Jay Ranki on Giving Back to the Game Dev Community

Jay Ranki is a seasoned gaming veteran and one of IGDA Finland’s founding fathers. He is currently the Development Director at Wargaming HQ in Cyprus and Head of the 4C Conference Program Committee.  We at IGDA Finland reached out to him to talk about things old and new, as well as, the upcoming 4C conference in Kyiv. http://conf4c.com/ 

Hi Jay, thanks for making the time. First things first. You were there at beginning of IGDA Finland. Could you tell us about the “Big Bang Moment” that ended up creating this organization which is now 1200 members strong?

Well, actually IGDA Finland got started in 2003. Back then I was just an attendee. :) I did not take over the reins as the main coordinator until in 2004. The original idea came from a good friend of mine, Lasse Seppänen, currently the CEO of PlayRaven. He got few key figures of the Finnish game industry together with the goal to create a true community for our industry. They started getting game devs to gather into a pub once a month in spring 2003. In fall 2003, they started collaboration with IGDA and the name IGDA Finland was coined. Without Lasse, Wili (Miettinen), Sami (Vanhatalo), Mika (Tammenkoski) , Aki (Järvilehto) and  Jouni (Mannonen) and others who kickedstarted the whole thing there would be no IGDA Finland. So we all owe them a huge debt of gratitude. There is no doubt in my mind, that without IGDA Finland, the Finnish Games Industry would not be where it is today. IGDA Finland is our not-so-secret weapon. I am always amazed that no one has managed to replicate it - so far. One of my big hopes for 4C: Kyiv actually is that someone(s) in the Kyiv game dev scene would get fired up to do exactly that. That’s why I wanted to have you guys speak there.

Was there any particular turning point where things began to take off for the organization?

I think there has been many. But three of them really stand out from the rest: the founding, building the first team and formalizing the chapter. The founding we already talked about. 

When Lasse passed on the torch to me, my vision was that this thing was too precious for me to carry all the responsibility alone. It would not scale. So I started building a system of volunteers and coordinators, to build a team that would take IGDA Finland forwards. That allowed us to scale the operations to a new level that no one man could have done alone.

When it came time for me to give the rains to Sonja (Ängeslevä née Kangas), I stepped back to an advisory role. Myself and few other advisors drove the formalization talks with IGDA in the US. After lot of hard work, we became first IGDA chapter to be a fully independent legal entity - rekisteröity yhdistys in Finnish - and that again allowed us to scale our activities to the next level. Formalization also made sure IGDA Finland would have lasting legacy, secured by a democratic election process and much easier access to funding.

Any special memories or funny stories?

I still remember the first time we hit 350 visitors for an event. It was crazy, the line at the door was running all the way to the outside. People were waiting in the rain to get in! That’s when I knew we had made it. We had created something huge.

Another special moment was back in the very early days. We had the honor of getting Ernest Adams, the original founder of IGDA, to join our young, fledging chapter. He gave a speech to the attendees - probably the first speech ever given in our events - and afterwards gave me plenty of advice on running the chapter and shared stories behind IGDA early days. I will never forget that night.

Third really special memory comes from GDC 2007, where during an IGDA luncheon, I received an MVP award on the behalf of whole IGDA Finland. It came as a complete surprise and I was left quite speechless during my acceptance speech and deeply emotionally touched by the recognition. Lasse Seppänen and one of our early coordinators, Liz Lehtonen were there to celebrate the moment with me.

Do you have any advice for the volunteers running IGDA Finland today?

Remember that running a volunteer organization is not easy. When you promise to do something, everyone around you is counting on you. Make sure you deliver on those promises. That’s a really important thing to take to heart, not just for IGDA work, but for everything you do. You want to be known as the person who keeps his promise and who delivers. That will get you far in life.

Don’t be afraid to talk to people. People in this industry are very friendly and supportive of anyone who wants to get into the industry. If you see a famous developer, say Sami Järvi from Remedy or the lead programmer of your favorite game, it’s ok to go and talk to them. They will welcome that. But also be sure to respect their time and don’t hog them just to yourselves for too long. There are probably lot of other people they also want to talk to or who want to talk to them.

But first and foremost be proud of what you do. You are continuing on legacy of all the volunteers who have worked for IGDA Finland in the 13 years of its existence. You are doing something that really adds value to the whole community. And please, please, please take good care of my baby! :)

You’ve left Finland a few times. Do you have any advice for Finns interested in exploring career options outside of the country?

If in doubt - Go! I would rather regret the bold decisions that didn’t pay off than feel sorry for myself for lacking the courage to try things. You can always come back to Finland. Having more varied experiences, both in your work and in life general, will make you not just a better game developer, it will make you a better person. Plus it’s great fun! :)

You believe in giving back to the community. One of the initiatives you’ve started at Wargaming is the upcoming 4C conference in Kyiv. What do you hope to achieve?

Wargaming wants to give back to the community and that is something that fits very well with my own personal values. So I was honored when they asked me to run the program committee. We have a chance to bring an event like this, with speakers of this caliber to an audience that doesn’t have regular access to GDC’s and other big Western events. That is huge.

Our hope is that 4C will turn into an annual event, organized in different location each year, to bring this kind of opportunity to as many developers as possible. But first we need to make sure this event succeeds, then collect the feedback and see if there really is a demand for this kind of conference.

Do you have ambitions to expand outside of the CIS countries and perhaps host a show in Finland or somewhere close?

That is definitely a possibility. But like I said, right now we are focused on making this first one a huge success and then evaluate based on the feedback. Assuming there is need for 4C type of event, I would love to bring 4C into cities like Minsk and St. Petersburg where have a Wargaming studios (like we do in Kiev). But the challenge with those cities is that both Russia and Belarus requires visas from most western Europeans and North Americans. It will also depend on where we can find the best partners to do this. Wargaming is happy to help, but as 4C gathers momentum over the years, we hope to see bigger and bigger network of partners doing this together. All I know for sure at this point is that we plan stay out of the areas that are already well-served by big events, i.e. countries like Germany, France, UK and the US, etc.

Thanks Jay. We're looking forward to seeing you at the October Gathering. 

4C: Kyiv is a conference for world leading video game experts and specialists who drive change, not simply adjust to it. Under the banner “Create. Craft. Communicate. Collaborate.”, this event assembles like-minded professionals to share their thoughts and knowledge, network with the industry’s key decision makers, gain valuable insight in development and publishing, define trends that will shape the industry for years to come, and get inspired. It will take place Sept 23-24.