Interview with Samuli Pöyhtäri from Farmind

The highest density of game developers is in the southern Finland but also Oulu -- the mecca of death metal -- has vibrant game developers’ scene. Oulu has a few game studios, games related education and they also has development program titled ELVI in 2005-2007 to boost up new game companies in Oulu area. This time we will get to know a little bit more of a company named Farmind from Oulu. IGDA chatted with producer Samuli Pöyhtäri.

Samuli Pöyhtäri: - Background in programming and demo scene - Has worked as a software designer in various software companies - Started his game career at Digital Chocolate in Helsinki - Moved back to Oulu and founded Farmind - Working as a producer and running all Farming productions at the moment

Farmind was founded at the end of 2005. They started working full throttle at the beginning of 2006 with 10 people under the same roof. Currently they have 18 people and they are recruiting more to ramp up to about 20 to 22 people later this year.

According to Samuli: “Since day one, Farmind has been going strong on the handhelds with great success. We did the first Finnish PSP and DS games and since founding Farmind, we’ve worked on four different handheld games. We want to keep it that way, but in addition to handheld consoles, we’re moving on to Wii as well.”

In terms of genres, they are not tied with any particular genre. They have done anything and everything from poker and casual driving games to a puzzle game and an adventure title. That is their secret of keeping it fresh. But also, as a studio we’re in a point where we feel comfortable on taking a step further and so we’re going to move on to Wii as well.

Why did you come up with an idea of putting up the company at the first place?

At the time of thinking about founding Farmind, there were no game companies in our hometown Oulu. We didn’t want to move to Helsinki to make games so the only option to follow our passion was to set up our own company. We also knew that there were a lot of people like us in Oulu, stuck in jobs other than games, but still had the desire and passion for making games. That’s where it all started.

What is your favorite Farmind game at the moment and why?

Wacky Races: Crash & Dash, the NDS version we did. I mean, you’re as good as your last game and I think we did such a great job with that game. However, I still like the previous games we did (WSOP and Puzzle Scape) and I’m really proud of them as well.

Game developers often live from a project to project. What are your main sources for funding?

At the moment, all our income comes from development advances, from the publishers. At the very beginning we as the founders of the company put a lot of money to the company by ourselves. At some point, we applied for funding from Tekes (Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation) which helped us to survive and we’re most grateful for that. There are also some loans from Finnvera (Financing services for internationalization) and the bank.

What are the biggest challenges for a young game studio in your opinion?

For us, I think, it was the first publishing deal. We went after it for a quite long time and actually with two different publishe gatherings are always in Helsinki, we attend the gatherings rarely. For us, the most useful resource is the forums that keep us up to date on the local as well as the international level.

Funding is also a very hard issue. We paid the beginning ourselves and we paid it from our backs because without a publishing deal, your income is zero and costs just keep running. You have to trust yourself and your partners and truly believe in what you’re doing to make that kind of commitments in terms of time and money. And most of all, you got to work really, really hard. I mean, it’s not like we set up the studio and out of nothing, or with luck, closed a publishing deal after another, we worked our asses to achieve that.

You are based in Oulu - How much location matters in good or bad?

I think in terms of the games industry as a whole, it doesn’t matter that much that we’re based in Oulu. When looking at the gamedevmap, we’re the most northern game studio in the world! Being a game development company means that you’re born global. Especially in Finland, we do not have domestic markets, so we have to go out to the world on the very first day.

Oulu is a university city so we have a reasonable talent pool to recruit from. But obviously, the level of experience is not quite the same as it is in someplace else. We’ve recruited some of the most talented people in Oulu, but with the current positions we have open, we’re also looking candidates from abroad. Being experienced is really important for us in order grow as a team and a studio.

One good thing about Oulu, compared to for e.g. Helsinki or other European cities, is that the costs are a bit less here. That given, Oulu can offer better quality of life (relatively, your money goes further here).

Networking is the keyword at the moment. Game developers are relatively well networked, partly thanks to IGDA. Have you find IGDA useful for you?

As the IGDA gatherings are always in Helsinki, we attend the gatherings rarely. For us, the most useful resource is the forums that keep us up to date on the local as well as the international level.

You have also attended game industry events such as GDC. How do you find that event from business perspective?

From business perspective, I think GDC is not the best. You run around from building to another and try to navigate through the chaos of having gazillion people doing the same thing. Business-wise, we prefer the smaller and more focused events. One of the best ones is the Game Connection in Lyon every December which is specifically aimed for developers and publishers to meet. Also the Nordic Game has a good atmosphere.

What is your biggest dream as a game developer?

Money, fame and girls of course! All kidding aside, we want to build our studio to be a well established and professional company that makes quality games and that people enjoy and can be proud working here. We’ve accomplished something good already and we want to keep growing, learning and be better in every field we work in.

That was interesting, thanks a lot Samuli and best of luck with Farmind! I hope you have time for a relaxing summer vacation as well!

Interview by: Sonja Kangas