Finland is home to notable game companies like Rovio, Remedy, and Supercell. After these companies received global attention beginning in 2009, new game companies have mushroomed in Finland adding their own share of excitement. With a population of 5.4 million people, Finnish startups target global market from day one.
China is a go-to market for Finland VR companies, thanks to its widespread VR arcades and huge population. As a case in point, Finnish game developer Reforged Studios scooped $2.5 million USD from Chinese technology company NetEase in October 2015.
TechNode interviewed four Finnish VR startup CEOs at a Slush Shanghai event held Monday in Shanghai to find out more about the VR scene in Finland.
Creating a VR platform for the Web
“Finland is one of the most active VR centric countries,” Kaarlo Kananen, founder and CEO of Vizor told TechNode. “Many Finnish companies focus exclusively in VR. We have a great talent coming from various successful game companies and also the heritage of Nokia.”
Mr. Kananen himself hails from the game industry, developing content creation tools. “I started the business because I believe VR will be the medium for the future. We want to bring easy VR creation workflows for the masses.”
Founded in 2015, Vizor is a web-based platform for creating, and sharing VR and 360 images. Mr. Kananen says a few thousand projects are published on Vizor VR platform every month. One of its flagship products is ThreeSixty, a 360 image uploading service. After taking a 360 degrees photo, the user can drop it on the ThreeSixty website to get a URL of the photo that can be embedded into any website.
Mr. Kananen believes large scale adoption for VR will happen on the web. The advantage of a web-based VR platform is the accessibility. Users don’t have to download any apps, but can access VR directly via web browser.
“There is opportunity in web pace. You can embed VR into web-based businesses like real estate, travel, journalism,” he says. “Many media companies are looking at this space, including New York Times. They have done VR trials already using custom apps but we intend to enable companies like them to bring VR onto the web.”
VR game companies struggle for monetization
“Virtual Reality in Finland is growing very fast,” Lasse Liljedahl, CEO and co-founder of Iceflake Studios says. “The companies are implementing VR to traditional sectors in addition to gaming.”
Iceflake Studios makes VR console games, mobile games and PC games. They can be played with or without a VR headset, so that they do not exclude players who don’t own a headset. Ice Lakes, one of the most successful paid games published by the company, has 50,000 users both on iOS and Steam. Mr. Liljedahl says the company earns 250K USD in revenues a year.
“Finland has Android phones, Windows phones, and iPhones, and today the Android market is the most popular. Oculus was the dominating VR headset in Finland, but now HTC Vive is growing more rapidly,” he says.
The 33-year-old CEO started developing games as a hobby in late 1990. Founding the company in 2007, the company has made 16 games so far, claiming 25 million users worldwide, mostly via Apple and Windows phones.
“In 2007 there were 100 game companies, there are now like 3400 people in the industry. However, it’s hard to make a VR gaming company profitable,” he says. “We are one of the few game companies in Finland that can pay salary for all employees.”
B2B is the market
Teatime Research is working with medical imaging and provides 3D medical analysis for doctors. After with CT scanning images, MRI data and all types of 3D data, doctors can look at patient’s bone parts in VR. The team is building a new technology that will enable live segmentation and separation of body into layers of muscles, tissues, and bones.
“Smart VR companies target 2B customers. If it’s not a high-end VR content, it’s hard to make profit worldwide. Now with a half a million high-end headsets sold, that’s not too many B2C users in the market. 2B is a choice for VR companies. B2C market wont’t be lucrative until 1 or 2 years,” Aleksis Karme, co-founder and CSO of Teatime Research Ltd says.
The Teatime Research team consists of architects, UX experts, and scientists. The 36-year-old Mr. Karme is a data analytics scientist who has been in 3D modeling for 22 years and paleontology in China for 11 years.
The company also provides an apartment sales tool for construction projects in Finland and internationally. The users can plan the project, monitor phases during construction and marketing and after purchase, they can increase added sales. Their customers are mostly based in Finland, US, Europe and China.
“There are home buyers who have already signed the contract to purchase the apartment based on a VR experience. It’s a good business.”
VR developers need to flock together
Organizers who worked to gather together the VR developers is FIVR (Finnish Virtual Reality Association). Startups in FIVR collaborate and help each other, give feedback to support and promote VR and AR technology development and implementation in Finland. Lollihop, one of the teams in FIVR, is started by a 24-year-old university student who is studying video game development.
“VR companies in FIVR get access to free office space and equipment, and receive help applying for grants supported by the government. The students get basic support funds from the government,” Carl-Anthon Kranck, 3D game artist at Lollihop told TechNode. “Lollihop game is still in development stages, but is getting positive feedback from the users. I’m still in university and now here in China to study the market.”
“Most VR companies in Finland are relatively early stage and are still introducing VR to customers, and businesses to raise awareness,” he says. “Also, there aren’t many VR hardware startups in Finland. The market will get bigger with the second generation of headsets when more headsets are available in Finland.”