The name behind Finland's next hyped gaming company comes from a classification of Champagne. Like all fine champagne, Grand Cru needed to age a few years before it's ready.
Late last night Grand Cru released their first title, Supernauts internationally. Our Finnish and Canadian readers have had access to the game since before Christmas, but that's not all the waiting we've had to do. The first news about Grand Cru coming together came way back in May of 2011 when they received an initial round of investment from Lifeline Ventures, with the game title released back in 2012.
Digging into the history of the company, CEO Markus Pasula tells us that the idea of Supernauts came from two inspirations. On one side Minecraft was just starting to take off, and they were super excited about how user generated content was becoming the game itself. You could see this in a lot of places, like what hardcore Farmville players were doing - instead of just focusing on getting more resources they were making pictures out of their different colored items.
At the same time, they wanted to make a "truly social game". Here on the social side they were inspired by Habbo Hotel and these social hangouts where people would stay and talk and meet new people or hang out with friends. "We didn't see anything like this on mobile," says Pasula.
The result is what one of their investors, Jason Ball from Qualcomm, calls "Minecraft for moms". What's probably a more adapt description is a Minecraft-style floating world where players can control and move blocks to build whatever they want in an open-style gameplay. To get new blocks, you've got to build resource generators, which takes up time in that Free to Play way. It's deep and accessible, and I'm curious how it'll take off now it's in the States.
The best thing that Supernauts has going for it is that they've really managed to create their own style. As you try to crank up your world's "fabulousness" meter, you can also go around and visit your friends' worlds and try to sell ice cream to their citizens. It's weird, it's cool, and opening up Supernauts is like going to a world that could only be dreamed up in their Kallio office.
Since we got our hands on the game in Finland they've tweaked a few areas. One major update is a new team contest dynamic where you get players collecting resources, planning, and then building a world based on a theme. Recent contests include Jurassic Jungle, Absolutely Animals and Soccer Samba Special, where teams build some amazing creations out of the world's fabulous blocks. This video shows what crazy things people are building:
As Pasula demos Supernauts, he points out that he's actually a secret agent on one of the teams. "I'm not active enough... I might get kicked out," he says in a worried tone. "You have to send shipments [of blocks] to earth where you build things for the contest. We decided you have to send a minimum of 15 or you get kicked. I've shipped three..."
One thing they've learned when getting Supernauts together is that at the end of the day you have to make the game you want to make, and that you can't put that much weight on AB testing. If you see that 10% of players are dropping off at a certain point, then that's a good metric to follow, but instead they see more value actually going into the game and talking to players to see what works and what doesn't work for them.
Recently they invited two of the more hardcore players from Canada, known under the moniker of Team Potato in the contests, to their Helsinki office to talk about the game. The husband and wife team (only two people!) have created some crazy cool creations, so you might as well download the app to see what's they're up to.
Looking at Helsinki's gaming scene, Grand Cru should be poised to be the third major studio putting Helsinki on the map after Supercell and Rovio. The company raised a solid €8.5 million about a year ago, and with enough time to tweak their game to how they want it, they should be poised for something big.
As we finish our interview, Pasula zones out a second into the Supernauts app, reading his team's discussion channel. "I'm just looking again to see if they're talking about kicking me out," he apologizes. Hopefully Pasula still has his place in Supernauts.