How Helsinki came to be known as the global center for mobile gaming

Clash of Clans

Helsinki might not be at the top of the list when it comes to global cities that are known for being hubs of cutting-edge technology.

Nevertheless, some of the most ambitious and prosperous game developers in the world call this relatively quiet northern European capital's streets home.

In Helsinki, the city that is home to well-known game studios like Supercell, the developer of Clash of Clans, and where Netflix has chosen to establish its first-ever internal gaming studio, the first Angry Bird was flicked across the iPad screen. The streamer has cited Helsinki as having some of the best game talent in the world as the reason.

All of this has led to many people considering the Finnish capital to be the mobile gaming industry, which is currently estimated to be worth £120 billion to the global economy.

Which begs the question: How did it come to have this reputation?

Sarita Runeberg, Reaktor
"You can be much braver when you don't have to worry about failing," asserts Sarita Runeberg, Head of Gaming at infrastructure firm Reaktor.

Finland wasn't regarded as one of the world's wealthiest nations in the 1980s and 1990s.

Most people used outdated computers, which were far from the best. The limitations that went along with that would fuel a subculture known as the "demoscene," where programmers would produce music, games, and art presentations that pushed the capabilities of the available technology.

Finns got used to making the most of very little, and then Nokia came along.

The success of the games industry in Helsinki today, according to Sonja ngeslevä, CEO of Helsinki-based Phantom Gamelabs, is largely attributable to this foundation. "Nokia showed an example that we could build something big from here," she says.

Sonja is an expert in the Finnish games industry and is the founder of a new development studio in addition to being a games developer and board member of the popular console developer Remedy games.   .

She claims that Nokia collaborated with the up-and-coming talent from the Finnish demoscene, and as a result, despite the city's lack of major game publishers at the time, people "realized we don't need to travel, we can do it ourselves from here.".

The population of the city, which has a population roughly the size of Glasgow, is very aware of its success in the gaming industry and is happy to discuss it in bars and coffee shops. Politicians and other officials have undoubtedly tried to profit from it as well.

Helsinki Tram
Helsinki, a city about the size of Glasgow, has 200 gaming companies.

"Finns have always been tech nerds," asserts Sartita Runeberg, director of gaming at the Reaktor technology infrastructure company.

"We're allowed to try, fail, and try again because of the cultural situation here. When you don't have to worry about failing, you can be much braver, which is how many gaming companies got their start. ".

Games businesses require the proper infrastructure to be successful. Many of the 200 game studios that operate here rely on Reaktor for everything from company governance to marketing and technology support.

As Runeberg explains, "We know we have the social security network to fall back on, so you don't have to mortgage your own house to set-up a company, and the government is heavily supporting gaming companies. Grants are simple to obtain, and funding for proof-of-concept studies to determine whether a product is successful in particular markets is also available.

Nobody wants to move to Helsinki for the climate, for example, so we have to give them a reason to move, says the government, which has been motivated to do so. ".

An estimated 30% of the developers who live in Helsinki's tram-lined streets have relocated there from other nations.

Sonja Ängeslevä
Nokia played a significant role in Helsinki's success in the gaming spaces, according to Sonja Ngeslevä (R), CEO of Phantom Gamelabs, speaking to BBC Gaming Correspondent Steffan Powell.

The company Helsinki Partners works to attract the best developers in the world as part of Helsinki's strategy to maintain its leadership in the gaming industry.

According to Johanna Huurre, director of strategic initiatives at Helsinki Partners, all companies hire foreign workers and actively pursue specific talent with the expertise they require. They are from Europe and South America, where travel is undoubtedly simpler than it is elsewhere in the world, including Asia. ".

Companies and developers are not given significant tax breaks or substantially higher salaries to locate in Helsinki. Huurre claims that the sale is simpler than that.

Helsinki is renowned for its work/life balance, and she adds, "We have a good life here.". "We are very ambitious in our work, but we enjoy our downtime so much that we work very efficiently and hold very few pointless meetings.

"Life is much simpler here, and since the pandemic, these soft values have gained importance. Many people claim that because of our strong support system, lack of concern over security, and lack of concern over schools, we have fewer worries here than in other countries. " .

Supercell CEO Ilkka Paananen gives a speech during SoftBanks press conference of the company's net profit for the April-September quarter in Tokyo on October 31, 2013
Major game developers like Supercell, the company led by Ilkka Paananen, the creator of Clash of Clans, have their headquarters in Helsinki.
Helsinki Scene
Helsinki is renowned for its ability to balance work and family.

The combination of the government's assistance, Helsinki's technological heritage, and tenacious talent acquisition is effective. In 2022, the Helsinki-based game studios made £2.08 billion.

For comparison, the UK's games market is 12 times larger as a nation than it is as a market, contributing £4.7 billion to the UK economy in the same time period.

Supercell is among the biggest success stories of the Helsinki gaming scene. According to reports, the games developer is valued at $11 billion (£9 point 2 billion), having recently been acquired by the Chinese company Tencent.

Stuart McGaw, who is in charge of the renowned Clash of Clans mobile game, relocated from Scotland to work for the studio. He laughs, "Like a lot of people, I remember playing [mobile game] Snake on the Nokia 3210 growing up.

Clash of Clans
Since its debut in 2012, Clash of Clans, created by Helsinki-based Supercell, has become one of the most recognizable mobile video games.

After beginning his career at home, McGaw was persuaded to relocate to Finland because of the reputation of the nation's games development scene. The success stories of the gaming industry have been widely publicized, he claims.

He believes that locals are more aware of developers' work and regard the industry as being extremely crucial to the future of the nation thanks to studios that are "punching above their weight for a country this size.".

There are valuable lessons to be learned from this project that demonstrate that even in small cities, big things can happen. Other cities near the site won't be able to replicate the Nokia heritage and skill set developed in the 1990s.

Visit Press X to Continue to find more games. the BBC Sounds game podcast.

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