FIEA alum Matt Laurence talks about “Angry Birds,” friendly Finnish and working for Rovio
Florida native Matt Laurence has spent most of his life in the Sunshine state’s warm, welcoming weather. This year will be quite different, however, as he prepares to endure his first winter in Helsinki, Finland. It wasn’t less than a year ago that he and his wife Danielle had been discussing vague plans about the possibility of living in Europe. A message he received on LinkedIn changed all that.
“It’s Rovio,” Matt remembers telling himself. “You’re not going to get in there, but do the interviews anyway. It’s good practice.”
After a barrage of interviews and a flight out to Scandinavia, Matt was offered a core product manager job with Rovio, one of the biggest names in mobile gaming.
“I help them with mobile and free-to-play design,” says Matt, who consults on a number of titles throughout the company and helped design the monetization systems on Angry Birds Epic, Angry Birds Stella, and Plunder Pirates. He’s also charged with educating the company at large on FTP principles.
“Rovio’s great at premium games, but they are new to free-to-play games, especially compared to some of their competitors.”
“I had a job before I even graduated”
Matt Laurence, Rovio
The job is fast-paced; there’s always something to do, which hasn’t always been the case in some of Matt’s previous positions. He describes it, so far, as the best position he’s ever had.
“That’s not to say I haven’t worked for some other great companies,” Matt says. “It’s a lot more laid back. They give you a lot of free reign. They want you to feel respected and rewarded for doing good work. I have a lot of responsibility and get a lot of feedback. I can’t say enough good stuff about them.”
Stumped for anything critical to say, Matt asks his wife if there’s anything he dislikes about Rovio. “They’re too damned nice,” he finally says.
To his surprise, the cultural shock proved to be minimal. “Just about everyone here speaks English as a second language, which is good, because Finnish is a very difficult language to learn. If you start speaking to them in broken Finnish, they’ll be like, ‘English?’ There’s no ego about it; they just want to communicate as efficiently as possible.”
Prices on goods are high, but he appreciates the free health care and education.
“It’s a nice country. I wish there were a bit more going on. Helsinki is a bit more laid back than Orlando or San Francisco,” he says. “There’s not a great deal of diversity, not because of policies or anything. It’s Scandinavia. But I’m really glad we came. There’s a lot of opportunity here.”
Matt credits FIEA with much of his success. “I always knew I wanted to make, but I had no art, no programming talent whatsoever. So when I looked at programs or jobs, they always required one of those two things.” Without a road map to his dream, Matt, a psychology major, prepared for a prospective career in industrial organizational psychology, satisfied that the field would be broad enough give him lots of options upon completing graduate school.
It was not to be.
“I made the mistake of not picking any safety schools,” he says, “so I got wait-listed everywhere.” While working an internship, he was forwarded an advertisement for UCF’s fledgling FIEA graduate program. “So I’m looking at it. A graduate program? That’s new. There’s the programming. There’s the art. Hey, there’s a design/production track! I can do that! So I tossed out all my plans and applied.”
Matt was accepted into FIEA’s second class, Cohort 2, and quickly distinguished himself, becoming the lead designer of Opera Slinger, an innovative project fusing karaoke and platforming combat.
“I had a job before I even graduated,” says Matt, who was hired as lead designer at Orlando-based 360Ed. His career took him to the Bay area four years later, where he was able to apply the game economy work he’d done at 360Ed to a design position at CrowdStar and a lead designer position at iWin, porting the company’s Jewel Quest IP to mobile platforms.
“FIEA is everything to what I am now,” he says. “I wouldn’t be in the industry now if it weren’t for FIEA. It’s a hard industry to break into.”
“It teaches you about team work, about being part of something that’s greater than yourself. It teaches you to be a good employee. It simulates the whole industry experience very well. I never made a game before FIEA. I never had written a design document before FIEA,” says Matt. “And now I’m in a high-level position at freakin’ Rovio.”