My Oulu: Oulu-based MeKiwi launched Finland’s most expensive VR game – the second part of the popular game digs deeper into the narrative
Cave Digger 2, released a few weeks ago, is a masterpiece of game design and creative skills from Oulu. Cave Digger, released in 2018 by the MeKiwi game studio, was a success story. Now the company is trying to recreate the performance with the second part of the game, Cave Digger 2. In eight years, MeKiwi has grown into the biggest VR company in Finland, and its growth target is firmly on the international market. Oulu is a natural home for the company, but the situation of education in the field raises concerns.
MeKiwi's first VR game release, Cave Digger, released in 2018, was a success that few game studios get to experience with their first game.
"The Cave Digger is a true Cinderella story. We designed our first VR game, and it immediately became a success. You can find the game on at least 15 different gaming platforms - I think that is some kind of record. With our first game release, we reached a turnover of over 1.5 million euros, with more than 100,000 games sold," says scriptwriter and game designer Jaakko Asikainen with a satisfied grin.
MeKiwi focuses on PC games, although Oulu has strong expertise in mobile games. However, according to CEO Samuel Kuosmanen, there is a gap in the VR game market that MeKiwi can fill.
"In mobile games, the competition is really tough. VR games are probably our niche. The competition is not as fierce, at least for now. Of course, the user base is still small, but we believe it will grow", Kuosmanen reckons.
"We are already the biggest VR house in Finland, but we aim for Europe and international growth. We also publish VR games designed by others if they fit our portfolio", he continues.
With the success of the first game release, MeKiwi's game team has grown, and the company employs 30 people in Oulu, more than half of whom work in MeKiwi's VRKiwi game studio.
"Back during the development of our first game, our team was so small that we had to outsource a large part of the game design and modelling. For Cave Digger 2, we were able to do everything with our team", Asikainen rejoices.
Education for growth
Along with Fingersoft and Resistance Games, MeKiwi has become a significant employer in the field of digital games in Oulu.
"Assembling a top team for a project like this in Oulu is quite an effort. On the other hand, we all share history at the Oulu Game Lab. It created a network of game makers here in Oulu, which is why everyone knows each other and, above all, their areas of expertise - that is why it has been easy for us to recruit competent people," Asikainen admits.
Now all the experts are recruited, and finding new talent to meet the needs of the Oulu gaming industry is an arduous task. In its current form, the Oulu Game Lab maintained by the Oulu University of Applied Sciences does not meet the needs of the industry.
"The current Oulu Game Lab does not serve the same purposes as the one we joined. They have wrecked the Game Lab model, and it will no longer bring new talent to the field. That is a pity, especially as there would be no Cave Digger 2 without the original Game Lab”, Asikainen deplores.
MeKiwi's CEO Samuel Kuosmanen is also worried that companies will not be able to hire employees to meet the needs of business growth and internationalization.
"In Kajaani, they still teach gaming, and we get some trainees and employees from there. We have discussed the possibility of implementing a similar activity to the Oulu Game Lab with other companies since universities do not seem interested," Kuosmanen reflects.
A masterpiece of creativity, Oulu style
Cave Digger 2 was released on September 8 after a two-year endeavour. The reactions were positive immediately after the release. In terms of budget, the game is almost twice as expensive as its predecessor and is by far the biggest VR game production in Finland - at least at the moment. How does the second part of the game differ from its precursor?
"The game now has a multiplayer option, which it did not have before. It also has a backstory narrated to the player in the form of a comic story. Our game graphic designer and comic artist Jussi Pylkäs brought his skills as a cartoonist to the game, and I, as the game director with game designer Ari-Matti Piippo wrote the story. A physical comic edition will be published for the Oulu Comics festival in November," Asikainen reveals.
The game release also features other creative skills from Oulu.
"For me personally, Cave Digger 2 is the major work so far, and it turned out to be a real multi-arts performance by Oulu talent. I wanted to use the creative resources of the whole city for this. I wanted to make the world's best cartoon album, and the music soundtrack was also made by people from Oulu. The game features music by, among others, Jukka Takalo, Mokka Laitinen, Jani Pitkänen, Janne Kurtti, Blood Sausage Boys, Mantella, and bluegrass by Frosty River," says Asikainen.
In Oulu, I found my tribe
Asikainen ended up in the gaming industry after his Nokia career came to an end - and he found a new direction in working life through the Oulu Game Lab. For him, Oulu is a city of just the right size – big enough that artistic resources do not run out immediately.
"I have never considered moving elsewhere for work. It feels like our game team is made up of damn good players, and we have become our own brotherhood - or sisterhood," he reflects.
Even if Cave Digger 2 is Asikainen's masterpiece in the gaming world, he is tempted to try something equally ambitious and interesting when Oulu becomes the European Capital of Culture.
"It would be nice to have the opportunity to do something big for the city in 2026 using VR," says Asikainen.
Get a sneak peek of the game here.Mun Oulun tavoite on vahvistaa oululaisuutta ja sen näkyvyyttä lisäten Oulun kaupungin pito- ja vetovoimaa kirjoittamalla paikallisista ja ajankohtaista aiheista, kuten kaupungin päätöksistä, tapahtumista, kolmannesta sektorista, yksittäisistä kaupunkilaisista sekä mielenkiintoisista ilmiöistä. Mun Oulu on osa Oulun kaupungin viestintäorganisaatiota.