Wednesday’s invite-only RovioCon Google 2022 shindig brought together over 700 top execs from platforms, services and studios across Europe to discuss the issues facing the mobile business right now.
Namely: gaming’s place in popular culture, market turbulence, the investing scene, diversity and what exactly studio success looks like.
Hosted with gusto by Rovio comms boss Lotta Backlund and Google’s gaming and apps lead for Northern Europe Laura Nys, the crowd was warmed up with a cameo from virtual interviewee Red before Google’s games and apps industry leader Juho Juhantalo and Rovio marketing boss Luis de la Camara offered their opening remarks.
They acknowledged the challenging market conditions out there right now, particularly around UA. But the duo also stressed that the business should press forward while being careful to ensure player privacy, and innovate on game design and monetisation practices to get through bumpier times.
Then it was into the talks:
Why gaming will own the popular culture of tomorrow
Rovio’s Ben Matte quizzed founder and CEO of Astrid Entertainment Sharon Tal Yguado about gaming’s place in popular culture for this session. Tal Yguado helped bring big shows like The Walking Dead and LOTR: The Rings of Power to the screen at Fox and Amazon, and talked through how The Boys and Breaking Bad were originally cancelled shows that eventually made it out to market.
The message here was that creators in all media should keep ploughing forward and stay true to their vision. Games are ‘ascending to the iron throne’ within the media landscape, she said.
Tal Yguado also said she admired Riot for expanding the reach of its IP in its own way with Netflix show Arcane, and contrasted that with Marvel, who built a huge roster of movies and TV shows but “gave away” their games to third party developers.
“Don’t give away your IP too early”, she advised game-makers looking to expand into other media. “You’ve got to be thoughtful about who you partner with and when to partner with them. You need to know that you have a lot of power.”
Nurturing your fandom, particularly younger fans, and understanding how they share content on platforms like Discord and TikTok is also important to getting the most from your IP, she added.
C-level talk: opportunities in a turbulent market
This was hosted by Ubisoft RedLynx MD Celine Pasula, with Rovio CEO Alexandre Pelletier-Normand, Stillfront COO Alexis Bonte and Tactile Games CEO Asbjoern Malte Soendergaard on the panel.
Pelletier-Normand said ATT was arguably a bigger game-changer than the pandemic, and led to Rovio changing both its UA and portfolio strategy as it shifted toward casual games. He also thanked Rovio staff for digging in and getting through turbulent times, not only the pandemic but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Soendergaard agreed that between IDFA, the pandemic and the current political and economic climate, it’s harder than ever to make games and launch new ones. He cited live ops, using existing IP in the right way and carving out new niches as the big opportunities ahead.
Bonte talked more about the challenging M&A scene – noting that the ‘crypto winter’ might turn into a ‘crypto ice age’. He said that Stillfront’s strategy games, including new title Conflict of Nations, have performed surprisingly well even in the current UA climate. And he noted that playing it safe and repeating past successes is fine, but real growth can only come from trying out new ways to retain and monetise players.
Pelletier-Normand added that though others in the wider tech scene are having a tricky time, Rovio’s business is relatively steady – it continues to hire, is setting up a new studio in Barcelona and recently passed 500 staff. Looking forward, he said that Rovio will start to target its games at more specific audiences and is looking into taking Angry Birds cross-platform.
The group agreed that a younger, more diverse generation coming through will change where the market is going. Emerging markets like India, user-generated content, and whatever Apple’s AR/VR device turns out to be will also be important for the future of the business, they added.
Investing and gaming startups: where are the biggest opportunities?
Rovio’s VP of investor relations and corporate strategy Timo Rahkonen hosted this one, with Play Ventures founding partner Harri Manninen and Bitkraft Ventures founding partner Malte Barth on the panel.
Manninen described ATT as a “nuclear bomb” for the mobile business, and said that new studios have to be extra dedicated to the craft of growing organically and distributing games effectively.
Barth noted that up-and-coming markets like India and Brazil should be handled carefully and as entirely new markets, because audiences in those nations have often never played games before. He was also bullish on games going cross-platform and cloud-based game development.
Manninen agreed that mobile devs will increasingly spread out across platforms, and that generative AI, while early, could be important for speeding up game development. Barth and Bitkraft are also looking at generative AI, and see AR/VR as a potentially important development too.
Manninen added that despite the current turmoil he remains long-term bullish on web3, but acknowledged that there’s uncertainty and bad actors out there in the space currently. He compared crypto to the first dotcom boom, and said that great companies emerged from it, eventually. Barth agreed that crypto now is like the dotcom scene in ’99, in that there was overexcitement in the market that’s now being corrected. He also drew comparisons between crypto and the very earliest days of mobile on Nokia phones.
How to build more diverse and inclusive gaming companies
This was hosted by Rovio chief sustainability officer Heini Kaihu, with panellists Carolin Krenzer (Trailmix), Saara Bergström (Next/Netflix) and Petri Hyökyranta (Rovio).
Bergström began by saying that diverse teams get better results, with Krenzer adding that it’s important that the dev team respects the audience it is making games for – it’s also simply more fun to work with a broad range of people. Rovio’s Hyökyranta agreed and added that psychological safety and a sense of belonging were important parts of his teams’ culture.
Bergström stressed the importance of carving out specific times in staff calendars to work on diversity initiatives, and to set tangible goals with company leadership which are tracked and re-assessed regularly. Rovio’s Kaihu also said it was useful to think about diversity targets as if they were KPIs for live games.
Krenzer added that the huge LGBTQ+ player base for Love & Pies was a clear sign that studios should not be afraid of including themes and content for underrepresented groups.
Why do some game companies succeed, whereas others fail?
This leadership talk was from advisor and angel investor Kim Nordstrom, a veteran of PlayStation, King and Paradox Interactive.
“There are no rights or wrongs, just rights and wrongs for your company” began Nordstrom, who explained the importance of setting out rules and principles for staff, citing the famous Valve employee handbook and ‘always on offense’ memo sent to Nike’s marketing staff in the 1970s.
Those examples were used to emphasise the importance of defining what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable for your teams. Nordstrom said that regardless of what you think about Elon Musk’s handling of Twitter, his principles seem pretty clear. Supercell, too, has well-known principles around making games that will be played and enjoyed forever, and that shapes who joins the team.
Larger, successful games companies were advised to remove interfaces and middlemen between departments and ensure crystal clear communication of your team’s overall goals. He also talked about ‘culture transfer rate’, or how quickly your team culture takes to express and take hold with new staff, which should be taken into account if you are scaling a business quickly.