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Fingersoft CEO Jaakko Kylmäoja: Building the world's most downloaded racing games

Lego Hill Climb Adventures is out now, joining a series that's so far seen over two billion downloads. Here's the inside story on the latest Hill Climb and Fingersoft's plans for the future
Fingersoft CEO Jaakko Kylmäoja: Building the world's most downloaded racing games
  • Hill Climb Racing is the most downloaded racing franchise of all time, being the second Finnish mobile game franchise to score one billion downloads, beaten only by Rovio’s Angry Birds
  • Lego Hill Climb Adventures is the only the third game in the series with Hill Climb Racing 3 on the way

Lego Hill Climb Adventures, the latest game in Fingersoft's smash hit Hill Climb Racing series and their first cooperation with the global Lego brand, is out now.

Launched in 2012 Hill Climb Racing was perhaps the first racing game that was perfectly at home on mobile, taking advantage of the format’s screen and touch while utilising innovative physics and level design to create a lasting, fun challenge for what soon became millions of players.

Add in the multiplayer features that came as part of sequel Hill Climb Racing 2 in 2016, and you’ve a series that remains the most downloaded racing franchise of all time. In 2018, the games became the second Finnish mobile game franchise to score one billion downloads, beaten only by Rovio’s Angry Birds, before scorching past two billion in 2022.

So with a new game out now, an impressive tie-in, and the promise of Hill Climb Racing 3 on the way, what better time to catch up with Fingersoft CEO Jaakko Kylmäoja to find out more about the company, their famous creation and their plans for the future?


PocketGamer.biz: So this is a big deal. Lego Hill Climb Adventures is out now.

Jaakko Kylmäoja: Yeah, we’re super, super proud that we finally got the game launched. We’re really happy that we’re here. We aimed to have about one year for the soft launch to get the game right. And this time, it took about one and a half years. But I think that we prioritised having a good game rather than trying to meet some kind of timetable.

“His application, Cartoon Camera, was able to get 10 million installs. And then he had the courage that, OK, maybe I should do a game?”
Jaakko Kylmäoja

Of course everyone knows the series and you’ve millions of fans, but just tell us a little about Fingersoft’s origins. How did you get started? 

Well, the company was founded in 2012 and initially, the founder, Toni Fingerroos, was making camera applications for Android and in those he had a crosspromotion. So when he published one application per month, he could get more users by promoting the new one from the previous ones.

And like a lot of people in early mobile, he had experience in the games industry. His application, Cartoon Camera, was able to get 10 million installs. And then he had the courage that, OK, maybe I should do a game?

It took about three months to make the first version of Hill Climb Racing and that had one car and one level. And it immediately got to number one. So basically the story started then and about six months after that, I joined the team and have been there for 11 years.

When you joined, how many people were in the company?

I was the sixth employee. And now we are 118. So it’s been a big change for the company.

The Fingersoft team outside their HQ in Oulu, Finland
The Fingersoft team outside their HQ in Oulu, Finland

And was the intention always to grow Hill Climb Racing into such a big franchise?

Well, of course, the initial idea was to develop the game all the time, and have a ‘game as a service’. The main thing that we were focusing on was the feedback that we got from our players. We wanted to provide those kinds of things that they wished were in the game, but at some point, we realised that this might not be good for this game. So maybe we should develop a new kind of game.

And so we started investing, developing the next game and the Hill Climb Racing 2 came out in 2016. It had this synchronous multiplayer mode that the first game didn’t have. And now we have Lego Hill Climb Adventures and that’s a little bit different.

It’s a story based game, and like Hill Climb Racers 3, which we have announced and is under development, it’s a real time multiplayer game. So we have these functions that we don't think fit into our current games, so we start developing a new one that better suits those ideas.

Games that last forever and live ops games are obviously a major part of the gaming scene. Do racing games not fit within this ideal?

Well, of course, we develop our games that are currently out there and there are some big updates. Like for Hill Climb Racing, just a few months ago, we put in a new level editor that lets players make levels themselves. We didn’t make a new game just for that.

But I think that because times change and how people see games change there are different opportunities for the business side. We have always been focussing on the user experience and not wanting to interrupt the players.

So, for example, in early Hill Climbers, you can have interstitial ads on the banner ads during the menus. But as time goes by, people get more used to different kinds of advertisements and then also what we can do with the games.

And also the technology. Phones get better all the time so this gives us new kinds of opportunities and we think that maybe this would be a good thing to have a new game for.

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Lego Hill Climb Adventures certainly looks like a step up with its full 3D models.

