Questions answered by Antti Kananen, General Manager at SciPlay Finland
We’re delighted to be joined by Antti Kananen from SciPlay! Please introduce yourself and explain your role within the company.
I held myself as a very passionate entrepreneur and a person who like to get things done and bring them life through hard work and innovative solutions.
For over 8 years I have been focusing on building a career in starting up and advising start-up companies, operating in both the games industry and outside. I’m enjoying in working hands-on around the start-up process, financing, business, product management, technology advancement and growth management.
Before my journey around entrepreneurship and games, I worked for one of the biggest telcos in Oulu during and after my studies in the University of Oulu, from which I graduated in 2014 as M.Sc. (Tech.). At the University of Oulu, I studied computer science and engineering and specialized in information networks – with side studies in business and management.
My enthusiasm for gaming has fueled my career strongly. It has led me from founding couple game companies to take on executive roles in the gaming industry. Recently I worked as Chief Executive Officer and Founder at Koukoi Games, an Oulu-based developer and operator of mobile games. After SciPlay acquired Koukoi Games in July 2021, I became General Manager of SciPlay’s Finland studio. While I have one foot on the entrepreneurial side of things, I’ve recently found out enjoying working at SciPlay as the company is providing us resources and means to operate like a growth company and deepen our know-how around all the areas of aiming to make top grossing mobile game titles. This is a great opportunity to learn and grow and take on very ambitious challenges on the casual mobile games market, into which our studio focuses on.
SciPlay is one of the world’s most prominent developers and publishers of mobile games, offering free-to-play games, 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 as well as managing our teams in Oulu and Helsinki area. 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 creative and data-driven playbook. I’m also working hands-on with our casual game titles and leading the efforts on this front.
As we come to the end of this year (at the time of writing), can you sum up some of the accomplishments and achievements from SciPlay in 2022?
Mostly I’m proud of that our studio has this year almost doubled its size. We’ve grown to 33 employees from only 18 employees. We have also expanded to have operations in Helsinki Metropolitan Area as well, in where we employ 11 employees now.
Besides growth in size, I’m personally very proud of the level of know-how, experience and talent we’ve managed to attract in joining our mission here at SciPlay Finland. We’ve managed to hire very experienced and talented employees from big and well-known studios in Finland.
Additionally, to accommodate our personnel growth, we opened a new office in Oulu and moved our personnel in Oulu there. The new office offers an open space concept, a gaming zone and a design lounge. Connected to its culture initiatives, the new office space provides the needed environment to drive the studio forward. As a bit of a funny side note (until proven otherwise), by this move we also solidified our studio’s status so that we can now, probably, claim more better the title of being the northernmost mobile game studio in the world – even I believe we had it already with the old office location as well, while others did claim the title for themselves.
You opened an office in Oulu earlier this autumn – what were the deciding factors upon choosing to have an Oulu HQ?
Our hopes for the new Oulu office are twofold – while we envision the expanded physical space accommodating an increase in employees, we also believe its new location in the technology hub of Oulu will gain recognition among other technology leaders here, which will support us becoming more attractive as an employer as well. As one of the largest mobile video game employers in the country, considering the total size of SciPlay as a global company, SciPlay brings innovation, creativity and collaboration to the city’s community as well as opportunities for many to work in the gaming industry.
In the long-term, how do you see SciPlay’s presence growing within the Oulu region?
We are looking to grow the studio as our games grow and we need more personnel due to the growth we’re able to build. The new office space can accommodate over 35 employees in Oulu – so we’re invested in to grow in Oulu, as well as in Helsinki area as well.
How many employees are based in Oulu at this moment and are you on the search for more talent to join the team in the future?
We have now 23 employees in Oulu. We did manage just to fill in all the open positions for 2022, so we’re good for now. However, we’re looking to open several new positions in 2023 and onward as we get further in the development of our game(s). Furthermore, when we do open new positions, we’re offering the possibility to either work in Oulu or Helsinki Metropolitan Area. We are usually advertising our positions via SciPlay’s careers page, LinkedIn, Games Jobs Finland and social media.
Looking at the Finnish games industry generally, acquisitions from overseas publishers have massively boosted Finland’s profile. Can you explain a little bit about why these foreign acquisitions and partnerships can be so beneficial to homegrown game studios?
Recently Finland has managed to capitalize on the industry’s global success, through gaining acquisitions by foreign publishers and facilitating partnerships with international businesses. This is due to Finland’s gaming industry becoming a mature market through it managing to produce leading mobile games franchises such as Angry Birds and Clash of Clans.
