The End of an Era

The last year has been tough. Beyond tough. As a company, as an entrepreneur, and as a human being. The raging coronavirus is just the icing on the cake, and by no means the one to blame. The saying “when it rains it pours” has a certain truth to it.

First Steps

I would never have guessed that when we started over 7 years ago, while still in school and with no experience in the gaming industry nor even in the IT business, that we’d have such an emotional rollercoaster ahead of us. Back then, we were naïve, aimed big and dreamt even bigger. We were noobs. Telltale Games had just had their breakthrough with The Walking Dead Season One, showing the world that video games can deliver emotional, interactive storytelling experiences for the vast audiences. Developing a crime noir story with a similar episodic format, branching narrative and light point n’ click gameplay felt like a no-brainer. We even won a couple of different local and national business accelerators, giving us a boost of confidence and our first team members (of which some remained until today).

Looking back, our first game, The Detail Season One, took about 3.5 years to develop, even though honestly we worked full-time only a couple of years. The reason was the first hard-earned lesson: never build your runway on expected sales from an unlaunched/untested product. The game has sold 92,110 episodes on Steam and an additional 56,467 episodes on other digital stores on PC, Mac, and Linux. On iOS, the figures are close to the same except there the game has been for free for a while already. Still, looking at the numbers and the budget per episode, The Detail was break-even for us as a business case.

On the grand scale, The Detail managed to open the doors to 3rd party IPs, and through luck (right place, right people), I managed to meet with Skybound Entertainment, most known for The Walking Dead franchise. We started talking with their interactive branch, and I can proudly say that I’ve made a lot of good friends from there during the years. We started working on Thief of Thieves: Season One, since it was more or less like Skybound’s Ocean’s Eleven and felt like a perfect fit for us.

Learning the Ropes

While in early development, we grew the company from under ten people to almost twenty. Since we are located in a smaller city in Finland, experienced people were hard to come by and we ended up hiring a lot of junior talent. Hell, we were still juniors ourselves at that point. We tried to do everything ourselves, an effect of the invincibility syndrome that is too common with young teams without experience juggling scope, budget, funding, and marketing.

While we worked on the game, Steam went through a major content explosion by opening up the platform to everyone. After the moderate success of The Detail, we had our hopes up high, but the sales did not meet our expectations. I knew that it would be a major hurdle down the road for the company.

During production, we had to raise more project funding from an external venture capital fund for the game so that we could ship it. We had no real budget for marketing nor the in-house skills to do so. We had a clear schedule and milestones tied to the funding, so we really didn’t have much room to maneuver. This was a financial recipe for disaster for the company: I understand now that loan-based project funding is a bad fit for a gaming studio, and Rival Games became a highly indebted company due to it.

In space, no one can hear you scream

We had just signed a deal to work on the legendary Alien franchise for the first time on mobile, and the spirit within the studio was higher than ever. We also had another, experienced studio (Theory Interactive) helping us on the next title and a publisher (D3 Go!) that we trusted and really enjoyed working with. For the next 7 months we did almost everything with an improved process: we had solid pre-production, a clear and time-wise in-scope vision for the product, and a team that was humble and ready to listen to each other and our partners. We worked long days at the office, sometimes feeling tired but always motivated and focused on a common goal.

The end result, Alien: Blackout, speaks for itself: 95/100 on GamesBeat, part of Best on iOS 2019 picks from Apple, and a lot of positive reviews and feedback from fans of the franchise. It was the first game we really showed our capabilities as a gaming studio and the whole game was done is just 7 months. Even with the disappointment of shutting down the studio today, this is the game that we can all be proud of for years to come, especially since there aren’t too many positively received entertainment products from the Alien franchise in the recent years.

Work-life balance

However, I recently understood that while we were working on the game, I broke the one and only rule I set for the founders of the company: always family first. My wife was expecting our second child and I was working long days at the office, and I became obsessed with making sure the game is as good as possible. The same probably applies to everyone in the team, since we shared love and passion for the franchise.

There is a saying that entrepreneurship costs marriages, and I understand that now, even though thankfully we are still together with my wife. It is hard to understand or to explain how emotionally consuming it is to try to be present at home, when your mind is trying to figure out how you can pay your team’s salaries next month. I’ve always tried to make sure the team comes first: even in tough times, I’ve tried to get at least some salary to the team members that need it the most. It might have not always been the best practice business-wise, but I like to think that it has been one of the key reasons why our team has stayed together for so long, even with the ups and downs. People first. Always.

