Spotlight story: Kotka game development scene

It is time to continue our tour around Finland. This time we will take a closer look on Kotka game development scene. Teemu Saarelainen, the new head chef of Cursor and a key person driving the growth of Kotka game development scene answered a couple of question about the local scene. Kotka game development scene in a nutshell: There are more than 15 companies in the Kotka game scene, ranging from game studios to various service providers (game testing, game music and sound). Most recent addition to our growing community is a game publisher: Playground publishing. The number of indies is naturally growing the fastest and we're seeing new companies being established quite regurarly - most of these stem from the game education in the region. Right now there are 5 new indies in the process of getting their business up and running.

Kotka actually has pretty long history of game development and the first game studio (Nitro Games) was founded in 2007. Game programming education has since then had an important role in creating talent for the companies. There's close, day-to-day cooperation with the local Kymenlaakso University of Applied Sciences and their game studies. Kotka area is also quite fortunate in the sense that the regional development company, Cursor Oy, has been pushing and systematically developing the local games business since the very beginning. Cursor also runs the Play Game Hub, which is the common brand for the Kotka and Lappeenrata game clusters, and LevelUp-spaces that serve as development platforms for new startups.

Image: Kukouri: Tiny Troopers

Nitro Games sure is well known but what else is there? The most recent success stories are definitely Kukouri Entertainment and Skyrock Games, which were both founded in 2011. Kukouri now employs 8 people and brought us Tiny Troopers & Tiny Troopers 2, which have 6,5 million downloads. Skyrock Games also employs roughly 10 people and has recently launched their first title, Gloomy Hollow, through Chillingo. They are currently working on their second (indie) title called Highland Wars, which can already be pre-ordered through Steam.

What are the key factors of the growth of Kotka scene?

The main driver for the development today is naturally the general interest in the games business, but without systematic support from Cursor in the early years and even more so recently, the game development community would probably not exist in Kotka in the first place. Another strength in the region is clearly the education: Kyamk, LUT, EKAMI & KSAO all offer game studies, so we get plenty of new enthusiastic work force. Recently we've also managed to work out a partnership with Google and Aalto University to support the local game dev community and bring their expertise into the area.

When Markus Råmark moved from Cursor to Playground Publishing, Teemu Saarelainen took the lead of local game business development initiatives. What is Cursor and Playa? Cursor aims to build a thriving game cluster in the South-East Finland and we want to create a whole ecosystem around the game development community. Our Playa hub (See also Playa Facebook group) has a strong presence in all of the major game business events throughout the year and we support companies that really want to develop and grow their business. The primary tools for this are the LevelUp-spaces (including hardware & software), Playa Launchpad (business development services) and Venture Gym program (startup accelerator). We're also looking into the possibility of creating funds and attracting venture capital into the region - especially for games. The big goal is a game development cluster which is recognized worldwide and is able to attract both new companies and new people to the area.

Image: Skyrock Games: Gloomy Hollow

After 5 years Kotka will be the leading game development hub in Finland? How to make it last?

In a few years we will have a vibrant game development hub in Kotka which employs over 250 people directly. There will be an even broader range of game studios in the area, but we'll also see more companies that will offer services to the game development community.

To make it last, we need to have quality education, a working startup-scene with good supporting activities, and funding for new games and new companies. Our dev community is a pretty tight bunch, so basically everybody here knows one another - and we're very much looking forward to becoming one of the IGDA local hubs. :)