Finnish gaming companies have a strong record of on mobile, and the latest example is Small Giant Games, which is announcing today that it has raised $41 million in funding. The Helsinki-based studio of Empires & Puzzles has seen its first game generate more than 10 million downloads and $33 million in revenue in less than a year.
The money comes from lead investor EQT Ventures and existing investors Creandum, Spintop Ventures, and Profounders. Small Giant Games will use part this to expand internationally, expand its developer and graphic designer staff, and continue to invest in Empires & Puzzles.
Small Giant Games CEO Timo Soininen said in an interview with GamesBeat that Empires & Puzzles took off in part because the company designed a game that was easy to play, using the familiar match-3 mechanics with a fantasy role-playing game full of light-hearted characters.
Soininen and a crew of mobile game veterans started the company in 2013, and they launched Empires & Puzzles in March, just 11 months after getting started. Soininen said the success of Empires & Puzzles just 10 months after its launch has made the company profitable.
“It’s a significant milestone in a super-competitive market full of big boys,” Soininen said. “We are still quite small and are punching above our weight. It shows that if you have a high-quality team with the right tools and organize them well, things like this can happen.”
About 33 percent of the user base is active on a monthly basis, and a million players come back every day. The title is one of the few new entrants that has successfully broken into the top 100 grossing games in Western markets. That’s pretty good for a game that 12 people built. And Small Giant Games remains small, with just 25 employees.
“For EQT Ventures, Small Giant Games ticks all the boxes for the kind of companies the team wants to support,” said Lars Jörnow, partner at EQT Ventures, in a statement. “The strong, data-driven entrepreneurial team had a clear vision of what it wanted to achieve, and it’s delivering on that. Small Giant Games has achieved great traction and is determined to become a global winner — this is exactly the kind of attitude the EQT Ventures team looks for.”
In an email, Jörnow added, “I first met Timo in summer 2016, when he was showcasing an early version of Empires & Puzzles. After a couple of great casual mobile games, the Small Giant Games team had made a bold decision to abandon the casual genre and instead plunge into the promised land of midcore (hardcore games with short session times). This isn’t an unusual journey for a game [studio] to make as they search for a sustainable performance marketing loop. But, given my personal background developing match-3 games when I was at King Digital, I was intrigued by the team’s ambition to mix this evergreen core game mechanic with a deeper metagame.”
A year ago, the company raised $6.5 million for its seed round. Soininen previously built Sulake and Habbo Hotel from a tiny startup to a large-scale international company with 300 employees and 350 million downloads. He was joined at Small Giant Games by Otto Nieminen, Markus Halttunen, Ilkka-Kristian Juopperi, Tommi Vallisto, and Tim Lönnqvist.
“We saw the market got cluttered, and it was becoming impossible to create a casual game with enough marketing support to get into the a sustainable position in the top 100 grossing games,” Soininen said. “We saw that a lot of the role-playing games on the market were confusing and intimidating. We want to bridge casual and RPGs. Our game did not take itself seriously, but it has surprising tactical and strategic depth. Lars helped us find former King user-acquisition experts.”
Their insight was to try to change the monetization and engagement rates for a midcore game with approachable casual gameplay. Soininen said the team is getting started on new titles. They used marketing-tech vendors, such as Unity, Vungle, AdColony, Facebook, and Google.
“We were able to conclude this big round, add more developers, start work on a new game, and reward the whole team,” Soininen said. “It is fun to be growing this fast and to have investors like EQT Ventures who shared our vision.”
Part of the reason for the success is that the team developed its own analytics solution and used it to advertise effectively with performance marketing. In the coming months, the company will add new features to celebrate its first anniversary, including its own take on alliance wars.
“We have players who like the game and come back several times a day,” Soininen said. “The underlying core is strong, and we hope this game will have a life of many years. With this new backing, we can move forward with higher speed and build a bigger game.”
Soininen is looking forward to creating more original games.
“When you create something of your own, you can be super flexible,” he said. “You can take it in multiple directions with campaigns and themes, and that is what we will continue to do. We are super pragmatic. We know it is a tough market, and we have to deliver high quality. But being focused on what you do well is important.”