However, from the entrepreneur’s perspective (and some of the key team members/founders perspectives) this usually means months and months with minimal or no salary. Something which is equally hard to understand or to explain at home: I’m always at work but rarely get paid enough for it to bring my share of bread to the table.

The Lucky Streak Ends

After Alien, things were looking up for a while. We signed a deal with Universal Studios for a super cool smash-up of two 80s iconic franchises for an AA PC/console narrative shooter. We had a solid team, with some serious experience, and the same development partner from Alien, a solid vision for the game, fun and challenging gameplay. In short, all the shenanigans for a great, innovative game and a good business structure for the project, that even would’ve allowed us to pay back the loans. We were months in the pre-development when, almost a year ago, the worst possible happened: Universal had a major business strategy shift across their portfolio, shutting our project down in a moment’s notice. We were coming up on a milestone that contractually allowed them to shut it down fast.

Universal did try to find a publisher together with us for the game to a certain degree, but we’d never prepared for pitching it to external publishers, so the materials were nowhere near to convincing anyone. We had to temporary layoff most of our team (wasn’t the first time) and shift focus on pitching our various original game ideas to different publishers.

The main project we pitched was The Greenhouse Effect, a third person story experience in a world where climate change has made everyday living a challenge. Here’s the early prototype trailer:

We had a build, a story deck, budgets, team, unique art style. In short, a solid vision on what the game is and what kind of a story it will tell, and the team and tools the execute that vision.

Yet, it will never see daylight. We had no resource to really make something unique that could’ve stood out enough in the eyes of the publishers, since we were running on fumes. Another problem we had was the budget: we were aiming for somewhere between $2 million and $4 million, and there aren’t many partners out there in that certain segment. The feedback for the past 6 months has been either “it is not a good fit for our portfolio” or “it is under/over our current budget scope”. Neither of these gave us any concrete feedback on how to improve the pitch itself, so we ended up creating additional prototypes and a mobile version to no avail.

While we were doing this, I was also pitching to VCs and potential partners about additional funding. None worked out, and I understand why: we were a company that had been around too long, never becoming profitable or even making any serious revenue ($825,000 in 2018 was our best). Upon close inspection, we were deep in debt and needed long-term financing to even have a chance to turn profitable.

The Chips Run Out

However, we still had some potential partnership opportunities and publisher negotiations going on at the beginning of this year. I was feeling optimistic about them. I guess I’m a “glass half full” kind of guy that doesn’t give up. Then something happened that I nor the world was prepared for: a global health crisis in the form of a coronavirus. It shut down all the leads that we had and left us lost in the dark with no way out. I know we are not the only ones there, and I hope that at least some will find a light to guide them through the darkness.

Governments around the world have kicked various kinds of help for companies, and Finland has always been known for its government support for businesses. They were no exception this time around: hundreds of millions of dollars are being granted to companies to help them make it through the state of emergency. Yet, since we are deeply in debt and have had major financial losses, such a grant was not applicable for us. They’ve funded us throughout the years, and we wouldn’t have made it here without them, so nothing but love from us to the Finnish government and their support.

Which brings us to present. It has been quite a ride. I’m humbled by the confidence the team gave me over the years. I wish all the best to everyone who has worked at Rival Games throughout the years. As a team, we are thankful for the support of our great partners, members of our Board of Directors, advisors, investors, new friends we’ve made across the globe, the guidance and help they’ve provided over the years, and hopefully some of us will get a chance to work with some of you in the future. For now, it is time to spend some time with the family, think about the lessons learned, and the future. Then maybe it is time for a new adventure.

With gratitude,

Jukka Laakso
CEO @ Rival Games

P.S. Thief of Thieves: Season One and Alien: Blackout will remain in stores normally, but our first title The Detail will be pulled from Steam and AppStore at some point.

Alien: Blackout among Apple’s best of the year 2019.

We are honored by the fact that Alien: Blackout has been featured as part of the Best of 2019 Trends of the Year on the AppStore!

Here are a few words from Apple describing the game:
“Alien: Blackout is featuring leading-edge technology, bold design and innovative features that delivered a level of depth and quality never thought possible on mobile.

