Have You Heard About the Angry Birds Dress?

by Eli Hodapp

Today was absolutely exhausting, but totally awesome. I woke up after some sleeping pill powered sleep at around 5:30 AM Finland time, or 9:30 PM Chicago time. I got four or five hours of sleep, which, honestly, was way more than I was expecting. Regardless, right around 5:30 AM there was no going back to sleep, so I fiddled around on my computer, took a nice long shower in what might be the most amazing shower on the planet, and headed down to be the first one at the hotel breakfast at 7:00 AM.

I quickly inadvertently outed myself as an American within moments by not really knowing what to do with the various jellies, jams, and smears carefully arranged around all the other strange Scandinavian breakfast items that all seemed to be different variations on salmon, cheese, and unidentifiable lunch meats. But, whatever, I’ll eat it wrong. That’s how I roll.

8:30 AM came quickly, and I met everyone else on the media tour and our guide. We had an insane day of back to back meetings, starting with actually meeting people from the Finnish government who explained all the ins and outs of the things they do to encourage game development. Later we met with Tekes, which is this government-run funding organization that matches whatever private investments you can raise for your game. What seemed really refreshing about Tekes is that their ultimate goal doesn’t seem to be to turn a massive profit, but instead, to just bring jobs and innovation to Finland even if the project ultimately fails.

The rest of the day was entirely soaked up by visiting game studio after game studio, being carted all around Helsinki in a a party bus of sorts. I really like it here. Everyone is great, and seems to have this entirely refreshing optimistic and forward looking attitude about absolutely everything. Each studio is filled with incredibly energetic people who all are excited to be doing what they’re doing. It’s sort of a strange contrast to the atmosphere outside, as we’re so far north that it never really gets light out. The sky is grey and oppressive, and really just seems to totally sap your energy as it gets almost entirely dark out at 2:00 in the afternoon.

Regardless, I’m not sure it’d be possible to have a better time with the group of people I’m with, and our guides. It’s a great mix of journalists from all over Europe, and two people from this local non-profit organization called Finnfacts. Talking to people in your industry working in different countries is always incredible for both personal and professional growth, as well as putting a lot of things into perspective. That’s arguably just as valuable as learning about the Finnish gaming industry, if not more so.

It always impresses me just how wide of a world view your typical European has. In the USA it seems like we suffer from such severe myopic tunnel vision with a world view that sits firmly in between keeping track of what the Kardashians  are up to, while burying our heads in the sand about everything else that actually matters. I suppose I’m just as guilty of the next ignorant American of this1 but I couldn’t believe that everyone else knew all about what’s been going down with the Occupy protests, our ridiculous levels of discrimination towards gay people, and more than I even knew regarding the silly things our military is up to now.

There’s just no explaining it. Even more embarrassing, is there just flat out isn’t an answer that isn’t “Most people don’t seem to care” when asked why I think it is that we allow these things. Europeans also seem to realize, at least to some extent, that they’re competing on a global market and what a threat China is becoming. It’s so incredibly refreshing to talk to people who can actually intelligently discuss global issues, and to circle back around on all this Finnish gaming stuff, it’s stupidly refreshing to see just how anxious these studios are to compete on a grand global scale as if to say “Hey, we’re Finland, check out the awesome stuff we can do,” letting their products speak for them.

But, I digress.

Dinner tonight was absolutely fantastic. We went to a place called A21, which is a fine dining restaurant focusing on the gimmick that each course is constructed by three chefs. One comes up with the story of the meal, one constructs the food, and the third mixes the cocktails. The theme was “a walk through the woods,” and each course expanded on that in one way or another. I’ve had meals paired with wine before, but never meals paired with custom made cocktails. It sounded a little crazy at first, but the whole thing turned out to be incredible.

We were joined by Peter Vesterbacka, the “Mighty Eagle” of Rovio. A lot of what we talked about was off the record, but what I will say, is that I flat out can’t believe the amount of things Rovio is doing now. If I had to name one company to watch next year, it would be them. The amount of ambition they have borders on insanity, but I don’t really see Angry Birds’ momentum slowing down anytime soon. They even managed to talk Barnes and Noble into rebranding their store to “Birds and Noble” for Angry Birds day this Sunday, among other nearly unbelievable things in store for the future.

Oh, and I don’t think we ran into a single person who didn’t tell us about Mrs. Vesterbacka’s Angry Birds dress that she wore to the Finnish independence day party held at the president’s castle the night before. Saying it was the talk of the town would be the world’s biggest understatement.

  1. To my credit, I don’t really fully understand who the Kardashians even are. []