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Helsinki happenings: 10 things we learned at Pocket Gamer Connects

Our findings from Finland
Helsinki happenings: 10 things we learned at Pocket Gamer Connects

You can be au fait with the speakers and up to speed with the talk topics – and, in our case, actually be organising the event yourself – but until you sit down and here said luminaries tell their story, you're never quite sure what you're going to take away from a conference

Pocket Gamer Connects was never likely to be short on words of wisdom from those in the know – King, Supercell, Rovio, Frogmind, Cornfox & Bros. and Applifier all amongst those taking to the stage – but even we had little idea as to just what nuggets of knowledge would be conveyed to the hundreds sat in the audience.

So, with the event still fresh in our minds (and the masses of conference coffee we consumed insuring we've grabbed very little sleep since), we've put together a run through of the main themes that dominated our two days in Helsinki all for the benefit of those of you who joined us in Finland, and those who couldn't make it.


In the case of the former, feel free to drop in your own takeaways in the comments section below. Otherwise, we'll see you in January for the next Pocket Gamer Connects in London:

#1: Finland still loves Nokia, and rightly so

It's typically very hard to companies to recover when one of their flagship launches becomes something of a laughing stock. The games industry isn't short of such flops – 3DO, Gizmodo and, to a certain degree, even PS Vita all qualify – and in many cases, they end up finishing the company behind them.

There's no suggestion that N-Gage 'finished' Nokia – as we all know, the firm's future has effectively been secured by Microsoft – but it did turn a previously dominant power into a figure of ridicule for many.

Not the Finnish scene, however. Though no-one gathered on a panel designed to touch on Nokia's legacy was willing to admit N-Gage was anything but a failure, its appearance on the scene was no bad thing for the Finnish games industry as a whole.

"There was a moment when the final launch date [for N-Gage] was locked, and then it turned out just before that this date wasn't going to happen, but all the advertising was booked for this launch," detailed Playground Publishing's Wilhelm Taht.

"So you had all the ads blasting out N-Gage all across London, but N-Gage was nowhere to be found. The strategy going into it with hindsight also might not have been the right one – going after the hardcore, banking on the idea that Call of Duty players are going to come to mobile phone.

Importantly, however, Taht noted that N-Gage "taught Finnish developers to work with bigger productions – that was one of the sparks that ignited where we are now."

Indeed, throughout the Finnside track on day one of Pocket Gamer Connects, luminaries from across the industry were keen to stress that, whatever its more recent failings, Nokia has been a force for good for Finland, combining with the Demoscene and a willingness to reach out to markets beyond Finland's own relatively small population.

"Nokia was big and bold and put a lot of money into it," added Applifier's Jussi Laakkonen of N-Gage.

"Rovio wouldn't be here today without the projects Nokia founded, and other companies that fundamentally would not be around here without that funding."

#2: Intelligent branding is a necessity

Games are no longer just games. They are entertainment, and if you're looking to stick around in this industry you're going to need a brand.

More specifically, you're going to need a brand that consumers, investors, advertisers, and your team can believe in, rally behind, and, ultimately, love.

Brands mean longevity, longevity means success, and one look at Rovio's meteoritic rise to stardom proves just how powerful branding can be when its executed to perfection.

"Rovio is not a games company. Sure, we care about our fans and our brands, but Rovio is all about providing Angry Birds brand experiences," offered Rovio's Peter Vesterbacka during his presentation.

"Our stories started with the characters, and once everyone had fallen in love with them we had to keep on building games around those birds.

"Our industry is becoming all about the brand, and mobile is now the centre of the entertainment industry, and not just for games. [First] there was Mickey Mouse, then there was Mario, now there's Angry Birds.”

#3: Never underestimate the promo power of your biggest fans

The App Store is a victim of success, and those who suffer the most are developers. Though it remains the #1 mobile marketplace by a distance, its increasing size means getting discovered is no easy task.

You would expect Jussi Laakkonen of Applifier, then, to push video as a promo tool, given the Unity-acquired firm is behind video sharing platform Everyplay. But the most interesting aspect of his talk wasn't how people now share the games they love, but rather who is doing it.

Heavy payers – or, super whales, if that's your term of choice – not only part with the most cash in your game, they also go to the greatest effort to promote it, too. Applifier surveyed 3,000 mobile gamers in the US and, despite the technical difficulties in doing so, 5 percent of gamers already live stream their favourite games to the rest of the web. That's a share that doubles when you focus on super whales.

"Clearly some people are super interested in this – maybe you should go to Twitch and start direct marketing to those people," he concluded.

"Heavy spenders are, across the board, super super likely to share. These people are like golfers who won't shut up about the new golf clubs they just bought – sharing is natural to them.

"For heavy spenders, there's almost no limit to how much they will do to connect other people to your game. Whatever obstacles, they will go through it."

#4: Make the most of free growth opportunities

Promoting your game through the conventional advertising channels can cost a lot of money: something many developers don't have in abundance.

That's why it's important to make the most of free growth opportunities, because, if developers play their cards right, they can increase their visibility and bring in a ton of downloads without ever spending a penny.

That's exactly what developer MAG Interactive did, and after seeing its word-puzzler, Ruzzle, get off to a strong start, the team took it to the next level without putting a dent in its UA budget.

“Adding the ability to challenge your Twitter followers wasn't big in Europe, but in the US, it was a catalyst for really exponential growth,” said Hasselberg, MAG CEO.

“Initially it was concentrated to one small city in the US, but Twitter helped the game explode, and it quickly spread across the entirety of the US.

“That explosion never stopped and eventually it helped us grab the number one spot on Google Play and the App Store.”

