Finland boasts a population of just 5.4 million and it doesn't need to be said Finland's gaming startups have had a remarkable ride on top of the mobile gaming charts. Checking today, Rovio's Angry Birds Star Wars II is the top grossing paid app, and Supercell's Clash of Clans and Hay Day are in the second and fourth position on the top grossing charts, despite both launching over a year ago.
The Finnish gaming industry was built on the backs of what The Economist called Finland's "autistic creatives." But to continue to grow, the industry can't wait for more programming talent to come out of Finland's universities. Instead, it will be a matter of pulling in outside talent.
The numbers in the region look good. Angry Birds has become a globally recognized brand, and had a turnover of €152 million in 2012. Last April Supercell mentioned it was moving $2.4 million a day though its games. Grand Cru, another Helsinki-based gaming company about to make some noise, raised €8.3 million at the end of July. There's a lot of money to be spent on gaming talent, but Finland has somewhat tapped itself out when it comes to home-grown employees.
"One of the main challenges for us it to find individuals who fit into our culture and ways of working," says Ilkka Paananen, CEO of Supercell. "We work in extremely small teams - for example the Clash of Clans team had only five members until its beta launch. To join our team, a person needs to be experienced, talented, humble, proactive, and not afraid to work hard. Finding people with the right mindset is of course challenging. On the other hand, we've made the conscious decision to keep Supercell as small as possible, and it's not our aim to grow our personnel as much and as fast as many other game companies. We're fine with a modest pace in recruiting."
In Helsinki, Supercell is currently looking for Senior game artists, Game Client Programmers, and a Senior Server Engineer, according to their jobs page.
Rovio and Supercell have become household names in Finland, and if one is to believe the hype coming out of the local gaming community, Grand Cru will likely join that list once they release Supernauts internationally. Their game could be described as a mix between Clash of Clans and Minecraft, and is currently being test marketed in New Zealand, suggesting a global release soon.
"The competition for games industry talent is sure tough in Helsinki," comments Grand Cru CEO Markus Pasula. Yet still it has been relatively easy for us to find some of the best game developers in the world. Working on something really cool with a great team helps in getting the right people excited."
At the moment, Grand Cru is looking for a Product Lead, Lead Game Programmers, and a Game Designer after announcing a €8.5 million funding round at the end of July. Like Supercell, they're growing cautiously, preferring to gather the right people rather than throwing more humans on problems.
Another growing trend in Helsinki is supporting the gaming ecosystem through new technology and services. Applifier's Everyplay is one such example, their technology allows mobile developers to get access the same type of community generated advertising that PC gaming sees, by allowing their players to record and share mobile game footage, like high scores and walkthroughs. Everyplay isn't a one-off product, but more of a gaming social network, providing cross-promotion benefits.
CEO Jussi Laakkonen describes the situation in Helsinki saying, "You have a really nice and good positive virtuous cycle going on. Success breeds success. But at the same time - not to discourage anyone - but I think there is also only so much talent, so not every startup will have the critical mass of talent."
To grow their platform Applifier needs game engine programmers that can help them plug their technology into a growing list of partnered titles, like Rovio's Bad Piggies, Nimble Quest, and Hill Climb Racing. At the moment the company has eight open positions, but realistically some of the positions can be filled by two people, so they're looking for about ten new employees.
"Its really hard to find what we are looking for. We're looking for game engine programmers, and thats a tall order because there is also Supercell and Rovio in town," Laakkonen says matter-of-factly.
Laakkonen may have a point that Finland is getting tapped out when it comes to hiring talent from within. Despite Finland's cold and dark winters (Helsinki already saw the first specs of snow on Wednesday) the hype built up around the gaming scene is making Helsinki a destination for game developers.
Grand Cru's Markus Pasula is part of the reason Helsinki is seeing more foreigners in the gaming scene. "We are hiring very internationally. Even though our first 12 employees were all Finnish, we now have a Swede, two French people, a Spanish guy, one Chinese lady, a British dude, and a gentleman from Wales."
Supercell has also been hiring heavily from abroad, now counting employees from 28 different countries. "It's become a lot easier to attract people from abroad to work for a company based in Finland," echoes Supercell's CEO Ilkka Paananen. "Helsinki has become the hotbed for game companies and people interested in a career in this industry have definitely started to consider opportunities in Helsinki."
Top image CC licensed by Riku Kettunen on Flickr.