Alien: Blackout isn’t a mere remake or a tribute — it is an original release that breathed new life into one of the most beloved franchises in gaming history.”

Special thanks to the awesome team that made this happen!

The Journey of Thousand Miles

A month ago we had an anniversary: Rival Games is now a one-year-old company. This is the story of how we moved from being grad students in the University to a professional game studio employing over 10 people and continuing to grow fast.

Let us go back 25 months, to the early winter of 2012. I was sitting at a lecture in the Turku School of Economics, thinking that this is some of the most boring stuff I’ve ever heard. Something that will never ever be useful for me in the future. I barely passed the exam few weeks later, just by remembering by heart the few basic topics that were traditionally asked every time on the exam. The course was called “Entrepreneurship”. Funny, how things change in life.

About two months later, I realized while watching the final episode of The Shield, that why the heck hasn’t anyone done a game out of this? Okay, I know that there is a game made of The Shield, but I’m talking about a game where the player plays the characters and not just the action. A game where there are consequences for the player’s choices and he is morally challenged with the realistic approach to the problems existing in every culture: drugs, violence and gangs. There had been games with similar themes for years, but they were almost always either sci-fi or fantasy (exceptions do exist, like Heavy Rain). Still, police dramas had been among the most watched movies and TV series for decades.

Few days later I was having a pint with a good friend and introduced the idea to him. Sadly, he wasn’t that interested (he ended up later working at Nokia). Thankfully another friend from school happened to be there. He got immediately excited about the idea of making a childhood dream true: designing your own game. We started thinking about the mechanics, built an ugly-ass prototype and implemented a few lines of dialogue. But by far the biggest thing we did, was asking two other good friends about joining our crazy idea. Between the four of us, we realized that we had a designer, programmer, graphic artist and a musician. So we could do a much better prototype.

However, the big step for us was an advertisement my wife noticed in the newspaper back in September 2012. A startup accelerator program named Boost Turku was searching for new applicants for their Startup Journey. We quickly talked about applying and decided to give it a try. We were actually pretty sure that we will never get accepted since we where just working on something minor in our “garage”. But for some reason, they decided to accept us.

During the late fall of 2012 we worked hard on creating a business idea around the game. Due to our inspirations being great TV police dramas, we decided to test out an episodic approach to the market. TellTale Games’ had already proven that it could be done, so they were a solid cornerstone for us to relate to. We also networked a lot within Finland and managed to attract a professional writer (who was also a game journalist) to join our team as a freelancer. Back then he just mostly gave us feedback (and now he has a writing team to work with). All in all, we were actually crowned as the winner of the whole Startup Journey and won a trip to GDC 2013 for the founders. We also got our first office located in the space provided by Boost Turku. It wasn’t big nor fancy but it was ours.

We expanded our team by getting a programmer to help us with making a port of the prototype for Android tablet. He has also been a crucial part of the team ever since. In March 2013, a week before GDC 2013 started, we founded the company and registered it under the name Rival Games Ltd. The name just somehow resonated for all of the four friends who became entrepreneurs that day. Just 12 months earlier I had sworn never to become an entrepreneur. Like I said, it is funny how the human mind works.

Game Developer Conference 2013 was a big eye-opener for us. I was also awarded the IGDA Scholarship for the conference, which meant that I was fortunate to meet some of the iconic figures of the international game industry. Or how else would you describe having a two-hour private lunch with Louis Castle, the co-founder of the legendary Westwood Studios? I also had a personal mentor, a board member of the IGDA helping me to get the best experience out of the enormous conference. I’m proud to say that she is still mentoring me and is an advisor for our company. And a good friend.

All the experience and advices gathered from GDC 2013 and other meetings during the spring of 2013 also gave us a lot of tools for developing the game itself. We had an office at Boost Turku and recruited two trainees from a cross-educational study program aimed for developed professional graphic artists and programmers for the industry. They have been with us ever since. That also meant that we needed a bigger office. Thankfully a space opened just right next door to us, a three times larger office space still located within Boost Turku.

We soon realized that we’d have to push harder if we really wanted to become a serious company. We negotiated with few angel investors, declined their offer (probably the best decision we have ever made) and networked as much as we could to gather feedback and advice. Then we saw another great opportunity to take the next crucial step deeper into the Death Valley. An internationally awarded business incubator program named Startup Sauna.

We applied, I pitched us on stage and we got accepted as one of the 15 international teams. The program was like the older brother of Startup Jouney: bigger, harder and more challenging. But at the same time, the rewards grew alongside the expectations. The feedback on our prototype was harsh: “The game looks like total crap”, was the exact words from one of the oldest Finnish industry veterans. But to my surprise, the team took that as personal achievement for making it better. It took them a week, and suddenly we had a game that actually looked unique and appealing.

The big stuff we ended up with from the Startup Sauna Program was our first official investment (made by Startup Sauna itself) and a government grant to tag along with it. This gave us to opportunity to hire the first programmer who had been with us for months already, and the trainees later on when their training period ended. The other big thing we got from Startup Sauna was meeting our next advisor, who became an investor later on, a co-founder of the legendary Remedy Entertainment. This guy is really a wizard when it comes to anything technical. We still haven’t figured out a question he can’t answer or at least point us to the person who can.

So after the summer of 2013, we continued to develop the game. Even though we where told about a billion times to ditch the episodic approach and make it free-to-play, we decided to keep it as it were. The reason for this was simple: our core principle is interactive storytelling and free-to-play mechanics would annihilate that. It is like Jonathan Blow said in a presentation he gave a while back, free-to-play is like the TV series of the 80s: commercial breaks decided the story structure. So the monetization mechanics were more important than the content of the show itself. At the end of the day, you always knew that Spock is going to save the day. All that changed when TV series matured. Today they are unpredictable and tell much deeper and more complex stories than movies. So why not in games?

One of the most important things I have realized along the journey, the same one I told at SLUSH 13 on a panel I attended on, is that you should always listen to experienced people, but remember that those experiences are defined by their own backgrounds. So they are more opinions rather than advices. So get used to hearing completely different views and pick the best ones suited for your company. But now back to the story.

We opened up lines of communication towards various venture capitalists, but we had one major problem: the lack of experience. We hadn’t actually shipped anything ever before. So we weren’t ready for the big money yet. I had a long talk with an expert in funding a startup company and a man I respect a lot, and he suggested that I should try to raise a small angel round, use that to gain access to a much larger government grant and validate the business case through professionals. It took me less than 24 hours to get three angel investors abroad, including the co-founder of Remedy Entertainment. With their minor investments and the government grant, we were able to employ 10 people starting from January this year.

We also finally left the overcrowded office space back at Boost Turku and after a long search, rented a reasonably priced space from the center of Turku. I’m honestly quite proud of how that turned out: we have created a office that reflects us perfectly. The interior is covered with all sorts of inspirational material, we have our own white-screen to enjoy episodes of The Wire, and enough personal room for everyone to work with. See the pictures below how the office has evolved during the last 12 months.

This pre-seed round also allowed us to participate at GDC again. We even applied to the Selected Projects competition at Game Connection America 2014, due to it being held at San Francisco during the same week as GDC 2014. From the over 200 applicants, we were chosen as one of the top 5 finalist for the mobile and handheld category. Being one of the finalists gave me a huge opportunity to meet, network and pitch us on stage (Teaser made for it: ). I was actually told later that the pitch I made was a brilliant one. Let me tell you a secret: I’ve been using the same structure since the demo day of Startup Journey in late 2012. Of course I’ve changed a lot of the content, the slides and the way I present it, but the idea is still the same. If you focus in storytelling in games, you have to pitch it as a story!

Another interesting notice about the whole 8 day long trip to San Francisco this year: it was a completely different experience than a year ago. Last year it was just listening, learning and sniffing around the professional circles. This time it was business. Tons of interesting meetings, which might prove useful later on. A lot of new friends and contacts who will definitely prove useful in the future. For example, Game Connection felt like a three day long speed-dating marathon: you run from a meeting to meeting every 30 minutes, but you never know if that special one is the next one.

That was less than a month ago. However, a lot has happened even since. If you haven’t guessed it yet, the story is still ongoing. The Detail is still in development and we are testing it to make it the best possible crime experience for you to enjoy. We have some really interesting future projects that we are currently starting to work with. I’m also beginning to sense that especially mobile gamers are starting to demand a much deeper story experience from their games in the future. Games have the potential to become the next storytelling medium. It is about time we stop copying Hollywood and start developing storytelling much further. Check out the pictures below to see how the game became to life.

A quick thought on why I believe we have been able to grow and attract talent along the way so efficiently, is the simple reason I recently learned, while participating at Aalto Executive Education’s Game Executive Program, that we function really well as a company. My role as a CEO provides me the opportunity to take the company to the next level, mostly thanks to my CTO who takes care of all the boring stuff I would hate to do. If you know anything about MBTI personality types (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator), we are almost the complete opposites. Same goes for all the team members: our talents and personalities create a highly functioning mix. I think the pictures below summarize them brilliantly.

Just as the final note, I can honestly say that with all the things I have so far experienced in the game industry, I can say I truly love what I do. The team we have working at Rival Games is passionate about what we do, and the astonishing atmosphere at the office can be felt a mile away. So even if it requires a lot of work, sweat and tears, it has been worth the ride.

Much obliged!

Happy Valentine’s Day from Rival Games!

Since the beginning of this year, we have been working extremely hard at our new office in the heart of Turku, Finland. The atmosphere here has been amazing since day one, and now that we finally got the rest of the needed equipment, the progress during each week is amazing. People working in the game industry certainly do love what they are doing.

Big thanks also goes to Jimm’s PC-Store ( ) for fast, reliable and professional help in getting all the necessary gadgets and machines for the new office. They sure do have everything a game developer needs in almost a heartbeat. I’m sure our new partnership will be fruitful in the future for both.

As a little gift for the Valentine’s Day, here is a quick glance at how our graphic artists build that unique graphic novel style of The Detail. In the first set, you can see how one of the backgrounds of the “to serve and protect” department is starting to shape up. The second part shows the same thing with our character design. The character in question is one of the members of the notorious Northside 13 gang. These images are still work-in-progress from the alpha version, so they do not reflect the quality of the end product.

Next time I’ll give you a tour around the new office and some info about becoming a beta tester for the first episode of The Detail.

Pitching up!

East met west at Pocketgamer’s Very Big Indie Pitch in London, where Rival Games was fortunate enough to attend an event combining talent from around the globe. Fifty indie developers, having already passed a scrutinous first-round screening of their games last year, pitched their hardest at a hectic meet-and-greet with top mobile industry professionals, journalists, and publishers – where the three highest-rated would advance to the final round and compete for the grand prize package worth $25,000 in promotion and services.

Very Big Indie Pitch #1

Indie developers and industry professionals gathered from around the world

While Rival Games was on excellent form during the manic ”three-minute speed date”dash with five tables of judges (ducking between waiters’ proferred canapes like seasoned pros) we regrettably were not shortlisted for the final round. However, the feedback was extremely positive from everyone who tested our game, and players seemed genuinely enthused to be sampling a brand new adventure game – especially one also coming to tablets and mobiles! Overall we made a variety of new contacts and friends across the mobile development scene, and considering that The Detail is not the usual mobile app fare, this – and the chance to soak in some local London culture – was enough of a win for us.

Very Big Indie Pitch #2

The venue and schedule were both packed

Rival Games Is Proud to Be Part of Slush 2013


What is Slush ?

“Slush is one of the top startup events on the globe, focusing heavily on Northern Europe and Russia. In 2012, Slush attracted $40 billion worth of venture capital, some of the world’s top media, plus 3,500 attendees.”

Find out more about Slush!

This will be a wonderful opportunity for us to meet some of the most influential persons in the startup scene, and we’re looking forward to taking part, having fun, and showing what we’ve accomplished so far!

Be sure to check out some of the other companies in the first wave of 100 startups attending the Slush event.


We at Rival Games are proud to present a new page for The Detail, which you can find at

The Detail Logo

At the moment it’s simply a landing page, but we plan to launch a full-scale site when we are closer to the release of the game.

Be sure to check back for updates from time to time!

As a teaser for things to come, we are ready to show updated artwork for our main character, Reggie – while still very much “work in progress” we are getting there!

Click the image for full size.reggie_set promo2

The Detail – Developer Preview

We are proud to present a new video about The Detail. Going more in-depth to what we want to bring to the players, even though we are still early in development. Enjoy!

