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Speaker Spotlight: Teemu Haila gives top tips on shipping free to play games

Pocket Gamer Connects Helsinki takes place on September 12 - 13. We catch up with some of the stars from the mobile industry who'll be taking part
Speaker Spotlight: Teemu Haila gives top tips on shipping free to play games

Pocket Gamer Helsinki 2023 is almost up on us.

Set in the picturesque and thriving city of Helsinki, Finland - the spiritual home of mobile games - our conference is attracting an all-star cast of speakers, panelists and attendees, all set to learn what’s hot, discover the latest tech and techniques and engage in two days of networking opportunities all through September 12 and 13. Clear your calendars - that’s just a week away!

Network with top-notch industry experts and thought leaders, and gain valuable insights into the rapidly evolving gaming landscape. Pitch your game to our experts and meet the pros that can take your business to the next level. Immerse yourself in over 200 speaker sessions, engaging talks, panel discussions, and unparalleled networking opportunities. And stay ahead of the curve with the latest trends and connect with potential partners and investors in the games industry!

Find out more about the event and get your tickets here.

One such expert appearing at PGC Helsinki will be the co-founder and CPO of Metaplay, Teemu Haila, a familiar face within Finland's gaming industry. Haila started his game career by joining Wooga in 2010 before co-founding Playraven two years later. Following the acquisition of Playraven by Rovio, Haila then co-founded Metaplay to address a common challenge for game developers - scalable and customisable backend tech. With over 15 years of experience, Haila will be sharing his expertise with Pocket Gamer Connects Helsinki attendees. Can you summarise what you are speaking about and why it’s important?

Teemu Haila: My talk is the 'Three Top Learnings From Shipping Modern F2P Games'. I’ll be sharing invaluable best practices that help free to play developers build games which are not only a joy for players but for developers to work on too. I’ll reveal the roadblocks that nearly all studios hit at one point or another, and present concrete solutions for how to navigate them in ways that are sensible, efficient and scalable. I will give three actionable takeaways on how to ship better games.

What is the most common mistake you see being made in the games sector?

That’s a major point of the talk I’m giving at PGC. For the complete answer you’ll have to come and listen to that!

But in the meantime, I’ll try to summarise here. We all know that the mobile games industry moves at a pace like no other. It’s a challenge for most developers to keep abreast with it - and this can often be seen in a team’s long-term product planning.

When trends move so fast, it becomes near-impossible to plan ahead. How can you spec out a feature you might want to implement in six months’ time when you can’t anticipate what state the market for your genre might be in by then? How do you know your game will generate the demand it needs in the short term in order to warrant the building of heavier, more technically demanding features in the long term?

The more pressing need is to ensure LTV>CPI and that the game generates enough immediate revenue to acquire enough users to sustain itself and hopefully grow incrementally. As a result, development becomes a battle to ensure today’s players are happy and have everything they need to retain right now, without really considering the more impactful features - both on the technical and game side - that a game needs in the long run.

And that’s the mistake I see most: Studios building for today without thinking about tomorrow.

If you could give other mobile games companies one piece of advice what would it be?

It’s a phrase that’s widely said, but I’ve struggled to find anywhere it’s more relevant than working in gaming: Fail to plan, plan to fail.

As a game grows, its needs evolve. Failing to lay the foundations from the start creates the need to carry out a major refactor of the backend code when it’s time to grow from the mid-level tier to the top-100 grossing hits.

And that comes back to the core sentiment: Failing to plan for the things you’ll need to sustain and grow your game later on means planning to fail in shipping a game that’s going to get to the top.

That doesn’t mean you must immediately implement all the features or functionalities. Instead, start thinking about the things you want to build later and the foundations you can put in place now to make developing them more manageable when the time comes. In concrete terms, if you take one thing away from this piece, make it this: Plan your upgrade path. You’ll thank me later!

What company do you most admire in the mobile games world?