Finland’s success has led the gaming industry here to grow and form unique talent pool, infrastructure and development scene. While mobile sector is the largest and most known one in Finland, the industry has also great amount of console and PC games studios with good track record. Across all platforms, the Finnish gaming industry publishes up to 100 new titles. This all have made the Finnish gaming industry to become very attractive for foreign companies to enter.
Acquisitions in general, considering those are constructed properly between sellers and buyers, take companies to the next level. Usually, companies gain access to further resources, know-how, technology infrastructure and beyond. This will enable companies to do something bigger and meaningful as well as grow further and attract the talent they need to take their businesses further. For founders and other personnel, acquisitions offer great further learning and personal growth opportunities. What is natural to acquisitions is that those bring also bring in big targets and needs to showcase progress, which is how in general all businesses operate. This should always be understood when entering these types of partnerships. It is just the nature of things – and usually healthy way to operate jointly. Additionally, good thing about acquisitions is that they make industries grow further, create new jobs and enable companies to grow their standing in a competitive landscape.
In our case SciPlay has enabled us to take the studio to the next level, which we are very thankful for, in terms of providing us resources and means to take over the goal of developing ambitious large-scale mobile game projects. Currently we’re focusing on developing a big and exciting mobile game title, which is currently called as Project X. It’s a title we’ve been working over since the acquisition, which we’re hoping to showcase for public as we get further down the road by following our joint playbook – which we’ve put together by combining both our studio’s and SciPlay’s playbooks. The playbook follows advanced creative and data-driven means to develop hit titles. Aiming to develop and release a hit title is a very challenging thing to nail down and we’re very thankful that SciPlay is there to support us to aim for this through our projects we take over.
As a follow-on from the above question, are the opportunities for Finnish game studios to go global (either through acquisitions/partnerships or by other means) greater than before because of the country’s reputable recent track record?
To answer shortly, yes. While developing, publishing and live operating games usually means to do business on a global scale, acquisitions and partnerships provide usually great benefits to reaching more customers than going alone. The scale in reach many foreign studios have, which are acquiring companies under their portfolio, is huge compared to what one can achieve sometimes alone.
Having spoken with lots of ICT professionals in recent weeks and months, recruitment is a critical issue across all aspects of the sector. How do you think we can encourage the next generation of designers, artists and programmers to explore working in the games industry?
I have always seen gaming industry being very attractive industry to work in, as it is kind of a mix of a hobby and a profession. Naturally this leads the industry being very attractive organically for certain type of personnel and professions – from designers, artists, programmers to other types and professions. And, going further, as the industry is very mature here in Finland, it is much more future-proven place to build a career in – as well as to learn new skills and advance knowledge that can be used in other industries. Given these, we have not that much felt in the end that it has been a too big challenge for us to recruit and attract talent – especially as we operate in two regions in Finland. Of course, each region has its own challenges, but since we did expand to operate more widely, we enabled us to go over and beyond all barriers we did face before that.
While the industry is mature, attractive and a great place to be in, I acknowledge that the barriers to enter might be challenging sometimes – meaning, it requires a lot of things to fall into place to get a position in the industry, even a starting one, as there is always competition ongoing regarding some positions. My advice for everyone wanting to get into the gaming industry is to advance own skills in your area where you are working on and building a stunning portfolio including both professional and personal projects. And, I always like to point out that if someone would have a real struggle in getting in, for example, as an artist, because the most talented ones get in first, the industry do also offer opportunities and positions for doing something else that could over time become more beneficial for one through combining organic skills with something that can be learned over time – e.g., game design, marketing, community management, project management and so on. Sometimes it just takes courage to acknowledge what works for one better than something else – and then working over it to get over time yourself positioned into the industry. There are always many doors and windows open if some aren’t or get closed.
Finally, how do you see the games industry developing in 2023, both domestically and globally?
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.
Players will also expect higher quality games. This will put pressure on developers to match their games with raising expectations. Furthermore, this means that it will become important to know your players better and serve them in meaningful ways.
AI took lots of leaps in 2022. It will be interesting to see how the AI landscape evolves throughout 2023 – even thou I can see that there could be some legal challenges needed being solved around this space.
Lastly, as mobile games market grows, large studios will likely continue their acquisition spree – domestically and globally. Domestically there is also an interesting new trend ongoing of foreign companies entering the market through building teams and studios from scratch – which I’m expecting also happening globally on same scale as well.