Seriously could be the next Helsinki company to deliver a mobile hit, in the wake of global successes like Rovio Entertainment and Supercell. In fact, Seriously co-founder Petri Jarvilaehto has already been involved in two local game companies that become global powerhouses. Jarvilaehto is the Chief Creative Officer at Seriously. Seriously is his third game start-up in Helsinki, having been one of the founders of Remedy (and project and lead game designer on Max Payne 1 and 2) and joined Rovio Entertainment right after the launch of Angry Birds and headed up the games division.
Now the new mobile company is poised to release its first game, Best Fiends, this October. Seriously will also be launching animated shorts, original music, making-of videos, limited edition artwork, a brand book and stickers for messenger apps in partnership with distributor Swyft Media. The company has offices in Santa Monica, California, where business development and marketing functions are based, and in Helsinki, Finland, where the game development team is located. Jarvilaehto talks about the new company, the evolving video game business and explains why Helsinki has had so many mobile game successes in this exclusive interview.
[a]listdaily: What did you learn from Rovio that you’ve applied to Seriously?
Petri Jarvilaehto: The biggest thing is that right now the entire gaming and entertainment industry is going through a massive transition. If you look the amount of reach that you can have with hundreds of millions of players every single day and that pretty much changes the entire digital entertainment industry. We feel that going forward some of the biggest entertainment brands are going to be created on mobile platforms and we want to be there leading that change.
[a]listdaily: How do you approach developing entertainment franchises versus mobile games?
Petri Jarvilaehto: It’s really about building up the IP and putting a lot of effort into how we create the world, what kind of characters do we have, how do we create characters that can translate from within the game and genre to outside the game. And it’s about setting up the conflict and creating a compelling scenario and then deriving multiple games around the same IP. There are a lot of companies out there that are doing one type of game development. We’re approaching this from the point of view of how do we build a bigger portfolio around the same IP.
[a]listdaily: What games are you working on right now?
Petri Jarvilaehto: Going forward we have a road map of three games that are all built around the same character, the same world, the same conflict and we’re very happy with the way it’s all been coming together. In Best Fiends, players will discover the world of Minutia and its population of cute, courageous and increasingly fiendish inhabitants as they work to collect them all and level them up to gain special powers. Best Fiends is the first in a series of games, telling the story of these heroes’ epic journey, and their battle against the voracious Slugs of Mount Boom. This is a game and a world that I have wanted to build for a long time, and it’s a dream to be working with the incredible talent we have at Seriously to develop Best Fiends together.
[a]listdaily: How long have you been working on this particular project?
Petri Jarvilaehto: Seriously was founded last August. We’ve been working on building up the company for about a year now. We’ve been focused on this one property so far completely. We generally believe in being extremely focused and doing fewer things but doing them really well. Right now we’re 14 people and that’s something that’s still a very focused team.
[a]listdaily: Why did you decide to explore the mobile game space?
Petri Jarvilaehto: Mobile is, by far, the most exciting area to work in games right now. With the rise of the mobile, we’re living in a perfect storm where there’s several transitions going on at the same time. The business models are changing from premium to free to play. The distribution models are changing. You’re no longer distributing through publishers or box copy or similar format. Games are becoming a service. It’s no longer that when you ship a game and you’re done. That’s when you start building and interacting with the fan base. At the same time we’re even seeing the console transition, which to us isn’t really that material, but that is one more transition going on.
This perfect storm of change has not been present in gaming throughout my entire career. It’s a very unique time and with mobile you can probably reach 10 million to 20 million people with a successful game. On a highly successful mobile game you can reach hundreds of millions of people. And you can keep entertaining them much more regularly. Essentially, you’re building a hobby for these players and you’re interacting with the entire audience constantly. We never saw anything like that in console space. To me, consoles seem extremely rigid and limited in terms of what you can actually do as a developer. I have a background in AAA at Remedy and I know very well what it’s like to work on bigger console titles, but to me this new mobile world is much more exciting.
[a]listdaily: What excites you about the rate at which mobile technology is advancing?
Petri Jarvilaehto: The biggest change that we’re seeing is that everything is accelerating so fast. The time spaces are getting so compressed. It also opens up completely new opportunities. On a big scale, if you look at what’s been happening in the gaming industry, you have big giants of the previous previous generation like Electronic Arts and Activision’s and newcomers from this transition like King and Supercell. When you factor in everything that’s happening in Asia, there’s a huge amount of opportunity that’s purely created by this change that we’re seeing now. As a developer and somebody who makes games to reach a large audience and somebody who’s targeting at building a business out of it, it doesn’t get much more exciting than this.
[a]listdaily: How has being in a small company spurred creativity?
Petri Jarvilaehto: Once you start scaling up, you start having a mandatory need for process and structure. Whereas being able to operate with a smaller team you can be completely agile. You can get a huge amount more work done in a much more compressed timeframe. The way we’ve approached this at Seriously is to find veteran people that have worked together in the past who have experience on shipping highly successful titles. By having a small team of highly experienced people, you can get out of the way and let them work. It’s very different from a big organization where it’s all about reporting and budgeting and by default is much more inflexible. With a small team you can focus on the game as opposed to having all the inherent disruption that comes with a smaller organization. Plus a smaller team has more responsibility in many different departments versus having many departments with too many people. There’s an automatic feeling of ownership. We don’t have anyone else to blame if this thing fails. If this thing succeeds, then it’s because we worked really hard at it. That automatically creates a very different sense of ownership in both the creative process as well as in the product.
[a]listdaily: What impact has the fall of Nokia and the rise of Apple and Android had on Finland?
Petri Jarvilaehto: While it’s tragic for the friends I have who work at Nokia to go from an undeniable number one position over seven years to being acquired by Microsoft, from a developer point of view as long as there are healthy platforms that you can develop on and reach an audience that’s the one thing that really matters. Android is great in providing an audience where you can reach an order of magnitude more people than an iOS. We’re very happy working with those two platforms now.
[a]listdaily: How do you feel the Finnish culture influences games developers make here?
Petri Jarvilaehto: What really has a big impact over here is that within the games industry here in Finland we have a pretty unique community. There’s a culture of sharing and people helping each other. The more we have success stories here, the more that attracts attention and new capital and more doors open. What we saw back in 2001 when the original Max Payne shipped and Finland had its first AAA hit, that opened a huge amount of doors to everyone else. Suddenly publishers were interested in Finland. The quality of that game opened a lot of eyes. Now with the success of Rovio and Supercell, there are a lot of opportunities for everyone else to follow in those footsteps.
[a]listdaily: How have you seen the game development community grow here in Finland?
Petri Jarvilaehto: There’s been incredible growth. The local IGDA chapter is the most active in the world. Fifteen years ago we might have had 10 to 15 developers meeting up for a beer once a month, and now we get 200 to 300 developers. There are lectures and presentations. It’s become a great happening where you get to see all of your friends and you can talk about the latest changes in the industry.