The Nordics have long been known for gaming prowess; some of European tech’s biggest early successes, including Supercell and Rovio, came from Finland.
Now a new generation has emerged, including the Finnish-Icelandic games studio Mainframe, backed by US VC Andreessen Horowitz (a16z).
Today the studio announced it had raised another €20.3m led by Andreessen, who also led the company’s Series A in 2020. Although the VC has previously backed metaverse startup Improbable, Mainframe, founded in 2019, is the first proper European games studio and the first Nordic startup the firm has backed.
Mainframe’s aim is to release the first completely cloud-native massively multiplayer online game (MMO). For people not familiar with the lingo, that means that you can access the game from any device: PC, Macbook, mobile or console.
We have the shot at getting the classic first-mover advantage
There are already games available on the cloud through platforms such as Xbox cloud gaming, Nvidia Geforce Now and Amazon Luna, but according to Mainframe’s chief executive Thor Gunnarsson the games on those platforms were created for consoles or PC. Instead, Mainframe aims to create an experience that treats all devices equally.
“What we believe the cloud represents now is that next inflexion point so the startups and the studios that are beginning now to master this new medium that is creating original content for what is a new distribution model and a new way of creating games. We have the shot at getting the classic first-mover advantage,” Gunnarsson says when Sifted reaches him in Reykjavik.
In the same way that mobile game developers got people hooked on Candy Crush and Clash Royale, Mainframe believes it can attract players who are otherwise not keen gamers, with the possibility to play using the devices they already have at home.
According to Gunnarsson, another positive thing about having a game hosted and running on the cloud is that all updates happen there and not on local devices. This lets the developer release patches and updates more rapidly than if locally stored.
“It actually has huge efficiencies from an industry perspective to offer games in this way,” he says.
According to VentureBeat, Xbox is working with Mainframe to set up best practices for this kind of game. If Mainframe succeeds, other studios can run the same playbook in the future — though Gunnarsson declined to comment on the reports.
A team of veterans
The Nordic countries have a long history of gaming success stories. And it’s no coincidence that Mainframe’s 13 cofounders are split between its headquarters in Helsinki and, like the CEO, in an office in Reykjavik. Finland is flush with triple-A game studios such as Remedy as well as Rovio and Supercell, while Iceland is home to studios like CCP games, known for the sci-fi MMO Eve Online.
Most of the 60 people employed by Mainframe are based in Finland and Iceland. There are also a couple in Sweden and Denmark as well as in Paris, where Mainframe recently opened a subsidiary for some senior recruits from Blizzard Entertainment. Having a distributed team from the beginning, Mainframe was keen to keep everyone within European time zones.
You need to have some reason for being [in the metaverse]. Aside from just having a cool avatar or building a virtual house. And games provide that framework
“Of course, we've now made some exceptions to that rule. So we have two people in Melbourne, Australia. And a fashion designer in Auckland, New Zealand,” Gunnarsson says.
The game his studio wants to build will make borders and time zones invisible. But when it comes to the metaverse in general, Gunnarsson is critical.
“Having been working in virtual worlds and games now since the 90s, you need to have a sense of purpose. You need to have some reason for being there. Aside from just having a cool avatar or building a virtual house. And games provide that framework.”
So, yes to fashionable avatars and MMO. But does Mainframe also tick the box of an economy through crypto and play-to-earn?
Not really or not yet, at least. According to Gunnarsson, Mainframe’s game will have a player-driven virtual economy where players can sell the virtual goods that they have created themselves in the game. And with a founding team with lots of experience in bringing free-to-play to games in Europe, Gunnarsson is not ruling anything out.
“That kind of innovative thread is something that we hope to take advantage of, as we bring our project closer to market.”
Mimi Billing is Sifted’s Nordic correspondent. She also covers healthtech, and tweets from @MimiBilling.
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