There are no egos here, only an admirable dedication to making truly great games. It’s an ironic situation given that many of Finland’s development community cut their teeth in the demoscene during the ’90s, a subculture built around showing off. Indeed, companies such as Remedy, benchmarking company Futuremark and Bugbear Entertainment (which is currently working on Ridge Racer Unbounded) were all founded by members of a famous demo group, Future Crew.
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