The land of Angry Birds is ready to build Finland’s next gaming success story.
Grand Cru, a start-up located a stone’s throw from mobile gaming giants Rovio and Supercell, recently wrapped up $11.5 million in new funding that it hopes will give it time to establish itself alongside its well-known neighbors.
Its first game, a free-to-play adventure called Supernauts, is expected to roll out to iPads and iPhones later this year.
In Supernauts, players construct 3-D worlds and rescue people stranded on a flooded Earth. The world building, done in 3-D graphics, is a riff on the popular building game Minecraft from Sweden’s Mojang. Players can then share their created worlds on Supernauts with other players.
Finland is small but its 170 developers and their 1,700 employees have had an outsized contribution to the global gaming scene. Rovio, which created Angry Birds, and Supercell, which created Hay Day and Clash of Clans, have been bright spots.
As important areas of Finland’s economy like paper and telecom struggle, government leaders are keen to support new industries that bring growth and jobs. An earlier round of fundraising at Grand Cru included a combined loan and grant from a governmental arm. Grand Cru has no current plans for an initial public offering. But the latest fundraising, from Qualcomm Ventures, Nokia Growth Partners and Idinvest, is evidence investors think Finland’s gaming scene remains hot.
Sure bets, however, don’t exist in mobile gaming, as Zynga’s struggles have shown. Grand Cru, founded by six industry veterans in 2011, plans to follow the business model set by Supercell: create a free-to-play game for Apple’s iOS platform and earn money from in-app purchases on virtual goods. That’s different than Rovio’s (also successful) recipe of building easy-to-understand puzzle games that people scramble to buy.
For Grand Cru to succeed, it needs to attract players who log in frequently and dish out money for a better experience. That’s what the U.K.’s King.com, which makes Candy Crush, and Japan’s GungHo Online Entertainment did. “Our job first and foremost is to take good care of this community,” Chief Executive Markus Pasula said.
One way to achieve that is to treat the game as a creation in progress. Constant fine-tuning and upgrades keep players engaged and spending money. Social interaction matters, too. In Hay Day, for example, players trade with each other; in Clash of Clans they can donate troops to each other.
Interacting with and relying on other players creates a sense of responsibility to the other players that keeps gamers coming back.
Grand Cru has to build an instant classic rather than worry about making boatloads of money out of the gate, Pasula said. “For us it’s far more important to create a delightful game that people will enjoy playing for a long time to come,” he said.