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Slush PLAY: Start-Up Festival Turns its Lens on Gaming

Organiser Salóme Guðmundsdóttir​ on the move from Helsinki to Reykjavik

Helsinki's Slush event has long been a Mecca for start-ups. last year, 14,000 attendees and 3,500 companies came to try their luck with the fortunes of 750 investors. Gguests ranged from Supercell CEO Ilkka Paananen to the Vice Premier of China. It's a prestigious event.

Games have always been a part of that, but Slush is an event with a broad remit, covering a wealth of different industries. Now, Salóme Guðmundsdóttir has created a new spin-off event: Slush PLAY, which puts games and gaming front and centre. It's going to be held in Reykjavik on April 28-29 and will be there as an official media partner, bringing you the biggest news and interviews. If that's not enough for you, tickets for the show, for attendees, start-ups and investors, are available here.

We caught up with Guðmundsdóttir to see what to expect from this year's show.

GI: Slush has been a very successful Helsinki event for a number of years now - hosting some excellent games companies. Why spin out a games-only event? Will it be every year from now or is this a one-off?

Slush PLAY is the initiative of key influencers within the gaming industry in Iceland, Klak Innovit startup center and Nordic Game Institute, and organized in partnership with the Slush executive team in Finland. The purpose of the event is to bring together Nordic companies and US investors. Reykjavík is perfectly situated midway between USA and Europe with only 3 hours flight from Europe and 5 hours flight from USA. The startup ecosystem in Iceland is dynamic and the emergence of new startups within gaming and virtual reality is growing really fast.

Slush PLAY is a far smaller and more intimate event than the event in Helsinki, but it's intended grow to become an event of couple of thousands of attendees during the next years. Our aim is to create an annual cutting-edge event for the gaming and VR industry.

Slush PLAY will embrace the opportunity presented with the rise of world-leading Nordic gaming companies like DICE, Supercell, Rovio, King, Paradox, Remedy, CCP, Plain Vanilla (QuizUp) and all the other great Nordic enterprises and startups. We will be focusing on future trends where virtual reality is predicted to be a huge factor.

GI: Investors are still wary of gaming companies, although unarguably less so than they were. Do you think they understand the business any better than they used to?

"Those who have been investing in the industry the longest have clearly cultivated an understanding of the industry"

Those who have been investing in the industry the longest have clearly cultivated an understanding of the industry. The games industry has also started to produce investors - people who come from a game development or publishing background, have made money and decided to reinvest some of it, either personally or through funds. Then there are VC funds that employ people who used to previously work in the games industry. So there are a lot of positive signs, pointing towards that particular pile of money growing smarter and smarter, adding additional value on top of just the dollars put in.

GI: Have the high profile successes, primarily in the mobile markets, helped or hindered the investment scene?

You could say both. They've helped in terms of attracting more investors to the space - especially towards mobile, social and now VR. Areas where investors feel there is (almost) unlimited growth potential. This has unleashed a vast number of new startups in the games space. Which can also potentially create an overflow in certain sectors within the industry, while other sectors - that might not be seen as having the same potential by investors - are left with an uphill battle, when it comes to funding. This could create a tendency for new developers to follow the money, so to speak. But there are other forms of financing games, than just funding, and over time this is likely something that will automatically be resolved. And at that point, access to smart investors that understand the games industry will have increased even further.

GI: What about in the Scandiwegian region specifically? Do you think it's still seen as the hottest area of Europe for mobile investment?

All the Nordic countries have produced massive mobile hits. They still dominate the charts. The knowledge has started to pool within the region. It's much easier for someone in the Nordic countries to walk across the street for advice, than it is elsewhere. There's also massive collaborative spirit in the North - and it shows. There's no reason to believe that the Nordics are cooling down. Besides dominating on mobile, they're doing really well on both PC and console platforms and VR development is looking good as well. This is the place to be.

GI: Is there a risk that the investment gold rush could backfire? We've already seen the social bubble burst with companies like Zynga, is the mobile scene at risk too?

There is always risk and yes - there could be backlash. It might take the form of M&A or investors moving on to the next future trend. But so far many of the biggest Nordic companies in the mobile space have been able to reproduce their success over multiple titles. That suggests stability. And there is certainly a difference between an element - like social or casual - versus a platform, like mobile - which can carry both elements and more. Core games will, for example, come to mobile. Mobile has yet to penetrate fully in major regions of the world.

GI: Is there any hope for people looking for investment for non-mobile properties?

There's always hope! VR is certainly hot, right now, and there is also a lot happening within the more traditional space of the industry. Look at Paradox, as a great example, which had an amazing month in March, publishing PC games. And publishers also represent another form of possible investment. It's thriving. Then there is crowd funding, grants and other ways to secure investment or funding. In many ways the investment scene for games has never been more fertile, varied and interesting.

GI: VR is obviously a key theme to the event. It's a technology which is currently very tightly tied to games, but do you think its importance to gaming has been overplayed? Is gaming just a good way to introduce it to the public? Will gaming even be its biggest application?

"many of the biggest Nordic companies in the mobile space have been able to reproduce their success over multiple titles. That suggests stability"

Who knows! VR will certainly be applied in a wider scope than just games - but as you point out, games could be a great way to introduce and seed this new technology. It challenges the hardware, it reaches an enthusiastic audience of early adopters. So in the short-term the importance of gaming hasn't been overplayed but in the long-term it might shift. Gaming is still likely to always be a major application, disrupting and driving the technology forward and challenging the entire ecosystem, when it comes to what VR can actually be and where it can go.

GI: How about in comparison to AR - we've seen recent reports which give much more importance, and market share, to AR once the markets mature, but there's not as much excitement - do you see it having more widespread applications?

AR is certainly very exciting and combined with VR, these two things paint a bright future for new experiences and games. AR might have more widespread application in the future but right now the VR proposition is easier to understand and thus easier to get excited about. It feels more... solid at this point in time. But AR will certainly get its big moment in the future.

GI: VR and AR are excellent examples of gaming being on the bleeding edge of consumer tech - do you see that becoming more common?

In many ways games have always been on the bleeding edge of tech. But it has become more commercially viable - more accepted. Games are simply becoming the most important and dominant form of entertainment. It has gone mainstream, been adopted by every type of audience, over every conceivable form of interest. The rise of eSports is just one more thing that underlines the cultural significance and size of games - and with new generations this trend will keep going. If you add the investors that are growing smarter about the space - some of them born from the space - then you have a killer combination, where games are a culturally and commercially significant artform that is also massively adopted entertainment with high growth potential, high profit margins on success and a constant race to create new and never-seen-before experiences. It is safe to say that games will drive a lot of innovation, going forward.​

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