Over 400 million downloads can’t be wrong: Game industry thrives in Oulu

In the last few years, Finnish game companies like Supercell, Rovio and Grand Cru have been basking at international limelight. Rovio stated they want to be the next Disney, and Supercell launched two games that are still at the top 10 for both Android and iOS – and that’s not measured by downloads alone, but actual profit. One of the success stories is located 10 kilometres from Oulu centre in Kempele, where Fingersoft has its office. But the Oulu game scene is much more than just Fingersoft, and with last week’s opening of company accelerator project Game Brewery, things are only getting better.

Including three five-month cycles of which the first has now officially begun, companies can receive focused expertise assistance in practically any area of their business – from day-to-day business practices to getting their game published, marketed and sold to the public. The companies in question vary in expertise, age, size and development platforms. The Game Brewery concept has been bounced around for some years now in several cities in Finland, and negotiations with other regional business development centres for either adopting the system or collaborating with Oulu are underway. “What’s significant is that even if their start-ups fail, the key persons stick to the game industry instead of looking at something completely different. This leads to experience and expertise, which in turn means maturity in business – something very important to investors”, explains Heikki Tunkkari from BusinessOulu.

Companies in test tubes

One reason for the growing number of game companies is the Oulu Game Lab, which is a curricular development system located in the Oulu University of Applied Sciences. Now, in its third year, the OGL has helped create 11 new companies – businesses that pay the salaries of their workers and get their games published. The process is fair but ruthless. “The ideas are developed and evaluated in three separate gates, and those ideas in development that won’t evolve well enough are dropped and the teams move on to the projects that passed the gate”, explains Patty Toledo, OGL Project Lead. You’d be tempted to think this is something for mobile space only: smaller development cycles, smaller games. Not so. “For example, this spring all games approved are for PC, and we’ve already called the attention of Paradox, Square Enix, Nkidu and Chillingo, among other publishers.”

It’s not a wonder Oulu Game Lab and Game Brewery are in close terms. “The current buzz is very good here”, says Ilkka Immonen, Game Brewery’s business expert. “Business development is very determined, especially for new companies.” Immonen has experience of this: he currently runs a game development company in Tampere, and has a decade’s worth of industry experience from other companies, including his own, Lapland Studios, which had several published games and Hollywood stars in them.

Non-competitive edge

One of the quirks often mentioned when talking about Finnish game companies is their collaboration – since domestic markets are nonexistent and games are always made for global markets, companies tend to help each other out. This is also true for Oulu. For instance, Fingersoft (of the Hill Climb Racing fame with over 400 downloads) has helped new start-ups in dealing with publishers, and is frequently co-hosting creative industry events. Collaboration extends from people and companies to public business development and education. “The vibe is currently very good”, Immonen says.

With a regional IGDA branch of its own and company development projects on the rise, the game industry in Oulu seems to be in pretty good hands. Patty Toledo agrees, and adds: “The most exciting thing is to see that OUAS, BusinessOulu, the City and the University of Oulu are all joining forces to accomplish something here. That’s how it should be.”

Oulu Game Lab

Oulu Game Lab is a unique training and development program tailored to meet the needs of the gaming industry. Established in 2012 at the Oulu University of Applied Sciences in Finland, Oulu Game Lab supports the development of game prototypes, products and start-ups.

Torikatu 21, 3rd floor, 90100 Oulu

Patty Toledo
Project Lead
Oulu University of Applied Sciences

Aki Latvamäki
Lab Master
Oulu University of Applied Sciences

Game Brewery

Game Brewery is a BusinessOulu project, focusing on increasing business in the game industry through expert coaching and mentoring in company-specific key areas.

Heikki Tunkkari
Senior advisor, creative industries