Team Action Zone's Kari Laurila on leaving Nokia to pioneer location-based exergames

Next up GPS-based Moomin mobile games

Team Action Zone's Kari Laurila on leaving Nokia to pioneer location-based exergames
Three years ago, Kari Laurila decided to leave his job as head of Nokia Japan's R&D.

He wasn't leaving empty handed though. He had 16 years of experience and a prototype in his pocket.

Both have proved invaluable in getting his start up Team Action Zone to the stage where it's won two technology awards and has a catalogue of location-based games played by hundreds of people at a time.

A good opportunity then to find out what's brought Team Action Zone to this point, how successful its exergames have been, and what the future holds for this Finnish developer.

Pocket Gamer: What can you tell us about the company's background?

Kari Laurila: I founded Team Action Zone (TAZ) in 2009. I had then in my pocket a prototype of our first product, FlagHunt outdoors exergame, which I had designed and coded during long nights and even longer weekends.

I also had the big vision of making exercise more fun with GPS-based mobile games.

I quickly collected together a small team of people to start playing the game, organising exergame events and taking the exergaming idea further.

Our team has people coming from many different walks of life. Many of us have Nokia backgrounds. Personally I had worked for 16 years in Nokia, heading Nokia's research activities in Japan. All together our team has over 50 years background from Nokia R&D.

Our CMO has a long history as a book publisher in Finland, and one of the members of our board is the CEO in one of the biggest private patent companies in Finland. We are quite a different game developer, but I think it really is one of our strengths!

Why do you think location-based games are a good opportunity for a start up?

Throughout history people have enjoyed outdoors games. Computer games are also great, of course. We take the best of both worlds and combine the fun of computer games, fun of outdoors games and make it all social. I think that is a great opportunity.

Location-based games are still only taking their first steps, and there are so many untapped opportunities ahead. That's the kind of game where a start-up just loves to be in.

As an example, we are soon coming out with games that combine the world of storytelling and literature to outdoor exergaming.

Can you explain what an outdoor exergame is?

Exergaming combines together exercise and gaming. In outdoors exergames you control the game by running, walking or doing some other form of outdoor exercise.

For example, in our TrezrHunt game you run to catch flying virtual jewels and to find buried virtual treasures. Well, you could also walk, but people typically start to run…

Exercising becomes a part of the gameplay. You don't think that you're exercising, you just have fun with a great game. Exercising and better physical condition come to you as an added bonus. Exergames make you move with a smile in your face.

How quickly can you create a custom event for a client?

Our new ActionTrack product enables us to create customised mass events in the matter of days, hours or even minutes.

We are currently customising an event for a client who wants an outdoor story-driven game for 535 people. The game will be played in real time in five different cities in Finland.

What sort of companies are interested in the experiences you offer?

I can honestly say: all kinds.

We have created games for team builders, teachers, those who just want to have some fun, companies who are taking care of their employee's health, for Scouts, for history walks in cities.

Team Action Zone accepting the Finnish Quality Innovation Award

What are your thoughts on Finland as a location for new developers?

With the success of games like Angry Birds and Max Payne, Finland is well-known as a game development hothouse.

We have lots of talent around, and Finns never have found it a problem to work hard and to work well together. We are good in combining talents together and working without strict organisation structures and borders.

Our government has recognised the importance of games for Finland. We have lots of good will and support for game development and for pushing innovations further.

It's nice to work from Finland. Research recently showed Finns are the second happiest people in the world after Denmark.

How do you plan on expanding your efforts into international markets?

We have been enjoying good success in Finland. Last year we got the annual Finnish Quality Innovation Award and a month ago we received The Sports Product Of The Year award.

Most importantly, the feedback we get from people playing our games is really encouraging us. This year we have started our expansion outside Finland. This year and next year will be again very busy for us, and we plan to significantly increase our global presence.

Recently we have also signed a worldwide agreement with a well-known Finnish brand, Moomin Characters. Our upcoming Moomin games and our patented ways of using GPS in our games will help us to take our first big steps to the global markets.
Thanks to Kari for his time.

You can see what the company gets up to via its website

Fresh out of the packaging, Tom joins Pocket Gamer with a chip on his shoulder and a degree in Journalism. Naively, Tom believes there's a star-studded career in video games and has penned words across the internet in between praying to the almighty Nintendo gods.