Serious Gaming Cluster Finland is uniting the scene towards an educated future.
It seems but a distant memory when game designers catered solely to a fun-seeking audience. The profile of the average gamer is diversifying, as a result of learning innovations packed with beneficial aspects rapidly entering the market. Gathering together the similarly minded Finnish start-ups and companies behind these in one convenient and supportive community is Serious Gaming Cluster Finland.
“The ‘serious’ adjective in this context refers to games or designed experiences that can be used for teaching, training, activating, raising awareness, simulating, inspiring change, communicating an idea/message and storytelling,” explains the cluster’s CEO Matti Kuha. “Serious gaming is a globally rising trend and in Finland we have especially great opportunities to grow big in this area.”
Established in 2013, the idea of the cluster is simple: bring everyone together to share knowledge, network and create products that will eventually develop the local scene as a whole, benefiting all involved.
“There’s no doubt serious gaming will break through big time in the coming years,” Kuha states. “We want to help everybody understand this already now and also to reflect the openness and sharing atmosphere of the Finnish game industry.”
One significant step towards their goal last year was by signing a MoU with the University of Helsinki’s Playful Learning Center. Based in the university’s Department of Teacher Education, the centre researches and develops playful solutions for education.
“Together we are creating a validation process for learning games,” Kuha outlines. “We start with pre-school and primary school aged children. They provide unbiased and honest feedback, so introducing new games in this setting allows for companies to get real time, critical feedback. It allows for analysis of the game in order to make improvements, with an eye on creating excellent content for the market. Later we aim to widen up to older age groups.”
This academic stamp of approval acts as a significant lure for game developers to the cluster.
“As someone with a background in university research myself I am very happy to see that the cluster is working closer with the Helsinki University and other research units,” explains Aki Kanerva, founder of the Virtual Air Guitar Company. Before joining the cluster Kanerva’s company had previously made a name for themselves with motion-sensor games from the Boom Balland Kung-Fu series. “We didn’t really consider ourselves as a serious games company before, just entertainment products. Then we heard about the Serious Gaming Cluster. We joined just a few months ago in order to see all the new exciting opportunities in the field.”
Games for life
In the lead up to Slush in November last year the cluster organised Game Cave, its first major event. Here 30 serious gaming companies gathered to demo their games and solutions. The impact on the scene was immediate. The cluster has since swelled to around 50 companies, with this number coinciding with the growing recognition of many of its members globally. One recent example is Tribe Studios / Dramagame winning the Best Social Game at Game Connection Europe 2014 with Velvet Sundown. Elsewhere, the Minecraftedu-based schooling concept from Teacher Gaming and 10monkeys.com’s math games have also made waves.
One renowned ‘veteran’ of the cluster is Skill Pixels, whose Smart Kid-concept aimed at educating four-to-eight year olds has attracted considerable attention abroad.
“With its wish to position itself as a superpower of education, Finland has really generated a vibrant start-up community around edtech/serious games,” states Kristoffer Rosberg, Skill Pixels’ CEO. “With dozens of companies now in the Serious Games Cluster, we hope that one of these will become a success story comparable to the recent casual games successes coming from Finland.”
Text: James O’Sullivan
Article first published in Good News from Finland.