Peter Levin on Scandinavia's Rise to Mobile Gaming Supremacy (Q&A)

Peter Levin Headshot - P 2013
Courtesy of Subject

Peter Levin Headshot - P 2013

The early advisor to Rovio talks to THR about how the region's focus on mobile design, social integration and upselling features led to Candy Crush and Angry Birds: "These games fill that bite-size need sitting on a line, on a tarmac, in a waiting room, or during a commercial."

The rise of mobile gaming has created a new center of power in the gaming world: Scandinavia.

Led by companies such as Rovio (Angry Birds) and Supercell (Clash of Clans), developers there are leading the way in mobile aesthetics, gameplay and monetization.

How big are the region's game makers? Consider this: The Angry Birds franchise is valued at between $6 billion and $9 billion by analysts. Supercell, on Oct. 16, sold a 51 percent stake to Japan's Softbank for $1.53 billion, giving the company a $3 billion value after just three years in business. And Candy Crush Saga takes in roughly $650,000 per day, according to the Daily Mail.

And that's just three games.

Peter Levin has had a birds eye view of the revolution. An early advisor to Rovio and former board member of Zynga predecessor Sulake, he's now an advisor to Stockholm-based MAG Interactive, maker of the word game Ruzzle (which boasts 60 million players in 150 countries). The Hollywood Reporter asked him about the area's swift rise to power.

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THR: The aesthetics and gameplay of titles like Angry Birds and Candy Crush Saga have been imitated by an ever-growing number of companies. What are Nordic developers honing in on that other mobile developers aren't?

Levin: It's the precision of the gameplay, the subtlety and nuance of the sound integration, game design and the sensation of getting "just that close" to your goal but coming up short…and then finally getting there. Candy Crush has taken the in-game tension, peer-to-peer and aesthetic elements to an entirely different level. The soundtrack and color palette are a mobile phone/tablet-sized Willy Wonka's chocolate factory-like experience.

These games fill that bite-size need we have when sitting on a line, on a tarmac, in a waiting room, during a commercial break. As a user you can, with such ease, get a fulfilling experience at little to no cost and on top of that engage, enrage or fall victim to a member of your own social footprint while doing so.

Other companies, like Supercell, seem to have found the magic bullet when it comes to monetization. How has it been able to attract players so willing to spend heavily?

Supercell and King have evolved the monetization model in an incredibly accelerated time frame. The experience of "leveling up" no longer feels like a cheat or a shortcut but rather part of the gameplay itself. The upselling elements are low cost enough and the perceived return on investment for the amount of pleasure garnered for monies deployed is balanced brilliantly.

The stigma of buying progress is very much in the rear view mirror. It is socially acceptable with incentives to help friends and family with their progress by granting lives. Also, the elegant integration of your personal social networks into the gameplay is seamless and fun.

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What sort of impact does the licensing that accompanies some of the major hits have on the success of the games themselves?

Licensing's role is increasingly important to any IP-based game program. In particular when a property is both global and cross-demographic. Angry Birds Rio and Star Wars were huge wins for all parties involved. As these companies get their legs beneath them, they are making the trip over here more preemptively.

Coupling the right developer and engine with a contextual piece of intellectual property is a natural extension of the brand and experience. Rovio's licensing and merchandising program was a huge piece of business for the company and its partners. Not only was the revenue significant, it also allowed the fan and customer base to enjoy the brand in very unique and personal ways.

The mobile and tablet consuming experience is much more intimate than that of console or PC. That leads to super engagement, even for limited amounts of time. That kind of passion often translates into licensing revenue when a program is executed well. 

How much of the success these mobile developers are experiencing is owed to Nokia?

A lot. Nokia is the Nordic version of Sony's hardware revolution in Japan in the 80s and 90s. Most of the bleeding edge players in the mobile, tablet and social arena have former Nokia talent in their executive ranks. Also, Nokia growth partners (their investment vehicle in the region) has been very aggressive in populating the up and comers with capital and resources.

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Do you see the success in mobile boosting the success of console developers in the region?

That is a question that remains to be answered. Having spent a lot of time in the region for years, there is not the same momentum, excitement and sense of competition to prevail in console and PC that mobile, tablet and social are commanding. That could change with a breakout title or two.