Big in Japan: Moomins lead Finnish mobile gaming invasion

For Moomin-obsessed Japan, 2019 is a landmark year and one Finnish gaming company is leading the way to Moomin Valley, virtually.

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File picture of Shibuya crosswalk in Tokyo, Japan / Credit: iStock

Finland’s most treasured cartoon characters are finding renewed fame and fortune in Japan, thanks to a surge in Moomin products entering the lucrative market.

There’s a glossy television series and a Moomin theme park, but it’s a new mobile game that is spearheading the resurgence, as it connects the fantasy virtual world of Moomin Valley with real life game play – one part of a burgeoning scene for Finnish tech companies in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Using Slush Tokyo as a launch pad

At the end of February, thousands of tech-heads gathered at Slush Tokyo, a spin-off event to the Helsinki mothership. They’re attracted not only by keynote speakers but by Finnish companies looking to snag investors in Asia, and break into Japan.

“In just five years, the event has become the leading international startup event in Japan with over 6000 attendees from all over the world” says Slush CEO Andreas Saari.

Slush Tokyo brought a great deal of focus on Finnish tech, and the games industry in particular according to Saari, with ten Finnish gaming startups taking the opportunity to showcase their know-how in virtual reality, educational, and walk-to-play games, in front of global investors.

”In general Slush is very important event to make new contacts and meet with investors. Slush Japan definitely is key for building a network in Japan. It is a great starting point with good possibilities, but you need to be very proactive”, says Jani Järvinen, CEO of Helsinki tech startup TribeRed, who will launch their Moomin Move walk-to-play mobile game in Japan.

”We made many new contacts and were able to generate media attention, including in Forbes Japan. So overall the event was a big success for us. We opened new business opportunities and made great new friends” Järvinen tells News Now Finland.

Credit: Moomin Museum Tampere

Japan’s affinity for the Moomins

Since Slush Tokyo ended, Järvinen and his team have been promoting the upcoming launch of their game, which has already attracted a lot of positive media buzz around the country in advance of its release: Japanese consumers can’t get enough of Tove Jansson’s Moomins.

”It is always hard to say what specifically is the key for the Moomin’s success in Japan but there clearly is a deep cultural connection between the Moomins and Japanese culture” explains Järvinen.

”The old Moomin cartoons have been made here, and most Japanese lived their childhoods with the Moomin cartoons. Japanese for sure love the cuteness and positive atmosphere of the Moomins” he adds.

The mobile game is not the only Moomin-related concept capturing the hearts and storytelling imagination of Japan this year.

Later this month Moominvalley Theme Park opens outside Tokyo, part of the Metsä Village development which immerses visitors in Nordic lifestyle and culture with design shops and food outlets, a forest and small lake.

In April some 2000 pieces of art from the Moomin Museum in Tampere will be unveiled in Tokyo, to celebrate 100 years of diplomatic relations between Finland and Japan.

And the Japanese version of the new Moomin TV series, launched recently in Finland, will make its debut.

Moomin Move game / Credit: TribeRed

Move like the Moomins

While the Moomin Move virtual reality game was launched in other territories last last year, the Japanese version will be available for download soon.

It’s is a location-based, augmented reality mobile game that transforms the views of a user’s surroundings into Moomin Valley, where players can interact with familiar characters from the Moomin books.

Location positioning encourages gamers to walk around, to change the scenery, collect rewards, and complete the tasks together with other players in a group.

“You explore the world on the real map that has been made to look magical. The goal is to help all the well-known Moomin characters by solving the quests they give players” explains company CEO Jani Järvinen.

”The quests are solved by finding different items and animals in the map. There are over 150 items and small animals you can collect” he adds.

Finland, the country of games

It’s not just Moomin Move, or the other gaming companies on view at Slush Tokyo, that mark Finland out as one of the world’s leading countries for game development right now.

There’s a lot of talent and ideas in Finland’s vibrant games industry, and according to Slush COO Miika Huttunen, that makes Finland an attractive prospect for investors.

“Slush is taking part in further accelerating the gaming ecosystem by bringing together gaming companies, international investors, media and game publishers” says Huttunen.

“Last year in Slush Helsinki, we had a record number of gaming startups attending – over 220. Also, a significant number of publishers are present at Slush, such as Tencent, Nintendo, SEGA, Ubisoft, Zynga, and EA” he adds.