The Finnsider

Keep calm, we're Finnish: While the UK whips itself into a F2P furore, Finland's finest are steaming ahead

A tale of two territories

Keep calm, we're Finnish: While the UK whips itself into a F2P furore, Finland's finest are steaming ahead

Freemium remains a divisive issue amongst gamers. If you're one of the many people who've thrown real coins into the wishing wells of King, Supercell, EA and most recently Blizzard in exchange for a handful of pixels, you're probably okay with it.

These headline big acts of the mobile gaming industry all champion the ubiquitous free to play model, sometimes referred to as free to start, or pay to win.

If there's a single topic that has the ability to polarise gamers, even more so than the sexuality of characters within games, it's the game's business model. UK gamers especially seem to struggle with accepting free to play as a valid expression of their art form.

In a flap

It's inconceivable to many that people who play games (which doesn't necessarily make them 'gamers' let's not forget) might, could and in fact do enjoy playing games built around this 'cynical', 'disgusting' model.

The ever present threat of discovering someone you know is a big fan of a freemium title is perhaps the most modern of social dilemmas.

Even Rovio, better known for monetising through the more 'gamer approved' channels such as charging a little less than a pound for their game, showing you banner ads for Clash of Clans and ensuring parents everywhere have to drag their crying children from the overflowing Angry Birds laden shelves of the supermarket toy department, have dived into free-to-play of late.

Firstly with its downhill kart racer Angry Birds Go and, most recently, with a seemingly innocuous little title from within the firm's new in-house retro label.

The aptly titled Retry aligns itself with the thunderously popular frustration generation engine Flappy Bird, and this is certainly evident in terms of difficulty.

Retry attracted the ire of 'traditional gamers' who enjoy howling about the impending doom of their beloved hobby.

In the game you are tasked with guiding a small plane which appears to be loaded with marbles and/or a drunken pilot, to the end of each level.

There are checkpoints along the way that, if landed upon successfully, can be activated by exchanging a shiny golden penny. These endlessly rotating coins are collected along the way, as long as you have both the skill to do so and the patience not to hurl your handset at the nearest wall after failing for the 74th time.

As you may have guessed, these precious coins are also available from the in-game store (a little bit less than a pound buys you 10 coins).

Ramping things up a notch

Not unexpectedly, it was this option that attracted the ire of 'traditional gamers' who enjoy howling and sighing and hand wringing about the impending doom of their beloved hobby.

These comments are for Rovio's Retry, which has been played by precisely none of the people commenting.

Arguments around free to play rage on not only amongst the players, but within the comparatively peaceful circles of indie developers. It seems fairly common to witness fellow developers taking potshots at each other on Twitter, in each instance accompanied by jeering bands of supporters denouncing each other's way of life.

Minecraft creator Notch, who famously hates free to play recently fired off this tweet sniping about it:

There's a certain Big Endian-ness about the whole subject. Endless arguments drone on, conspiracy theories about games being 'fixed' unless you pay. Curmudgeonly gamers slamming fists down all over the country.

If you want more evidence, simply go and look at the outrage over EA's Dungeon Keeper remake (which triggered an avalanche of people eager to award a one star rating to a game they'd never played), or any Facebook comment thread around a free to play game (it won't be pretty, I promise).

Invariably these online discussions are littered with comments talking not about the game, but how it chooses to ask for money.

“Not a game, not a game, not a game. We talking about opposing business models”

In the meantime, while UK developers pad curiously at the water's edge and begin to venture unprepared into free to play mobile gaming, hoping it's going to be some magic fix, Finland has become a world leader.

Collaboration and community

The antagonism around free to play simply doesn't seem to exist on anything like the same scale. What this means is that people get on with it - and get good at it, free from the level of criticism and disappointed head shaking that abounds elsewhere.

Supercell might be viewed as some kind of embarrassment in the UK.

Supercell is the obvious example. Here's a company that might be viewed as some kind of embarrassment in the UK, but in Finland the opposite is true. In this land where sub zero temperatures are a way of life and people don't talk unless it's necessary, there is a warm, supportive atmosphere within the games industry.

One of collaboration, where people are happy to share their expertise and others are grateful to receive it. Where people are free to like free to play without being lectured to about morality and ethics.

Perhaps because Finland only has a population of about 50 and everyone knows each other, people are more readily aware of the futility of in-fighting within an already tiny (but fast growing) industry.

Rovio and Redlynx have both released free to play titles, Remedy is working on its own. Fingersoft (Hill Climb Racing, Benji Bananas) has also enjoyed free to play success up in the even more frozen north of Oulu.

Next Games, Grand Cru and Boomlagoon all have upcoming freemium titles and all boast employees with experience in how to make free to play games. Even Gameloft has set up a Helsinki studio. Come on in, the water's just above freezing and lovely.

But maybe most telling of all, the example that illustrates the difference between the UK and Finland most clearly is this: Facebook comments around free to play aren't a horrific slanging match. They seem to be...[lowers voice]...fairly polite.

The Finnsider is our regular look at the ever-dynamic and increasingly successful mobile development scene in Finland, hosted by former Londoner – and now a Helsinkiläinen - Steve El-Sharawy, Digital Engagement Manager at EzyInsights.

The Finnsider

An Englishman at home in Finland, Steve has spent the last decade working with data for online gaming, TV and social media. If you don’t have a question, don’t expect to get an answer.