World News

How Helsinki became the mobile gaming capital of the world

Think of the cities of the world which are renowned as hotbeds of innovative technology and Helsinki might not be near the top of the list.

However, the often snow-covered streets of this relatively quiet northern European capital are home to some of the most ambitious and successful games makers in the world.

The first Angry Bird was flicked across the screen of an iPad in Helsinki, it’s home of major games studios like Clash of Clans maker Supercell, and is also the place Netflix has chosen to set up its first ever internal gaming studio. “Why Helsinki? It is home to some of the best game talent in the world,” the streamer has said.

As a result of all this, the Finnish capital is considered by many to be the capital of mobile gaming, an industry currently worth an estimated £120bn to the global economy.

Which leads to an obvious question, how did it develop this reputation?

In the 1980s and 1990s, Finland wasn’t considered to be one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

Much of the population relied on computers that were far from top of the range. The restrictions that came with that would help fuel what was known as the “demoscene” – a subculture which saw programmers create art presentations, music and games that pushed the technology of the time to the limits of its power.

Finns became used to doing a lot with very little, and then along came Nokia.

Sonja Ängeslevä, CEO of Phantom Gamelabs, which is based in Helsinki, says this foundation is a significant reason behind the success of the games industry in the city today: “Nokia showed an example that we could build something big from here,” she explains.

As a games maker, board member of the successful console developer Remedy games and the founder of a new development studio, Sonja knows the Finnish games sector inside out.

She says that Nokia worked with the young talent from the Finnish demoscene, which meant that, despite the lack of big games, publishers in the city at the time the collaboration made people “realise we don’t need to travel, we can do it ourselves from here”.

People in the city, which is roughly the same size as Glasgow, are very aware of its success in the games space, and happy to chat about it in bars and coffee shops. It’s clearly been an area that politicians and officials have sought to capitalise on as well.