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Veteran talent and a clear focus helped this mobile studio land $2.3M Exclusive
Veteran talent and a clear focus helped this mobile studio land $2.3M
January 23, 2014 | By Mike Rose

January 23, 2014 | By Mike Rose
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More: Smartphone/Tablet, Design, Business/Marketing, Exclusive



It's fair to say that getting noticed on the App Store is the bane of many a mobile game developers right now, with hundreds of mobile games released every day -- but some mobile studios are still managing to tick the right boxes.

PlayRaven, a new Finnish studio that is focused on creating historically-inspired strategy games for tablets, just picked up $2.3 million in funding for its first game. We were keen to find out exactly why investors are throwing money at this new company.

The Helsinki-based studio consists of five guys, each with very different backgrounds -- we're talking a mixture of triple-A, mobile and free-to-play, from companies like Remedy, Wooga and Digital Chocolate.

"I've worked in the games industry for 16 years, and it's always been hard to break into," says Lasse Seppanen, PlayRaven's CEO. "Now it's just hard in a different way - digital distribution removed a lot of middlemen, but it also introduced massive market noise due to ease of publishing."

His thoughts on how to get ahead in the mobile markets go something like this: "We really believe in our hearts that all the audiences with all these devices cannot all be satisfied with cartoony builder games, however fantastic they are as products."

He argues that as television evolved, segmentation of its audience continued to evolve as well with the population's widely varying tastes -- and we're now seeing the same situation with mobile games.

"We want to be what HBO is on TV," he adds. "Well differentiated from mainstream television shows, very high quality and very successful."

spymaster 1.jpgSo did investors pick out PlayRaven simply based on this mantra? "I think it really boils down to having a veteran team with a proven track record combined with a determined approach to the market," Seppanen answers. "Investors also like our crystal clear focus on just one genre, as they know the market is very crowded and to pierce all the noise we need to have great focus."

On the topic of genre, I asked Seppanen why his company is going all-in on the strategy genre. He notes that it's both a personal and business move -- his team are all passionate strategy game fans, and believe they have the power to shift the genre in positive directions.

"I think the genre really hasn't realized its full potential yet," he says. "I'm a big board gamer and I see lots of innovation going on there because the cost and risk associated with board game design is small - now mobile strategy is in a similar situation, the cost and risk have collapsed compared to something like Civilization 5 or StarCraft 2, so it's a great time to innovate in the genre."

And he hopes that playing around with the idea of setting PlayRaven's strategy games in the real world, and using real-life historical events as inspiration, will help capture imaginations.

He gives the example of radio used during 20th century wars, with his team asking themselves, "In the real world they sent secrets by radios hidden in their apartments - now how do we abstract that into game mechanics?"

"In World War II, equipping the spies with a radio was a big logistical hurdle," he adds. "It's not enough to just drop one for them - they also need to have someone who can operate it (knows Morse code) and someone who has access to spare parts (very suspicious activity in the eyes of the Gestapo) and actually knows enough about radios to fix it when it broke down."

"After all that you also need a courier network and encryption protocol to safely deliver information to the 'pianist' (as radio operators were called by the Gestapo)," Seppanen continues. "So all that is fed into our design process, and then it's streamlined and abstracted. In this case we just made the task of establishing an active radio transmitter a lengthy task and the actual transmitting generates interest towards that particular city for the Gestapo."

These are the sorts of lengths that PlayRaven is going to with its first game Spymaster. Taking historical facts and creating new types of gameplay with these underlying rules should separate PlayRaven's game from the usual "moving tanks and infantry on a hexagonal map" strategy deployed by other studios.

PlayRaven plans to release Spymaster for mobile devices in spring 2014, and start work on a second title around the same time.


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