Finland was one of the original hubs of the mobile gaming industry, and the country remains an attractive destination for companies looking to expand, with game makers like Netflix making acquisitions and opening new studios there to take advantage of the local talent and tech infrastructure.
We spoke to SciPlay Finland general manager Antti Kananen about the founding of the company’s latest studio in the tech hub of Oulu, the state of Finland’s mobile gaming industry, why the country continues to draw top talent from around the world, and what developments he expects to see in the mobile games space in the future.
PocketGamer.biz: Can you please introduce yourself and give us a brief overview ofSciPlay?
I’m Antti Kananen. Having focused on building a career in launching and advising startups, operating in both the games industry and outside, I consider myself a passionate entrepreneur, innovative thinker and a person who likes to get things done and see things come to life through hard work. I’m enjoying working hands-on around the start-up process, financing, business development, product management, technology advancement and growth management. Before dipping my toes into entrepreneurship and games, I worked for one of the biggest telecom companies in Finland during and after my M.Sc. (Tech.) studies in the University of Oulu.
My enthusiasm for gaming has fueled my career strongly, leading me from founding game companies to taking on executive roles in the industry. Most recently I worked as CEO and Founder at Koukoi Games, a Finland-based developer and operator of casual and midcore mobile games. After SciPlay acquired Koukoi Games in July 2021, I became General Manager of SciPlay’s Finland studio, which has since grown to 33 employees from only 18 at the time of the acquisition. While I’m having one foot in the entrepreneurial side of things, I’ve recently found myseelf enjoying working at SciPlay as the company is providing us resources and means to operate like a growth company, and deepen our know-how in the area of making hit titles. This is a great opportunity to learn and grow and take on very ambitious challenges in the casual mobile games market, which our studio focuses on.
SciPlay is one of the world’s most prominent developers and publishers of mobile games, offering free-to-play and casual games, and a variety of hyper-casual games. In my current role, I focus on leading and growing the studio’s games and operations in Finland and manage teams throughout the Oulu and Helsinki regions. My responsibilities also include facilitating communication and day-to-day operations between our studio and SciPlay's worldwide studios as we create ambitious games through a creative and data-driven playbook. I’m also hands-on with our casual game titles and leading the efforts on this front.
What makes your company culture at SciPlay different from that of other companies?
In an industry known for its churn-and-burn habits, SciPlay stands out as a people-first employer with a commitment to core values. These values – which include humility, working together and levelling up – shape the quality and experience of our games, as well as defining the way we work to accomplish amazing things together.
The company provides a fun, team-oriented environment for its global network of 800+ employees across six international cities. The Finland office’s new space in Oulu, into which we just moved, mirrors SciPlay's commitment to its culture – marked by a passion to win, a place of learning, socialisation and teamwork. With employees spread out between Oulu and Helsinki, the team enjoys a tight-knit community and collaborative approach to projects. As a result, retention rates are higher and satisfaction is widespread.
Additionally, I like the mentality and practicality to work with the management of SciPlay – whenever needed, I can go and talk to them about everything. They are reachable and approachable, which I appreciate a lot. It says a lot about company culture alone that you can reach management easily.
What are you working on at the moment?
In addition to managing and growing the studio operations between our teams in Oulu and Helsinki area, I’m focusing on leading and being hands-on with our new casual game, which is under development. The project itself is still unannounced. All I want to highlight, for now, is that it is a very exciting and ambitious project.
On the day-to-day side, I’m making sure we reach our targets and achieve our goals around the game title we work on, and also making sure the studio playbook we follow is in sync with the playbook SciPlay has followed over the years to become one of the leading players in the mobile games market.
This combined playbook consists of chapters starting from deep market research methods to effective game development, product management, go-to-market and live ops methods and practices – and goes beyond to make sure we invest in healthy foundations over technology, games infrastructure and so on. This is a very thorough optimised approach on how we tackle the challenges around doing large-scale and ambitious game titles.
Finland has experienced a renaissance in terms of mobile gaming in recent years. What is it about the country that’s attracting so much development in this field?
