Some of the world’s most ambitious and successful game developers make their homes in the snow-covered streets of this relatively quiet northern European capital.
Helsinki, Finland is home to major games studios like Clash of Clans maker Supercell, and Netflix has chosen to establish its first ever internal gaming studio there. The first Angry Bird was flung across an iPad screen in Helsinki. Is there a reason that Helsinki was chosen? The streamer claims that the area is “home to some of the best game talent in the world.”
Because of this, many people around the world consider Helsinki to be the centre of the mobile gaming industry, which is currently worth around $140 billion.
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Which begs the question, how did it get this reputation in the first place?
Finland was not among the world’s wealthiest countries in the 1980s and 1990s. A sizable percentage of the population used obsolete computers. As a result of these limitations, a subculture of programmers emerged known as the demoscene, in which artists, musicians, and game designers created works that tested the capabilities of the available hardware and software.
The arrival of Nokia changed that, as Finns had become accustomed to making do with limited resources. According to Sonja ngeslevä, CEO of Helsinki-based Phantom Gamelabs, “Nokia showed an example that we could build something big from here,” which is a major factor in the success of the games industry in the city today.
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Sonja is well-versed in the Finnish games industry, having worked as a game designer, served on the board of the highly successful console developer Remedy games, and founded a new development studio.
She claims that Nokia collaborated with young talent from the Finnish demoscene, and that this helped people “realise we don’t need to travel, we can do it ourselves from here” despite the lack of major game publishers in the city at the time.
The citizens of the city, which is about the same size as Glasgow, take pride in its gaming industry success and are happy to brag about it at local watering holes. It’s obvious that politicians and government officials have looked to profit from this as well.
An integral part of Helsinki’s strategy to maintain its position as a global leader in the gaming industry is the work of Helsinki Partners to entice the world’s top developers to set up shop in the Finnish capital.
According to Johanna Huurre, director of strategic initiatives at Helsinki Partners, “all the companies recruit from abroad and they look for certain talent with expertise they need and they really go after them.” They are arriving from South America and Europe because travelling in those regions is simpler than in the Americas, Asia, and Europe.
Helsinki does not offer substantial financial incentives, such as lower taxes or higher wages, to companies and developers. Huurre claims that the sale is much simpler than that.
“We have a good life here in Helsinki,” she says, praising the city’s famed work-life balance. We take our work seriously, but we value our leisure time so highly that we minimise unnecessary meetings and maximise productivity.
After the pandemic, the importance of these softer values increased, and life became much simpler here. Parents here are said to feel much more at ease than in other countries because they have fewer concerns, such as the quality of their children’s education or their safety.