Yes, it's quite a technical step up from the previous games. We had to make it with a different kind of technology because previously, we were basically doing C++ programming and then for the 3D games we’ve moved to Unity. And of course, those give some new opportunities such as if you want to go to different kinds of platforms, you can decide to go out there in the future.

Going back to monetisation, what’s been the history of monetisation in the Hill Climb games?

Hill Climb is free to play and Lego has a policy that there are no advertisements in-game. But there have been no advertisements in the other previous games. So basically you can play the game as much as everyone else, but if you want to have some kind of additional content and, and you think that the game is good, then you can decide on making the experience that bit better.

How did the relationship with Lego come about? Did they come to you, or did you pitch the game to them?

Well, actually we've been contacted by many companies before but the first time we met the Lego guys was at some conference and they asked what we would think about this kind of cooperation. When we started researching what that basically would mean, we realised that there was so much enthusiasm inside our team - there were so many people who were really into Lego. So we thought that if this enthusiasm goes into the product, then we believe that that might end up being a good product.

We thought that if we wanted to collaborate with a company, Lego would be the best possible choice. We like the company's values. I think that we share a lot of values with Lego. They're a family company, and family companies are very independent.

“Of course, we have to agree on things and negotiate. But I don’t think things could have gone any better.”
Jaakko Kylmäoja

What was it like working with them? Was there a lot of backwards and forwards in approvals? Checking things out as the game's been built?

I think that the corporation has been very, very smooth. Of course, we have to agree on things and negotiate. But they’ve been really nice and I’ve been really happy to work with the Lego people. I don’t think things could have gone any better.

Did you look at other Lego games? I'm thinking about the famous Traveller's Tales games.

Yeah, I was one of the people doing studies on the other Lego games and what kind of cooperation they did there. This affected our decisions as to what we could do, and, from our perspective, we have done a lot of work developing the brand of Hill Climb, and we have developed big worlds - where the Hill Climb game is now and what will happen in the future.

So, integrating the Lego world with the world we had developed matched quite well, and they didn’t have to watch too much as we have our own system for the game that really works.

What does the new game bring to the series? From a player's point of view?

It’s for those times when you want to have some kind of narrative and story in a game. You want to kind of play by yourself and explore. I think that this game suits the needs of these kinds of people, rather than the competitive sessions that you could play with other Hill Climbers or competing against yourself to make records as to how far you can go.

Hence the use of the word ‘Adventures’ rather than ‘Racing’ in the title.

Yeah, in Adventures there are stories and there are a lot of different kinds of adventures that you can go through. You’re exploring the world in the game and finding new characters, so it's more like an adventure. A lot of our players have described it more like an adventure because it's kind of fun finding new things and dilemmas.

What's your take on the Nordic connection with mobile gaming? Why are there so many big games from the region? What's the secret?

Yeah, if we think about the Finnish game industry, a lot of it has to do with our demo scene back in the eighties and nineties. Back then, we had the most personal computers per capita. I started with a Commodore 64 in 1989, developing games, and I thought that there should be companies for these hobbies, and Nokia was quite a good supporter of that.

They had this Java games model and they funded a lot of game companies that are the current leaders of the Finnish game companies and are from those times. I think that definitely had a big impact, and having long and dark winters means that we have to find something to do inside!

The Finnish city of Oulu, home to Fingersoft and 600km north of Helsinki
The Finnish city of Oulu, home to Fingersoft and 600km north of Helsinki

We've written stories in the past about how you guys have a policy about hiring a lot of talent from overseas.

Well, where we are in Oulu, which is that bit further north in Finland. From Helsinki it’s about a one hour flight. And we have kind of realised that it’s been easier to get employees from outside the country than from Helsinki!

But we think that as Hill Climb Racing is the most downloaded racing game in the world, we are the best in something, and we need to have the best possible people to make them. And that means that we have to reach worldwide to get those kinds of people. We are the biggest and most successful game company here, and we need to find the most talented and experienced people.

Now that the game is out is the hard work done? What happens next?

I think the work has not begun! We had a launch, and I made a speech in which I said that this is like graduating from a school. So now, you work, you move on in your work life, and you start earning money.

You start developing the game and trying to add new features and have sustainable growth for years to come. So this is only the beginning. We are developing the game more and adding new features, but there are already plans reaching far forward.

And that includes Hill Climb Racing 3?

Yes, that’s in development. That’s completely our own game, of course, it’s our base, our brand and our own Canyon World. I think the main thing I can say is that it is also in 3D and there’s real time multiplayer racing. That’s as much as I can tell. We currently don't have any kind of timetable that we want to announce - mainly because I don't want to put too much pressure on the team - but in time we will have lots more to tell you about that.