Fingersoft CEO discusses LEGO collaboration, Hill Climb Racing legacy, and more in a fun interview

A fun conversation!

If we think of Fingersoft, the first name we all get in mind is the Hill Climb Racing series. Without any doubt, the Hill Climb Racing titles have been a favorite for most gamers, and to bank on more of the success the franchise brought to them, Fingersoft brought to us LEGO Hill Climb Adventures this May. To get to know more about the collaboration between LEGO and Fingersoft and know how the development of the title went by, we sat with Fingersoft CEO Jaakko Kylmäoja for an Interview where we had insightful conversations about the legacy of Hill Climb Racing, the company’s vision aligning with the current industry scenario and more interesting topics, which we will be sharing to you viewers in this space.

1. Hello Jaakko, let us start with your introduction and role at Fingersoft.

Jaakko: My name is Jaakko Kylmäoja. I’ve been working at Fingersoft since 2013, so a little more than 11 years now. When I started, we were a company of six people, and now we are 118 people. Seeing the growth of the company has been incredible. Before that, I worked in the game industry for four years at a different company where we made educational games for children. I started gaming as a hobby when I was a child.

My friends and I would program games, starting with Commodore BASIC and then QBasic. I studied Information Process Science at university and then entered the gaming industry as a professional. For the last three years, I’ve been working as the CEO of the company, having held a few different positions before that.

Jaakko: Before Lego, we received a lot of suggestions from different companies for cooperation. I think this was mainly because we had a lot of players, and these companies probably thought they would gain visibility. However, we were quite protective of our IP.

Fingersoft Interview session - GamingonPhone  Fingersoft Hill Climb Racing Interview
From left to right – Jaakko, Saurabh, Tousif (Image via GamingonPhone)

When Lego contacted us, we started seeing that this was not something that was going into our game, but something where we could create a game with a different kind of Lego environment and graphics. People in our company quickly started to be enthusiastic about this opportunity. If you have this kind of passion for something, it will most likely lead to a good product. Because we were so eager to do this kind of cooperation, we decided to join this partnership.

3. Did the development process differ from previous projects or games, given the involvement of LEGO?

Jaakko: Well, when developing the game, of course, when you are working with a partner, you must accept or get improvements from the other party. But also, it was fortunate for us that we already had a lot of 3D assets that could be used in games.

But, I think that one of the main differences was that our previous games had been 2D games, developed with Cocos2d-x. Now, this was the first game that we developed using Unity because it was a 3D environment. So that meant we had to create new processes, like 3D pipelines, and have different kinds of talents in our company to handle 3D development.

4. How did you approach the design and aesthetics of the game to impress fans of both LEGO and Hill Climb Racing?

Jaakko: I think one of the big concerns we had was that we hadn’t thought too much about our own Hill brand before. To be able to do these kinds of collaborations, we had to start working on developing the groundwork itself, the world where the events would happen, and all kinds of laws and stories that occur there.

That needed to be done before we started developing the game so that we would have some kind of base. But of course, when doing a Lego game, there were some interesting moments when we would design the vehicles with actual Lego bricks before doing that on the computer.

5. What has been the most exciting part of developing this title?

LEGO Hill Climb Adventures review Fingersoft Hill Climb Racing Interview
Image via Fingersoft

Jaakko: Well, I think that as people who were very excited about working with Lego, many of us had been playing with Lego bricks when we were children. In Finland, there is a saying that a lot of children aspire to become Lego engineers. So, I think that in itself was exciting, and of course, moving into different kinds of technology, from 2D to 3D and from Cocos2d-x to Unity, was also kind of exciting, new things to learn.

6. How do you see the partnership with LEGO influencing the market reach and demographics of Hill Climb Racing?

Jaakko: Well, I think that Lego has a lot of audience which overlaps with fundraising as well, so obviously there’s a lot of overlapping. But I think that compared to previous Hill Climbing games, this kind of engagement in the game happens a little bit earlier and it’s also lower than with the other ones, of course, there’s the story side of things that you can enjoy if you want to.

