Ex-Angry Birds creators behind Finland’s Boomlagoon success
Boomlagoon is a gaming company from Finland founded by five former Rovio employees. Tuomas Erikoinen drew all the Angry Birds characters and graphics for the original game. Some of the other founders are also part of the team that worked on Angry Birds.
Boomlagoon released Noble Nutlings in January 2013 gaining good traction with a few million downloads. YourStory spoke to Tuomas and two other founders about the new venture. Here are the edited excerpts from the conversation.
YS: Tell us a little about the team and your backgrounds. Where are you originally from?
Tuomas Erikoinen (CCO): I’m originally from a small town called Kotka, about 150 km east of Helsinki, close to Russia. I grew up in a small farm where we had chickens, turkeys, a goat and a few sheep among other animals. I studied in Kotka in a business school, and have a ’Vocational Qualification of Business and Administration’. I started as a junior artist in a small company called Pixelgene about eight-and-a-half-years ago. Pixelgene was then very quickly acquired by Rovio, in which I worked for seven years. Rovio had its ups and downs and by the time we started developing Angry Birds only 11 of us remained, me being the only artist. I became the lead artist of Angry Birds and due to the game’s success Rovio now employs more than 600 people. I got to learn from the rapid growth while leading the game art department.
Antti Stén (CEO): I was born and raised in Hyvinkää, Finland. I got my Master’s Degree from Helsinki University of Technology, where I was already creating multi-player games on various platforms as school assignments. I bet that helped me land my first real job in 2004 at a game company called Sumea Interactive, which is where it all started. After that I’ve worked at Digital Chocolate (the company which acquired Sumea and later expanded to various countries, such as India and Spain) and Rovio. In both companies, my responsibility was to build the overall scalable server architecture and various online features and mechanics.
Ilkka Halila (CTO): I too, was born in Helsinki and I studied computer science at the University of Helsinki. I started developing games at a young age, starting with QBasic and working my way up from there. My university degree was cut short because I started working for Rovio as a programmer. At Rovio I led the HTML5 team, our main product was Angry Birds Chrome but we also developed a number of other HTML5 based products.
YS: How did you all go from Angry Birds to Boomlagoon?
Tuomas: We’re all very self-driven and ambitious so we wanted to have something of our very own to work on. Getting to see the Angry Birds phenomenon gave us inspiration, while teaching a lot and the massive interest that Finland got due to its success made us wonder if it was the right time to do it. Now I can say, it definitely was.
We started out in April, 2012, in Helsinki. In the very beginning, it was just Antti and me. We wanted to research the HTML5 possibilities to see if we could come up with truly multi-platform games with it. A few months into the research, Ilkka joined the company becoming a one-third stakeholder. We soon realized that our best chance (and what we really wanted to do from the beginning) was to develop mobile games on iOS and Android. We quickly adopted Unity as our main technology, developed our first game with it (in two-and-a-half months with three people!) and released it in January 2013. It got very good media attention, reviews and a few million downloads. It also brought with it an opportunity to develop a sequel of the game with our current partner LINE – the Japanese social mobile platform. The game is called LINE Nutlings Tournament and is available on iOS and Android – check it out.
Initially, people seemed a bit amazed at what we were doing since we were the first ones to spring out from Rovio and create a startup. Since then many startups have come from there.
We made our first hire back in March 2013, and then one more a few weeks ago. So we currently employ six people, including the founders.
YS: Tell us more about Boomlagoon. Who is your target audience?
Tuomas: We’re a games company, so it’s all about entertainment. We want to delight people with our games and provide them with fun times everywhere they go with their phones.
We create free-to-play games, which means that we sell in-app purchases – mostly virtual currency that can be used within the game. We try to maximize the fun factor and create reasons for users to come back to the games so that they feel like they’re getting their money’s worth when they spend while playing. This helps to create a constant stream of revenue.
Our target group is mainly casual and mid-core iOS and Android players. Our art and design styles are very global so we’re not targeting any single country specifically. Our current go-to-market strategy with LINE Nutlings Tournament is to reach all the LINE players. There are more than 300M users on the LINE social app and only about 30 games. We are still in discussions about how far we want to go with Instant Messengers being our core go-to-market plan.
We have millions of downloads on our games and they were rather “easy” to gain mainly through Apple’s feature spot on the AppStore and the many reviews and articles we’ve received due to the high quality of the games.
We closed our seed-funding round in September 2012 – our investors are the same guys who invested in Supercell in the seed phase; London Venture Partners and Jari Ovaskainen. Next year we plan to grow to the level where we have two or three fully functional game development tracks running at any given time. We want to grow to be a very agile and skillful, but small games company. We want to be able to develop new prototypes while updating our existing games into gems.
YS: It sounds like it has been a great run so far! But was it always easy?
Tuomas: Not at all. When we started off, our main challenge was lack of focus. We weren’t 100% sure about what we wanted to do and how to do it. We weren’t sure what kind of a game to make. Then, we weren’t exactly sure where to start if we wanted to raise a seed round, or whether to even raise one. We managed to overcome all of that.
One, have a solid prototype of your game – one that you really believe in. Two, have the best possible people who are able to cover all the crucial fields needed in the beginning. Three, ship your product as soon as possible, especially if you’re going for the free-to-play market. It will teach you the whole process and bring to light crucial game design issues you need to consider.
When we started off, it was simultaneously very stressful and joyful. Stressful because we didn’t have a clear goal in the beginning; joyful because we finally got to do something of our very own. These days it’s pure joy.
Boomlagoon was one of the many startups that participated in the Slush 2013 conference last year.