I count myself lucky to have been working in games for such a long time. In that time, I’ve seen many studios come and go - and plenty of trends to match - but some companies endure more than others. And we’re lucky to be home to many of them here in Helsinki. That makes it almost impossible for me not to answer this question with ‘Supercell.’

Everyone knows what they’ve done for the mobile gaming landscape as a whole. But it’s extra-inspiring to work and live literally just down the road from them, be able to pay old friends now working there the occasional visit, and get first-hand stories of how they go about their craft. When it comes to creativity and innovation, they’ve set the standard that many studios in Finland and around the world want to emulate. That’s the hallmark of a true industry leader.

That said, I’m also interested in the ‘later-stage’ mobile companies that specialise in LiveOps and running games-as-a-service. As the market matures, I think that’s the next evolution of the industry - more and more companies will emerge that focus on monetisation and ‘squeezing the juice out the lemon’, as it were. We’ve seen some companies come out of Israel and Turkey that excel at this, and that’s a hotbed many in the industry are keeping a keen eye on at the moment.

What do you think the next big disruptor in mobile games will be?

I think we’re on the precipice of change in the mobile gaming industry. But rather than coming from any particular company or relating to any particular genre, I think it will be platform-focused. And I say that because while games have evolved, the market has matured, and trends have come and gone, one thing has stayed the same throughout -Distribution.

Developers have had a raw deal for too long, and though there have been efforts made to mitigate this, the fundamental problem still remains - the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store are the only ways for a studio to get their games into players’ pockets. Netflix is at least trying to buck this trend and is pushing its new games platform hard, but it’s still early days, and it remains to be seen whether or not that will be a success.

For now, it’s a duopolised market, and it’ll be a tough nut to crack. I certainly don’t know what will become the new de-facto distribution method for games, and you can’t see the solution presenting itself overnight, but I’d be very surprised if developers in the West are still only building for the App and Play Store in five years from now.

What is the single biggest challenge facing the mobile games industry today?

Shipping a great game requires a contrasting set of skills. On the one hand, you have the early-stage ideation, imagination, and innovation skills required to dream up a game and turn it into reality. On the other, there’s the incremental, more pragmatic mentality that requires iterating and improving on something that already exists.

It takes one type of person to dream up a game from nothing to something and another to grow it and turn that something into a thriving live operation or a game as a service. The challenge for me then is how to combine the two. Because you don’t need the later-stage specialists in the early stage, and people who excel at the early stage can be uncomfortable in an environment that’s geared towards the later stage. Tackling that dichotomy is at the forefront of many studio leaders’ minds, and I’m sure it will be for a long time to come.

What do you enjoy most about working in the mobile games industry?

I've fiddled with everything that computes for as long as I can remember. I’ve always been endlessly curious and infinitely passionate about interaction design, which naturally led me to video games. I've learned that I'm most comfortable here, in the intersection of all creative disciplines, because only from here can one find something truly interesting.

The challenge of finding the perfect balance between aesthetics, usability, and innovation is a puzzle that never gets old, and something I have enjoyed doing every day for as long as I can remember. Away from the office, I have to tip my hat to the game industry here in Helsinki and the good folk that keep it thriving, like IGDA. It’s a community that I’ve been blessed to be a part of for so long, unmatched in its togetherness and transparency, and I haven’t seen the likes of it replicated anywhere else.

Can people get in touch with you at the event? What sort of people would you like to connect with?

They sure can! Feel free to grab me after the talk, or if you’re feeling brave, stick up your hand and throw me a question in the Q&A. I’d love to connect with friends old and new, and developers far and wide - especially those just starting out on a new game project. I’m sure we’d have lots to talk about!

If you’re feeling eager, then let’s connect before the event. Grab me on LinkedIn or head to my personal website.

Find out more about PGC Helsinki

Check out the event's website here to get your tickets and find out what's on, what's where, where to stay and everything you need to know.

See you at the show!