One indicator of the close relationships enjoyed by Finland’s various studios is that the exchange of business cards which usually takes place when we gather developers together for Region Specific discussions doesn’t occur. Everyone here knows each other and all are welcomed to RedLynx’s premises as old friends, not just guests. That assembly consists of RedLynx CEO Tero Virtala, Futuremark CEO Jukka Mäkinen, Remedy CEO Matias Myllrinne, Neogames’ KooPee Hiltunen, Frozenbyte sales and marketing manager Mikeal Haveri, Housemarque CEO Ilari Kuittinen, Rovio SVP of console development Petri Järvilehto and funding agency Tekes’ senior technology adviser Tuomas Henttonen. Shoes left by the door, we get started.
Why is Finland so good at producing cutting-edge technology and development studios?
Jukka Makinen: I think the demoscene from the early ’90s is a key factor in generating talent in this country.
Matias Myllrinne: A lot of the companies have their roots in the demoscene. Now we have more calculating power in our phones than we did in our computers, those guys are right at home!
Tero Virtala Thousands of young kids with development potential means there’s an excellent workforce for Finland. But I actually think there is one more reason dating back even further: because Finland as a nation, for some reason, has been a very technology-oriented society for a long time. Our schooling system is good, but it also focuses a lot on technical subjects like maths, physics and computer sciences. Every one of us here was bought computers when we were small; our parents had no idea if those computers could be used for anything, but it was new technology so the feeling was that kids should have them in case they might turn out to be beneficial later!
KooPee Hiltunen: Another factor is that Finnish culture is quite pro-games. We don’t have the kind of obstacles Germany has, for instance – constant discussion about violence, or something like that.
MM: I think we’re also in a lucky position in terms of size, in that we’ve never been burdened with a domestic market. If you look at development in the larger markets, they’ve had a domestic market and they’ve focused on that, whereas all of us around this table have gone global from day one. And North America, I think, is the biggest market for everyone here.
Ilari Kuittinen Maybe that’s also related to the cultural thing. We embrace western culture much more than some of the bigger European countries, so we have a big UK and American influence in our culture, and all of us grew up watching the same TV series that everybody else was.
JM: And we are OK with birds attacking pigs. [Laughter.]
TV: At the moment, the Finnish game industry is employing around 1,200 people. That’s a good number in a country as small as Finland. But I think this development has been possible because the country is so small. When those first success stories started, and those first companies started to rise – Remedy, Housemarque, Bugbear – in the ’90s, in some bigger countries they might not have been that significant. Here they were noticed and a lot of the potential next generation of entrepreneurs became interested in the industry. But in the late ’90s I don’t think it was possible for many newcomers to enter the console space, though fortunately there were small mobile games with Nokia – a lot of those companies could hone their skills. Now, finally, the market has changed and I think we are seeing the result of ten years of this experience.
KH: It’s very true that success creates success. When you have one success story, it’s easier for other companies to trust that they are also able to do it. And I think that Remedy and Bugbear and Housemarque – who were the beginning of the Finnish game industry – did a great job of that. But this is like the question: ‘Why are the Finns good in rally?’ Nobody knows! But we just are – and we are determined to be good in games, too. So that’s the simple answer!