Nowadays Finland is the homeland of leading mobile game franchises such as Angry Birds and Clash of Clans. This can be attributed to the country’s success of creating big hits, talent pool, technology infrastructure and availability of capital and grants for new companies – basically the industry in Finland has flourished through having the right ingredients and resources in place.
Across all platforms, the Finnish gaming industry has grown rapidly within the past few years and publishes up to 100 new game titles each year. The industry attracts top talent and employs over 3,600 residents, with women making up at least 20% of its workforce, according to a report from The Helsinki Times.
Indicative of its success, Finland boasts one of the highest concentrations of development studios per capita in Europe and offers attractive compensation packages and ambitious projects as a combination, throughout its studios, on the continent to attract necessary talent. While the mobile sector is the largest and most known one in Finland, the industry also has a great number of console and PC games studios with a good track record. Recently Finland has also managed to capitalise on the industry’s global success, through gaining acquisitions by foreign publishers and facilitating partnerships with international brands.
As a result of all of the above, Finland is holding well its status as one of the leading nations for mobile games, with a promising future ahead.
What do you hope the opening of your new office in Oulu will achieve for the company?
My hope for the new Oulu office is twofold; while I envision the expanded physical space accommodating an increase in employees, I also believe its new location in the technology hub of Oulu will gain recognition among other technology leaders in Finland.
As one of the largest mobile video game employers in the country, considering the total size of SciPlay as a company, SciPlay brings innovation, creativity and collaboration to the city’s community. The office itself will benefit the 30+ employees of SciPlay Finland, offering an open space concept, a gaming zone and a design lounge. Connected to its culture initiatives, the office space provides the needed environment to drive the studio forward.
Do you have any predictions about where gaming, specifically mobile, is headed in the future? Any key trends to keep an eye on?
In anticipation of 2023, I expect continued growth for the mobile games market as it stands its ground against console and PC competitors. The free-to-play model and social connectivity offered by mobile games will continue to attract a diverse audience. Additionally, platforms that provide meaningful means to generate more revenue will flourish as the industry grows, as the growth ‘forces’ everyone to go beyond what they’re doing now.
Current trends including the rise of cloud gaming and interest in blockchain technology (more specifically for blockchain through the ‘next-gen’ studios around it that experiment things on a healthy basis) will also prevail in the coming year – as long as these sectors are able to sustain the turmoil around the globe and generate winning players who base their business on healthy principles and solid building blocks.
Player expectations for high-quality games on mobile devices will also rise, putting pressure on developers to match these expectations. It is super important to know your players better and serve niche audiences through unique gaming experiences. This will result in seeing companies popping up, focusing on making unique games tailored for specific audiences and players. And, very likely, there will be companies aiming to identify opportunities around blue ocean markets through experimenting around finding unique product-market fits.
Lastly, as mobile grows its market share, large gaming studios will likely continue their acquisition spree, locking in a mobile branch for the games they offer. We’ll be seeing some interesting acquisitions still coming, including also some interesting platform and service acquisitions along the way.
Recent changes to advertising regulations, such as IDFA, have created new struggles and barriers for the mobile gaming industry. How has this affected your business, and how are you addressing the changes?
Policy changes like IDFA have certainly challenged traditional monetisation and retention strategies for mobile developers across the board. At SciPlay, we have diversified our business model, improved player segmentation and unearthed the power of live ops to gain and keep players entertained and monetizing. The teams’ adaptability during this time of transition has protected the company very well from experiencing drastic effects such as negative impacts on revenue and growth.
In 2023, crackdowns on targeted advertising will likely continue, forcing developers to find alternative streams of revenue and ways of attracting and serving their players more effectively. In response, SciPlay has proper means and methods to adapt and improve through its properly nurtured culture of being data-driven and getting results. On our project’s end, we’re also going one step deeper in understanding players and the market much more, to generate unique outcomes that will support us navigating through the challenges ahead effectively.
Edited by Lewis Rees