13.2. 2014 Kuukauden kasvo

A man of games from Ostrobothnia

Rovio, Supercell and other success stories in the game business have generated hopes for the game industry as a new cornerstone of the Finnish economy. Turku also believes in the strong growth of the game industry. Success cannot, however, be built on entertainment games alone. Principal Lecturer Mika Luimula from the Turku University of Applied Sciences says that the utilisation of gaming technology also improves the competitiveness of traditional branches of industry.

Mika Luimula was attracted to the world of games already as a child. He remembers having played different computer games since his teens and spending a lot of his spare time at various sports games. In the early days, when the supply of games was scarce, he used games written in programming language Basic and published in Mikrobitti magazine and fed them into his computer.

“I also wrote some games myself, such as a digital payazzo”, Mika Luimula reminisces.

Born in Ylivieska, Ostrobothnia, he also spent his youth there. After completing military service, he moved to Oulu in 1990. Graduation in mathematics from the University of Oulu led to a job in the Technical College of Ylivieska, currently known as Centria University of Applied Sciences.

“I started as a part-time teacher, but also worked as a lecturer, development manager and senior research lecturer. Halfway through last decade I got into studying again and completed another Master’s degree, this time in Information Processing Science. I continued in the same field and defended my doctoral dissertation in 2010”, Mika Luimula says.

Business from location awareness

After the doctoral dissertation focusing on location awareness the field has continued to develop rapidly. Large urban regions are competing in supplying open location information and other data, hoping to generate new business and applications to facilitate the daily life.

“In the fields of, for example, traffic and tourism it is hoped that open data and location information will generate new business and services that benefit both locals and tourists.”

Mika Luimula settled in Turku and the ICT building in Turku Science Park in spring 2012. He had applied for the position of the Principal Teacher in Game Technology at the Turku University of Applied Science and got the job.

“All of our three children were already at school, which helped to make the decision. As my wife also managed to get a permanent job in Turku at the same time it was easy to make the decision on moving here.”

Gaming expertise benefits other fields, too

The game industry has quickly grown into a significant business sector. Finnish success stories pioneered by Angry Birds, Clash of Clans and Hay Day have created trust in the opportunities offered by game expertise.

Turku has also invested in the game industry by increasing education and supporting start-up companies in game industry. Turku University of Applied Sciences and the University of Turku conduct close co-operation in the areas of education and research in Turku Game Lab. Headed up by Turku Science Park, the Game Turku project is building a game industry community to support students as well as more experienced professionals and game companies. Mika Luimula thinks that Turku has a very good position and opportunities in the game business. In addition to entertainment gaming, the focus lies in using game technology in traditional industry and health care services.

“Together with Machine Technology Center Turku, we have been supporting the use of 3D technology in building and maritime industries for a year and a half. The goal is to utilise 3D modelling from early designing to sales, marketing, building and also maintenance.”

In the well-being sector, gamification is researched e.g. in the Tekes-funded Gamified Solutions in Healthcare project of the City of Turku, Serious Games Finland, Attendo Finland, Puuha Group and the University of Turku. It is one the biggest projects in the field in Finland with a total budget of around 760,000 euro.

“In addition to expertise, succeeding calls for fast-moving teams that combine expertise in e.g. CAD, animation and games. Turku and Southwest Finland hold a good combination of expertise and a natural opportunity to take the lead while Tampere and Helsinki focus more on entertainment games”, Mika Luimula contemplates.

Why is it then that game developers seem to be more interested in creating entertainment games than using the expertise in more traditional fields?

“An entertainment game can be launched quickly on global markets and if it succeeds it can make the American dream come true. Using the same technology in utility applications usually requires a more traditional software industry approach to the business.”

Project thinking introduced already during studies

There are around 2,000 IT students studying in the ICT building in Turku Science Park. During the past ten years the Turku University of Applied Sciences has successfully utilised the model of Problem Based Learning. It means that the students are trained for project working from the first year on. The game laboratory of the ICT building, Turku Game Lab, plays a key role.

There are currently 6–8 salaried employees working in Turku Game Lab. The laboratory implements different types of projects ranging from research and development to product development and service supply, at the same time training the students for the challenges of the working life.

“There is a wide range of people working in the game industry, from artists to programmers, and it’s typical at least in Finland to develop ideas together by sharing experiences. New kind of openness and way of working are surely one reason why Finns have succeeded in the field.”

“Game industry companies are on average small and need each other. We are a regional developer that can offer the companies the expertise of, for example, a game tester specialising in usability or an audio professional who can create sound environments.”

Chauffeur for children

Mika Luimula’s family of five people and Tibetan Spaniel Nuppu lives in Vanhalinna, Lieto. Mika has abandoned the musical hobbies of his youth in favour of his family.

“Music has been replaced with the role of a ‘taxi driver’ as I take my children to their hobbies. I have time for some exercising, though. I play rink bandy on average once a week and go to gym twice a week. Sometimes I play floorball, too.”

There is not time for computer games either in the same way as during student years.

“It’s now mainly occasional game sessions with the children.”

Mika Luimula

• Born in Ylivieska in 1970.

• M.Sc. (Mathematics), University of Oulu, 1996.

• Ph.D. (Information Processing Science), University of Oulu, 2010.

• 1995–2012: part-time teacher, lecturer, development manager and senior research lecturer at Central Ostrobothnia Polytechnic in Ylivieska (currently known as Centria University of Applied Sciences).

• From 2012 Principal Lecturer of game technology in the degree programme of information technology at the Turku University of Applied Sciences

• Lives in Lieto, married with three children and a dog.