We were contacted by and asked if we wanted to make a developer preview clip, and here is the result. What do you think? We would love to hear your comments and feedback, and if you want to see more from us!

Remember to check out the if you need a video for your company or project. We at Rival Games can highly recommend them to anyone needing a world-class video, and as added bonus they are a great bunch of guys!

The Team and Support

JukkaJukka is our co-founder and the proud CEO of the company. He is planning on graduating later this year as a M.Sc. (Tech.) majoring in Productization and Business Competence. He is a passionate gamer and the mastermind behind The Detail. His responsibilities vary from game and story drafting to dialog and graphical design. One thing he keeps his hands off is coding though, since his skills in that field are nonexistent. 

Sami is one of our co-founders and the CTO. He is justSami about to graduate as a M.Sc. (Tech.) majoring in Networked System Security. Aside from the occasional bouts of coding, he additionally keeps the office organized and is responsible for making sure we don’t run out of coffee. Sami is also known for his “Tom Selleck –wannabe” mustache and thinking/whining out loud for everyone’s delight.

ThomasThomas is our third co-founder, and has graduated from the School of Applied Sciences. He has a vivid imagination and therefore is one of our concept artists; and thanks to being a U.S. Citizen, he also has a major influence on the dialog. Thomas enjoys playing blues music with his guitar, and has had to deal with a lot of weirdos during the graveyard shifts of his work.

Ville is our fourth and last co-founder. He is a VilleDoctoral student with a long background and passion in music. He is responsible for a lot of the music heard in-game and in other related materials. One thing especially distinguishes him from the rest of us: he is the odd-bird who hasn’t played games for a really long time, which gives him a unique perspective into development.

 TimoTimo is our main programmer. He is passionate about designing puzzles and game mechanics, and has the ability to prototype them quickly through Unity. Many of the in-game mechanics have come from the depths of Timo’s brain, and countless trees have lost their lives for the notes he uses to fill all available surface areas he can find in the office. But for sure, those trees have not died in vain.

Mika is a reporter for the Gamereactor magazine, and a JDskilled, versatile writer. His favorite TV series is The Wire, which makes him a perfect match for us. His responsibilities are the writing the story, dialog and thematic design with the rest of the team – so he is the guy who will shoot down most of the ideas others think are ingenious, and brings us back to reality in our design and development.

SamSam is another bilingual wonder on our team. He is a jack-of-all-trades kind of member, whose main focuses are dialog, graphic editing, game design, and programming. With an encyclopedic knowledge of gaming history and trivia – and the team’s largest game collection – he is never short of an anecdote or innovation, and his industry-standard beard makes him a front-runner for the annual Beardiest Team Member award.

Roman is the man behind the visual look of our game. He knows Romanhow to take prototype concept art and drive it towards a more final and uniform look. Immersing himself deeply in worlds, he draws inspiration from his wealth of gameplay experience; and although he modestly denies it, his ambitions rival those of established talents in the comic drawing industry. A great developer who is also quick on the draw.

TommiTommi has experience of audio design for ten years, with credits from being the sound designer for movies and games. He also occasionally lectures about his passion: designing audio for game. One of the highlights of his early career was being the game and sound designer for Bugbear Entertainment’s Flatout in 2004, and this experience gives him the ability to identify a specific car engine just by listening.

Tony is currently making a game of his own, a tribute to imaginative Tonystorytelling and classic point n’ click adventures: a game called Bunker ( ). He is currently giving us a hand in various different areas ranging from graphics to animation, and while he shares our passion for creating intriguing games, he hasn’t yet quit his day job as a human behaviour analyst.


SamiVSami is one of Remedy Entertainment’s founders. He recently stepped down from Remedy, after working there for 17 years as the Lead Graphical Artist for the Max Payne series, and later as the Lead Technical Artist for Alan Wake. His technical skills are among the best in the world, and he has already proven to be a valuable advisor with extensive knowledge in almost every aspect of game development.

SheriSheri got her start in the game industry over 15 years ago and has more than 30 game credits under her belt. As an avid philanthropist and fierce advocate for the betterment of the video game industry,  she dedicates much of her free time to volunteer organizations including Women in Games International (WIGI), the Red Cross, and the International Game Developers Association (IGDA). She also serves on the board for IGDA, as an advisor for Rival Games, and a personal mentor for Jukka.