Finland rising – The burgeoning game development scene & its talent shortage

Veli-Pekka Piirainen, Critical Force

Over a billion people around the world have been playing games made in Finland, a country with a population of just over 5.5 million. 

In fact, the game industry in Finland is doing so well that it’s in desperate need of staff. Finish game studios expect to see 280 new job roles emerge this year alone, and already around 18% of employees in its game industry come from abroad. The availability of foreign labour coupled with the slow admission rate into Finland are proving a barrier to the industry’s further growth.

Angry Birds (developed by Rovio Entertainment) aside there are other games developers based in Finland, such as Supercell and Critical Force, which are heavily involved in the world of esports. Clash of Clans and Clash Royale developer Supercell was bought out by Tencent last year in a deal worth a reported $8.6bn (£6.6bn) for 84% of the company. Despite this majority acquisition by the Chinese company, its HQ remains in Helsinki. Critical Force meanwhile is based further North in Kajaani and has seen considerable success in the past year with its mobile FPS title Critical Ops, for which an agreement has just been reached with ESL for a tournament series.

In response to reports of a ‘talent shortage crisis’ for the games industry in Finland, Critical Force PR and Communications Manager Leili Mård told Esports Insider: “I would not say it is a talent shortage crisis per se. Rather it’s that the industry is growing so fast the local pool simply cannot keep up. It is however true that senior positions are proving particularly difficult to fill.”

As to the success and growth of the developer’s FPS title, Critical Force CEO Veli-Pekka Piirainen stated: “Our competitive mobile first person shooter Critical Ops has seen a soft launch for Android and iOS, and it has already achieved massive success via 17.5 million organic downloads and 670,000 daily active users.

“The amount of players is still rising rapidly even though we’ve not rolled out all the features we have planned for the game. For example a clan system and ranked matches will be added in the near future. Critical Ops tournaments already have thousands of teams competing for winning glory and prize money.” As to the future of Critical Force and whether the company will remain in Finland despite the shortage of high level staff, Piirainen said: “The Critical Force HQ and the main game development facility will definitely stay in Kajaani Finland.

“This is because Kajaani University has the oldest and best game development curriculum in Finland and it’s one of the best in Europe. Critical Force has an excellent source of talented and passionate game developers around the corner. The amount of employees at Critical Force is already at 45 and we are looking forward to hire 10-15 more employees this year. We have already started our plans to open a further development office in South-Korea. Two of our developers have already moved to Seoul and five more developers will move there at the beginning of this summer. In Seoul, we will also be hiring local talent in the team little by little.”

Many from outside of the Nordics will not have heard of Kajaani but its reputation for game development is notable. Taking place in the town in June there’ll be an esports bootcamp for teams and players which is being put on by the Nordic Esports Academy in conjunction with the university. There’ll be a focus on CS:GO in the inaugural month long bootcamp, but the sessions will focus on everything on a wider level from how to run the business side of a team to how to prepare your players psychologically. The four week program will end in a €10,000 CS:GO tournament.

This will be the first of many such bootcamps by the Nordic Esports Academy in Finland, and it’s testament to the potential of the country as a hub for both esports and gaming more generally to thrive.

To achieving that end Critical Force, which won Finnish Game Developer of the Year in 2016, is launching a ‘Critical Force Academy’ for students. Up to twenty students will be selected for the initial program.

Piirainen had this to say about the academy:We have been lucky in finding great people from abroad, but supporting and hiring talent from the local university is definitely very important to us. Despite its remote location at some 550 km north of Helsinki, Kajaani is one of Finland’s innovation hotbeds for games with many studios and the excellent game development curriculum of Kajaani University of Applied Sciences.”

Esports Insider says: It seems that Finland is a half-asleep giant in the world of game development. With the expansion of Critical Force and its investment into an academy with Kajaani University alongside its commitment to retaining the main HQ there is excellent news for Finland. The hope and likelihood is that with the likes of Supercell and its big money backers, the Finnish game industry can continue its recent surge into 2018 and beyond.