Wired – Grand Cru set to be be Finland’s next mobile gaming sensation
Written for Wired UK – find the original article here
After smashing birds into pigs and motivating clans to clash, is the next mobile craze going to be a puzzle platformer that mixesMinecraft with a social twist? Industry insiders at Slush 2013seem to think so and, if they’re proved right, developer Grand Cru could be the latest Finnish sensation to stand alongside Rovio and Supercell.
The expectation is understandable. Supernauts is Grand Cru’s first game, it has been in development for two years and the company received $16m (£9.9m) in investment even before beta tests had begun. Supernauts is now live in the Canadian Apple App Store and early indications ahead of its 6 December release from this “little America” test ground are overwhelmingly positive.
Admittedly so too are Grand Cru. Founder Markus Pasula claims it is the “most ambitious phone and tablet game ever made” and that coding began during the time of the iPhone 4 with the assumption it would run optimally on the processing power that would be delivered three generations later.
“We asked ourselves ‘what can we create in the future’ for where gaming is headed next,” says Pasula. In that time the rise of Rovio and Supercell has also emboldened Grand Cru’s vision. “Five years ago we wouldn’t have thought it was possible to do what we are doing where we are, but now we believe we can conquer the world from Helsinki.”
Much of this confidence is thanks to Tekes, Finland’s funding agency for technology and innovation. Tekes warmed to Grand Cru’s vision early giving them public grants just as they had done to Supercell in its early days. Pasula is also singing from the same hymn sheet as Ilkka Paananen, Supercell’s CEO, when it comes to the culture and structure of a modern gaming company.
“We pursue a relatively flat organisation and keep teams as small as possible,” says Pasula. “They have the freedom and control to change games as they see fit. It is only closer to release that we add more policing, but even then we try not to make teams any bigger.” This could have come straight from Paananen’s “think small to get big” philosophy playbook.
As for the game itself, it impresses on initial inspection. Like titles from Rovio and Supercell it will launch on iOS “due to reduced fragmentation issues” and a typically more lucrative customer base. It shares Angry Birds’ fiendishly addictive qualities and hundreds of levels and Clash of Clans’social integration and “freemium” sales model.
“Our model is games that are truly services,” explains Pasula and he says Grand Cru aims to improve and enrich the game week in week out just as Supercell has managed with Clash of Clans. Paananen may not give explicit coaching instructions to his wannabe Finnish rivals, but it appears they have been good students regardless.
Pasula also preaches Paananen’s sense of fluidity and flux in their chosen industry. “Gaming on mobile changes every few years,” he stresses. “So you need to change and be adaptable and avoid building structures that limit your ability to change.”
Pasula’s words come not just about global competition, but the ferocity of Grand Cru’s Helsinki rivals. Supercell has been dubbed the new Rovio and Grand Cru the new Supercell, but there is a step below Grand Cru already. Seriously Games, founded in August by ex-Rovio and Supercell staff, hasn’t even got its first game off the drawing board, but that hasn’t stopped it already securing €2 million (£1.6 million) in venture capital.
Social conventions say Finns do not to boast or over sell their achievements, but with Rovio merchandising in every corner, Supercell declaring it “wants to make history” and Grand Cru claiming the “most ambitious” mobile game of all time, it seems the gloves are off.
In this brutal micro-climate fought on the world stage, it’s hard to blame them from breaking character.
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