After Zynga deal, Empires & Puzzles maker is an inspiration for Finnish game industry

Finland has more to contribute to the world of mobile gaming than Clash Royale and Angry Birds. We saw that last year when Zynga acquired Small Giant Games for at least $560 million (price tag for 80%).

I met Timo Soininen, CEO of Helsinki-based Small Giant Games, last week at the Slush tech event, which drew at least 25,000 people to Helsinki. He started the company in 2013 and had barely a dozen people to work on the first version of Empires & Puzzles, which debuted in the spring of 2017. The game grew so quickly that Zynga was lucky to snag Small Giant Games on its way up.

In our interview, Soininen said the company has grown to 60 people and is working on new games beyond its huge hit. Empires & Puzzles came about four years into Small Giant’s history, and it was its third title. Soininen said the team stepped back and analyzed the top 50 mobile games. They looked at all of the elements that made them successful, and carved these out almost like Lego pieces. They wanted to focus on a “midcore” game, or one with deeper depth and interaction that was easy to get into.

They wanted to make an “advanced casual game that was more like a hobby than a game,” Soininen said. “What if you used match-3 mechanics to target army shields and use it to bridge casual and hardcore games?”

And the rest was history. When Zynga acquired the company, it paid about $11.9 million per employee. In its last earnings call, Zynga said it was paying out bonuses to Small Giant Games because the game has become like a hobby for its fans. Finland has more than 220 game companies, but Small Giant Games is a rarity that many of its peers admire.

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