The Finnish gaming industry has evolved from the 1980s to give birth to the world’s most successful mobile game of the 2010s, Clash of Clans, and become one of the fastest growing business sectors in Finland. The collaboration, growth mindset, and pay it forward culture in the Finnish gaming industry have also laid the foundation for the student-driven startup ecosystem in Finland, which I got to experience firsthand working for Slush from 2014 to 2016. The success of Slush and the Finnish gaming industry can be viewed as the result of ecosystem efforts, but interestingly what has been written about ecosystems in management science does not really capture what I have experienced.
My research, starting in 2014 as a university course project, has shown that the Finnish gaming sector can be characterized as an ecosystem, even if it is not organized around any orchestrating nodal enterprise or technology platform. Instead, I have come to view it as an example of an ecosystems that has emerged from reciprocal social relationships. I believe that this is an important but often overlooked aspect of ecosystem development. When focus is shifted away from a transactional logic towards a more individual and interpersonal logic, it also allows for better understanding the dynamics behind what ecosystems are usually formed for: innovation.
The challenges of our time require an open mindset and systemic solutions to complex problems. At the same time, leaders look for guarantees that the results will be favorable before testing or investing in something new. The Finnish gaming industry provides a compelling counterexample on how sharing the risks within the ecosystem has given rise to extraordinary success and several category-defining games. The Finnish gaming ecosystem trusts that success breeds success. Instead of competing against each other head-to-head, collaboration has been seen as a way to mitigate the risks relating to the volatility of the industry since its inception. Even though the camaraderie and technical superiority of the early demoscene enthusiasts might not be easily recreated in another context, these learnings can also be adopted by companies involved in other ecosystems.
Research on orbital launches has found that the number of prior failures predicts an organization’s probability to successful launch into orbit (Madsen & Desai, 2010). The gaming industry seems to exhibit similar traits: Angry Birds was Rovio’s 53rd try at building a successful mobile game. Almost all success stories in the Finnish gaming industry are results of rigorous trial and error and plenty of failures. Supercell has even made it a habit to pop a Champagne when a game is killed, to destigmatize failure and emphasize learning.
Engaging in collaborative experimentation in an ecosystem context can reduce risks and provide a competitive advantage for an entire industry on the global market, illustrated by the demoscene that gave rise to a habit of openly sharing challenges and learnings within the Finnish gaming industry. New ways of thinking often spring from old bonds, which makes industry gatherings in informal settings key to fostering this type of collaboration.
My hope is to bring individuals, and their interpersonal bonds to the core of ecosystem research. As Adam Grant put it “adapting to a changing environment isn’t something a company does — it’s something people do in the multitude of decisions they make every day” (Grant, 2021). I am really grateful for LSR supporting me in further explore the intricacies behind the Finnish gaming miracle.
Adam, G. (2021). Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know.
Madsen, P. M., & Desai, V. (2010). Failing to learn? The effects of failure and success on organizational learning in the global orbital launch vehicle industry. Academy of management journal, 53(3), 451-476.