But on the story side, if the first Hill Climb Racing was mostly about competing against yourself and trying to go as far as possible, and the second was more about competing against your friends, this is more like if you enjoy this kind of adventure and a story and have some kind of narrative in it. So that kind of player trope is one that we didn’t have content for previously, perhaps now this kind of provides that.

7. How do you see the partnership with LEGO influencing future projects or collaborations at Fingersoft? Also, are there any collaborations in sight?

Jaakko: Of course, we learned a lot from this project, and as well, the mobile game market has kind of consolidated quite a lot, making it difficult to launch new games if they don’t have existing brands or IPs.

So now, because we had to do this partnership, we had to create the brand behind Hill Climb and because we have that now, it kind of enables us to do a lot of different things much easier than before. So, doing new cooperations with other brands is much easier now. Also, strengthening the Hill Climb brand itself is important for us because we want to create new games around that.

8. Hill Climb Racing has become a legacy hit and is also a major contributor to where Fingersoft is now. How did the success of Hill Climb Racing impact Fingersoft as a company?

Jaakko: in the company, everything that we do is based on the revenue we get from Hill Climb Racing. So yeah, we’ve been doing a lot of different kinds of experiments and trying new stuff, and trying to think about what else there could be besides Hill Climb Racing.

More or less, those projects have been kind of killed, and we are getting more into the situation that, well, Hill Climb Racing itself is a big brand that probably we should focus more only on in the future. So I think, for now, it’s pretty much like a Hill Climb Racing company.

9. What is the typical development process for a Fingersoft game? How long does it usually take from concept to release?

Jaakko: The concept stage itself might take some time since usually, our developers are on projects that are generating revenue all the time, and it’s quite expensive to take people off those projects.

Flexion launched Hill Climb Racing 2 Fingersoft Hill Climb Racing Interview
Image via Fingersoft

But, we do have this Future Game Camp concept where we first have a pitching session of a game idea. Then, from those, we select some ideas for a two-week prototyping period where we create a prototype of that idea. And then, from those that start feeling promising enough, we make decisions on whether to allocate a budget for development and gather teams.

I think that currently, the phase when we have the team takes about three to four years for us to develop, but we have been working on our processes to make this more efficient in the future.

10. What was the size of the team that worked on Hill Climb Racing and Hill Climb Racing 2? 

Jaakko: The initial Hill Climb Racing was done with one management, one car, and one level. Currently, the core developer team is about six people, and there are also a lot of different people working in marketing, community management, and user acquisition who are shared among different projects. The core game development team was about 22 people for Hill Climb Racing 2. Overall, we have 118 people, and everyone is more or less focused on contributing to different parts of the business.

11. How do you think the mobile gaming market has changed since Fingersoft started, and how has the company adapted to these changes?

Jaakko: I already mentioned that the market has become quite concentrated. That, of course, means that achieving success with new themes and game ideas is much more difficult nowadays than it was before. If you look at the app stores or Google Play stores, you mostly see more or less technical games that are the revenue makers there.

Fingersoft six-hour policy, Fingersoft
Image via Fingersoft

So, I would say that for a new game studio with new game ideas, emerging markets like maybe the VR side could be where you can establish something new. Alternatively, making partnerships with other IPs or utilizing publishers with promotion power might be the only way nowadays.

12. How do you see the mobile gaming landscape evolving in the next few years, and where does Fingersoft fit into that vision?

Jaakko: I think everybody today is talking about AI and how it will affect everything we do, including in the business world, of course. So it’s really hard to predict that. But so far, we have already started using AI as a tool, and yes, it has helped us to do some things much more quickly than before. And this alone means that we can do something efficiently and hopefully more quickly, or provide more content at the same time.

I would say that there will be a lot of intelligent AI characters inside games that you can start having relationships with, and they would have some kind of history and some unpredictable things happening that are impossible to script beforehand. It’ll be really interesting.

Also, with the devices that are being developed at the moment, like very lightweight AR or VR headsets, I think that at some point we will stop using the kinds of things that we have to hold in our hands and start using more wearable devices. I’m using the Apple Watch every day now; previously, I would read from my phone when going to bed. Now, I usually use this properly because it’s much more convenient.

Read our other Interviews here:

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