New game birds play cuckoo in Nokia's nest

Wed Nov 14, 2012 9:09am EST
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By Tarmo Virki

HELSINKI (Reuters) - While mobile phone maker Nokia has hit hard times and looks unlikely to regain its commanding position in the Finnish economy, nine years ago it helped feed a newly hatched technology niche in its homeland.

The cellphone giant, which once made more than half the world's smartphones and 4 percent of Finnish GDP, funded an award won by Rovio, now one of the world's two leading mobile gaming firms along with local rival Supercell, which next week opens a new HQ at former Nokia premises near central Helsinki.

In an industry where many are chasing but few make serious money, Rovio's Angry Birds game hit the big time with a billion customers around the world, most of them using smartphones of Nokia's deadly rivals Apple and Samsung.

Last weekend its new Star Wars version of the birds game took top spot in global download charts from Supercell, which had led for weeks with strategic battle game Clash of Clans.

With Nokia expected to report net losses of nearly 5 billion euros for 2011 and 2012, and its smartphone market share now below 5 percent, the gaming firms offer promise that Finland will retain its place at the technology table.

Though they have a long way to go before they fill a Nokia-sized hole, they could help prevent a brain-drain of technology graduates.

"It's clear that the direct impacts of startups and gaming firms are not even close to what Nokia still is, let alone what it was," said Petri Rouvinen, researcher at think-tank ETLA. But in the long run they are "necessary for structural change" in an economy, driving entrepreneurship and creating new growth, he added.

Finland's economic growth is expected to be less than 1 percent in 2012 and little more than 2 percent thereafter, as on top of Nokia's problems, its other major export, forestry products, is in decline.   Continued...

A Nokia Lumia 920 featuring Windows Phone 8 is displayed during an event in San Francisco, California October 29, 2012. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith