GDC 2011: Angry birds, happy Finns

March 21st, 2011 by

microtask_GDC2011_finlandFor people in the far north of the world, this is a great time of year.

The long winter is drawing to a close, and promise of summer is in the air. For some of us, who spend long hours indoors gazing into a computer screen, this time of year is exciting for other reasons: SXSW festival in Austin, and the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco.

This year I was sadly unable to attend SXSW because of other commitments (the organizers of SXSW refused to change its date for me on such short notice). With all that is currently happening in the gaming industry and the prominence of Finnish companies at the GDC, there was no way I was going to miss this as well.

Fringes in fashion
I was not disappointed: my fourteenth consecutive GDC was the best yet.

As usual, I skipped the actual conference, but visited the exhibitions and attended the two-day summits prior to the main event. The summits were divided into seven categories: AI, education, localization, smartphones, independent games, social and online games, and serious gaming. Gamification, localization of content and microwork were thoroughly explored, both during the presentations and informally. Other than Microtask, Finnish companies on the fringe of the gaming industry such as Premium Fan Page and Applifier were present and active.

Smaller developers had a blast: Recoil finally presented Rochard, a side scrolling shooter/puzzle game that is pushing Unity where no software has been before. I also bumped into the CEO of Tribe Studio a few times (they are behind Stagecraft: potentially the missing link between alternate reality games and interactive software).

This comes on the crest of a wave of success for smaller Finnish firms: Grey Area, the developer of Shadow Cities, has just completed a successful funding round led by Index Ventures, one of Europe’s biggest VCs. RocketPack, a web gaming startup, has moved into Disney’s office in Helsinki. Supercell, with its talented and experienced team (CEO is Ilkka Paananen, founder and former CEO of Sumea) has just released a beta version of a free-to-play social RPG called

The Finnish line approaches
For some at GDC, it probably seemed like Finland’s gaming industry has suddenly struck it lucky. Helsinki-based studios produced Alan Wake and Angry Birds, both topping Time magazine’s top 10 list of videogames for 2010. Rovio’s Peter Vesterbacka was swamped by people wanting photos, and a chance to find out how he managed to sell 100 million game apps featuring birds, slingshots and green space pigs.

But this success is actually a reflection on the vibrancy of the game development scene in Finland. In the early 90′s we had about 15 people making a living from the games industry. Now there are 1500, working in about 100 dedicated studios.

Finland has the second most active International Game Developers Association (IGDA) chapter in the world. When we founded IGDA in Finland our meetings were usually just an informal drink with friends. Now between 150 and 200 people show up. (Those of us on the Board in no way attribute this attendance to the fact that the beer is sponsored by local games companies.)

Games are now by far our biggest cultural export – ahead of movies, music and theatre. Finnish studios are setting up offshore, and capturing the attention (and backing) of high-profile foreign investors.

All of this leaves those of us in the industry extremely happy: although it is very un-Finnish, for once I suggest we openly rejoice at our accomplishments, and look forward to building on them in 2012. If it is true that the world is going to end then, we want it to Finnish with a bang.