Jesse Lempiäinen took part in a Rovio sponsored event at his university, and he decided then and there that he wanted to work for the company. Joining in 2016 as a social media trainee, Jesse is now a Product Marketing Manager, working in Rovio’s Battle Studio on the soft launched Hardhead Squad, as well as helping develop new titles, and being involved in studio-level strategy. Somehow, along the way, he has found the time to start two companies and take on the occasional DJ gig. We spoke with this jack of all trades to learn about his role at Rovio, and how music and entrepreneurship have played a major role in his life.
Let’s start with games. Have you always been into games? Or is it something that came with the job?
No, I’ve definitely always been into games. I was a huge Lord of the Rings fan. You could even say “nerd” because I actually studied the elven language at one point (laughs). So that was hard core. I did play PS2 and PS1 games during these years, but when The Lord of the Rings Online came out, that opened it up for me. Now I was able to live in that world and see other elves. So that was my step into gaming. I still play games every time that I get a chance. I’m really looking forward to seeing Cyberpunk 2077. I might take some vacation for that one (laughs).
So when you were playing LotR Online, did you imagine yourself working in games or did you see an opportunity there?
Not at all to be fair. It was just something really fun to do, but at the time I was super passionate about music. So my life goal at the time was to do something related to music. Playing games was definitely more of a hobby.
So you didn’t set out to study game making or game marketing?
No, after high school I went to study culture and arts management. So something a bit related to music, a bit related to marketing, while still being able to be quite creative and still do all of the stuff I wanted to do with visuals and music. So that was a good opportunity to do all of those things.
Was it part of that study program that brought you to rovio?
Yeah, so at the time Kai [Torstila] was still with the company and he did this thing at my university. It was a competition where we had to form teams and each team had to create a marketing strategy for the Mighty League update that was released for Angry Birds back in 2016. At that moment, I decided that I really wanted to work at Rovio. So to win this competition, I shamelessly went around the room and recruited the best people for my group and put together a great team. It was funny, we even laminated this thing to give to Kai to go with the presentation. We all dressed in black, very official, and we came to class on the presentation day way ahead of everyone else. We decided that we wanted to be first or last, and we could only choose to be first. That way, Kai would have to compare every other presentation to ours. So we would nail it down and end up winning. So there we were with our black suits and dresses presenting our super weird marketing pitch – which was a collaboration with the Kardashians.
The Mighty League Anthem (Sandstorm Angry Birds remix) by Darude
The launch of the Mighty League update featured EDM producer Darude who remixed his ubiquitous hit Sandstorm with an Angry Birds twist.
Yeah, why not?
It was a horrible campaign, but I think Kai appreciated everything else we did around it (laughs). So we did end up winning, and as part of that we got to visit Rovio. After that, I came back to the office a week after with a letter to Kai where I listed the reasons they should hire me. I think maybe… 60% of those were actually true. But by the time I got to interview for a position at Rovio, I definitely learned the things I said I could do. So technically I wasn’t even exaggerating.
So that letter resulted in you getting the job of social media trainee?
Yes, there wasn’t really a job opening at the time so the job was a combination of things. Partially in the social media team, partially in games marketing. But I started to work with Angry Birds Friends immediately. That was awesome. I had a great summer. It was a good project to learn everything fast because there are new events every week or every other week and a lot of the events are branded and often with really big partners and themes. For example the first one I worked on was Knights of the Golden Egg, which was a medieval themed tournament. So I had two weeks to figure out how we’re going to market this thing through ads and our social channels as well. So naturally I binged watched the entire Game of Thrones seasons 1-5 just to make sure we can do some parody stuff from the series (laughs).
After Angry Birds Friends, which other projects have you worked on?
After the summer traineeship working with Angry Birds Friends I got the good news that I could continue working at Rovio. Then there was AB Blast, which I did some of the social stuff for the global launch. Then I started with Angry Birds Evolution after that. I joined at the time when we were just about to launch the game. So I took over the project right after it was launched globally.
Now I work in Battle Studio with Hardhead Squad, and in the Battle Studio management team so there is game related work, as well as studio-level strategy stuff. It’s a studio that has come from the background of launching Battle Bay in 2017, and since then we’ve tried out multiple things. We are also always working on new games so that means prototyping new concepts within the team. I’m there to provide validation and help from the marketing end for those new ideas.
It sounds like there has been a lot going on. Walk me through a day in your life.
That’s the best part of my job really. I don’t think there has ever been a day that is similar to another. Maybe Monday mornings because there is some kind of structure and certain meetings take place at the same time. There are longer term projects that are carried out over a longer period of time, but for a lot of the stuff that is going on, you have to be quite reactive. Especially after games are launched. So a typical day could be being able to take your time, do market research, coming up with fresh ideas, to on the other end of the spectrum, basically walking around with a fire extinguisher and making sure that everything is happening on time.
Sometimes, we’re also involved in partnerships as well, which keeps things interesting and has really really shown the variety that this job has – on one hand, we’re working on regular game updates, but on the other, we could be working with the manager from Iron Maiden for an event, like we’ve done in Angry Birds Friends and Angry Birds Evolution. So it can be anything really. That’s one of the things I really like. I don’t need that structure of doing the same thing every day. I’d rather keep things exciting.
Angry Birds Evolution: A Tribute to Iron Maiden
Iron Maiden’s iconic mascot Eddie got the Angry Birds treatment in Halloween events for Angry Birds Friends and Angry Birds Evolution.
Turning away from your day job for a second, how did music enter your life?
Music has been a part of my life for a long time. I played piano for a long time, but things got really interesting for me when I participated in my first school musical. That was a polar opposite to the kind of tough guy hockey player that I was at the time. I think doing music at the time led to me being able to express myself a bit more than I could as an athlete. Which maybe led to a bigger stomach (laughs). I started out doing lighting and handling the technical side in that first musical production, but the following year, I applied to sing and dance. It was a bit of the same thing with the letter I wrote to Kai. I might have been exaggerating my ability to do those things (laughs), but I wanted to join and I learned as I went. I did musicals for 6-7 years throughout school. That experience is also part of what led to more interest in marketing because in the last years I was more into the production. Making sure everything works and that there are people watching.
So your musical ambitions kind of parlayed into a DJ gig kind of thing? Do you still DJ?
Well, not much at the moment because of the pandemic. I’ve done 2 gigs this year. One in the beginning of the year and one wedding gig. One thing about DJing, if working in marketing is hectic and time consuming, being a DJ is like 10 times that. You travel a lot by yourself using the lowest budget to make sure you make enough money to afford your food. You work long nights, even during the week. It’s fun, but it’s a decision. But I’ve had a lot of gigs that make it all worthwhile. The greatest thing was on May Day (Vappu in Finland), I got to play at an official student celebration. It’s a huge outdoor event in Esplanadi in Helsinki, and there are practically 30,000 people in attendance. Playing in front of that many people was an incredible experience.
You also have a clothing line. What’s your role in that?
We started JetiFörLivet in 2017. It’s more or less a hobby these days. It’s fun, but it’s extremely difficult also. Figuring out where to invest our money, which designs and products people are going to be interested in, looking at data to validate our investments. It can be difficult, but it’s fun and at least I don’t have to buy my own clothes anymore (laughs).
Entrepreneurship is something that came with the music and it’s still something that is very much in my heart, and that Rovio has been very supportive with. I have rights to have secondary occupation and Rovio supports that, allowing me to work with games during the day and then pursue entrepreneurial ventures and not sleep at night. So in a sense, nothing has changed since the DJ days (laughs).