Today marks the start of a four-day focus on Finland's flourishing games industry. As well as our in depth feature on the benefits enjoyed by studios based in the Scandinavian territory, we are bringing you a number of profiles on the leading developers in the country, starting with the giangantic Habbo Hotel creator Sulake.
Brands: Habbo Hotel, IRC-Galleria, Bobba
Specialty: Social networking
If Sulake’s name isn’t immediately familiar, that’s because it’s most profitable brand is so popular that it’s hogged all the limelight.
It is hard to dispute Habbo Hotel’s success, which was listed as the world’s ninth most valuable digital start-up in the SAI 25 list, worth an estimated $1.25 billion.
“I started the company in 1999 with a friend called Aapo Kyrola,” says Saluke founder and chief creative officer Sampo Karjalainen. “It was just a hobby thing and we made a simple online application for a friend’s band – it was a music project and a game as well.
“It was just a meeting place for the band members and fans which we made for fun, but after released it grew hugely popular, and we attracted users from outside Finland and worldwide.”
At that point the work of the two young Finns attracted the attention of the CEO of advertising company Taivas. Working with the Taivas group’s online arm, in 2000 Karjalainen and Kyrola created a light hearted online game that combined a simple snowball fighting mechanic, social networking and a text message-based commerce system.
“Then we formed Sulake in May 2000, and built our business plan and started to think about standalone services. We made a commercial version of Mobile Disco as Hotel Kultakala. In February 2002 we took Hotel Habbo international, and it’s grown from there.”
Grown is something of an understatement. By the end of 2004 Sulake had spread Habbo Hotel’s combination of gaming and social networking to four different continents, and boasted a workforce of over 160. The company revenue in 2008 was around €51 million, and the employee headcount has risen to beyond 300.
Habbo Hotel’s userbase, which is now somewhere in the region of 129 million strong across 31 countries, consists mainly of 12 to 16-year-olds – but Sulake isn’t stopping there.
In 2007 Sulake acquired Dynamoid, owner of Finland’s biggest social networking site, meaning it now holds the attention of 70 per cent of Finnish population aged between 15 and 24 years old.