Why a game designer from India chose a job in Helsinki
With the Nordic Game Talents job fair on the horizon, we spoke to Rovio game designer Harshal Karvande about his experience of moving to Finland for a role in the industry.
Before we talk about your move to Finland, please tell us how you got into gaming and share the names of some of your first-love titles.
My parents' ideal was for me to become an engineer or a doctor. So the agreement was that if I studied hard, I could have the console I wanted. This was how I first got my hands on a Sega Genesis in my early teens.
I loved games like Contra and Mortal Kombat, but my all-time favorite is the role-playing game Final Fantasy VII. That one changed my life.
When and how did you decide to make a career out of gaming?
I studied computer engineering at the Vishwakarma Institute of Technology in Pune, as I thought this degree would bring me closest to my passion for gaming. Upon graduation, I started looking for a computer engineering role, but the prospects did not appeal to me much!
That's when I applied to the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad – one of the world's top design schools. I was very fortunate to be selected from a wide pool of applicants for one of the 11 seats they award each year to study New Media Design.
Did you start designing games during your studies?
Yes, in my final year I was making games for Nokia feature phones as part of my thesis project with Reliance Games. The company also published a lot of movie-franchise games, including Pacific Rim, The Hunger Games, and a title for one of the Mission Impossible movies. I had the opportunity to work on the game for the movie Real Steel.
Then I briefly went to a gaming startup before moving to Zynga – the company behind the famous Facebook game Farmville. While Zynga is an American company, we ran all the Farmville games from India with complete creative independence. The parent company discussed targets that we needed to hit, but it was entirely up to us how to do so.
I really wanted to understand what's in the water in Finland that makes games from here so much better than anywhere else.
Game Designer, Rovio
Why did you decide to make the jump to Finland?
The eyes of the global gaming industry are always on Finland due to the global reach of game brands like Angry Birds from Rovio, Clash of Clans from Supercell, and Empires & Puzzles from Small Giant, now part of Zynga.
I really wanted to understand what's in the water in Finland that makes games from here so much better than anywhere else.In my third year at Zynga, some folks from Rovio were at a major game developer conference in India to talk about the work they're doing. I really clicked with one of the product managers and Rovio later contacted me about a position.
My biggest takeaway from the hiring process – during which I visited Finland – was that every single person who interviewed me was entrenched in games! The knowledge was vast. This is pretty much how it is with people working in the industry in Finland – everyone has a history with games.
When did you arrive in Finland, and what were some of your first impressions?
I arrived here in October 2019 with my partner of 14 years and our three big dogs. It's almost exactly two years ago.
Our first impression of Finland was that if your paperwork is in order, then other things will be in order! It was a bit of a problem leaving India with our dogs, but bringing them into Finland was easy.
Walking the dogs twice a day – come rain or shine – helped us get used to the country quickly. We really appreciate seeing how children here have so much freedom, as it's such a safe place. It's joyful to see kids on the buses or walking in the streets unsupervised. There's a nameless quality to this experience that is very powerful.
In India, we often use the phrase: "Be home before seven" – acknowledging that safety can be an issue after darkness falls. But in Finland, you don't need to think like that. Here it is sometimes dark, but it is almost always safe.
Have you discovered what makes the Finnish gaming industry special?
Part of it is the fact that the network effect in Finland is really strong. The gaming industry here grew out of the amateur demo scene, with people making games and getting together to look at them. The only change is that the companies are now super big! But the culture is still there.
I have been quite surprised by how much the different gaming companies here support one another. They openly discuss successes and failures, even sharing numbers. The Finnish branch of the International Game Developers Association is also extremely strong.
What would you say to a game designer considering a job in Finland?
If you're hired as a game designer here, you will be working on games from day one! Finnish workplaces have very flat hierarchies and you generally do not need to first prove yourself with menial tasks. You'll be actively involved with your team from the start, and when you finish work at the end of a week you'll really feel like you contributed.