#5: Asia is not the scary, unconquerable region you think it is

At any conference, you can bet your mortgage on the fact that, whenever China, Japan or Korea are mentioned in any talk, the speaker in question will stress the need for western devs to localise their content before launch.

Localisation, of course, goes beyond merely translating any words in play through to following any cultural norms in the countries in question.

But such is the weight placed on localisation that, fearful of getting it wrong, many developers from North America and Europe simply don't bother launching in Asia full stop. According to David McCarthy of Asian-focused monetisation and UA specialist Metaps, developers fearful of fouling up their localisation efforts need to stop worrying.

"I'm going to say I don't think you need to worry," he said of localising for the Japanese market. The closer you get to perfection, the more your games imperfections will stand out. The fact is, Japanese gamers like foreign games."

In the following panel, McCarthy went on to say that, in a previous job, he'd seen western developers take 'localisation' as to mean shoving any female characters into a kimono and hoping for the best. In short, many developers are likely to get it wrong, so it's sometimes best not to bother.

It's a sentiment that, earlier in the day, King's games guru Tommy Palm appeared to agree with.

Palm on stage
Palm on stage

"Smartphones are helping the world to shrink," concluded Palm in his keynote. "We're getting common stories now. Marketing and analytics need to be local, but gameplay can be global, or universal even, reaching out to everybody.

#6: Developers are feeling the F2P pressure

One of the more polarising issues we encountered in Helsinki was the idea that some developers now feel the need to abandon the paid model in order to be profitable.

RedLynx duo Justin Swan and Kari Silvennoinen, part of the team behind F2P title Trials Frontier, explained that they 'had to go free-to-play' or face annihilation on the App Store.

Of course, premium games can find varying levels of success on the mobile marketplace, however, the fact that a developer felt F2P was the only option shows that premium profits just aren't enough for some.

“We had to go free to play, it's a truth of the market. Yes we wanted to make the most fun game possible, but we also wanted to monetise,” explained the RedLynx duo.

“We knew we had an amazing piece of core gameplay, but it's not the core gameplay thats going to monetise our game.”

#7: Want indie success? Keep things logical

The really interesting thing when small teams like Frogmind – the studio behind Badland – and Cornfox & Bros. of Oceanhorn fame take to the stage to detail the success is, none of them have any magic bullet that explains their rise to the top of the charts.

Instead, most detail fairly logical strategies. Create something you believe in. Make sure it's good. Start talking about it early. Tell the press a story. Drip feed them info. Enter development competitions. Go to events and make contact with platform holders.

Nothing revolutionary, but each step increases your chances of making it big, even if your team is especially small.

"My 'Ultimate Indie Markering Tip' however is to make a really cool and unique game," offered Frogmind's Johannes Vuorinen.

"We wanted Badland to stand out from the crowd with the visuals and some of the design decisions we made – we didn't just want to put out another Angry Birds style casual game."


On a similar note, Cornfox & Bros. creative director said serving up one screenshot that highlights just what the game is and what it's about can do a lot of your promo work for you.

"It was very easy to see what the game was about in one single screenshot," he concluded. "We will try to make games in the future where people know what kind of experience they will have from one single shot."

#8: Investors need developers to be the complete package

Investors aren't looking for a team full of great individuals, a small outfit overflowing with passion, or a firm that know's its numbers like the back of its hand.

No, investors want all of that, and more. They want the complete package, and if a developer wants to secure funding they need to make sure it fits the bill.

“Passion and enthusiasm are also invaluable, [but you also] need a true strategy, a true vision," suggested Shum Singh, MD and founder at Agnitio Capital.

“It's crucial you try to bring together a team who have experience and who know what they're doing, [and] it's super critical to know your metrics.

"Raising money is like dating, if you want to seduce an investor you're going to have to get to know them, so be as patient as you can.”

#9: The shorter the sweeter

One of the biggest mistakes we see being made regularly at conferences is giving speakers too much time to fill.

The keynotes at PG Connects were, for the most part, 10-15 minutes long, with speakers delivering hard-hitting talks that were direct, informative, and, most importantly, engaging.

See, there's nothing quite as bad as when a talk has gone on for too long.

Speakers, press, and consumers are all living in a state of perpetual tiredness, staving off their slumber with excessive amounts of coffee, so when a talk is longer than 20-30 minutes enthusiasm from all parties can start to slip away.

PG Connects proved time and time again that, when it comes to talks, we'll take a passionate 15 minute love-affair over a 60 minute hill-climb any day of the week.

#10: Finland has no F2P hang ups, and neither should anyone else

Finnish devs aren't just at the top of the downloads charts – they're at the summit of the revenue charts too.

Free-to-play games such as Clash of Clans are, of course, the reason why, and even if studios like Supercell didn't set out to break revenue records, good F2P games ultimately have a greater potential to make more money than good paid games on mobile.

In many territories, however, even the canniest of developers are reluctant to embrace F2P. In markets like the UK, there remains a stigma attached to freemium releases – one that doesn't appear to be quite so prevalent in Finland.

<em>Clash of Clans</em>
Clash of Clans

Indeed, it was our very own Finnsider who, in a recent column, noted the different attitude to F2P amongst UK and Finnish based developers – a difference that is having a real impact on the success of studios from the two territories.

While it wouldn't be fair to say that every developer we spoke to on the topic over the two days 100 percent agreed with this assessment – one prominent Finnish dev telling us that F2P stigma "very much exists" in Finland, but that the country's studios are just "better at ignoring it" - there is certainly a belief that whatever it is that holds back British studios from truly embracing F2P doesn't exist in Finland.

You can read all of our coverage from Pocket Gamer Connects in Helsinki here.