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Lack of long-term public investment hinders success of Finnish health games

How can Finnish gaming expertise best exploit the new health games market? A new Sitra-commissioned study finds out...


Tiina Heinilä


A recent study shows how the health and wellness game industry could thrive in Finland

Commissioned by Sitra, the Finnish non-profit game industry organisation Neogames has drawn up a report on the current state and special characteristics of various market segments for health and wellness games. The report has concluded that the greatest obstacles to emerging but attractive game markets are the fragmented structure of the public sector market and lack of public investment. Within the main distribution channels, health games face fierce competition from entertainment-only games.

“Looking after your health can be fun, and games can be the sugar that ‘helps the medicine go down’. At best, health and wellness games are part of the answer to shifting the focus of healthcare from treatment to health promotion,” says Director Antti Kivelä of Sitra. “But we need to identify potential market entry barriers now, in the early days of the emerging global health game market.”

Despite becoming one of the world’s leading developers of entertainment-only games, Finland has not been as successful within the health and wellness games sector. Published in September 2013, Neogames’ report provides answers as to why so many games studios working on health games are unsuccessful, despite mounting scientific evidence of the positive rehabilitative effects of health-promoting games and the fact that global health problems are creating a global market for health games companies.

In Finland, allocation of public financing to the development of health games has so far yielded poor results. This is because financing has not been simultaneously aimed at the acquisition of new and innovative comprehensive health solutions.

“Games and gamification have already been identified as key components of the Finnish digital economy, says Kivelä. “Finland has enormous amounts of gamification know-how, which should be exploited by the health and well-being sectors. But the health game market is different from the entertainment game market. We want to increase our understanding of this industry, where major corporations are still waiting to be founded.”

The report presents a set of recommendations for game companies, sports equipment manufacturers, medical device companies and various levels of the public administration, on lowering barriers to market entry.

“Health games competing against entertainment games and distributed through mainstream channels are particularly in need of entertainment value in order to succeed,” says KooPee Hiltunen from Neogames. “In addition to technological issues and content which has health benefits, game developers must ensure the sustainability of their business models and create genuine game-like content.”

Hiltunen believes that gamification applications could genuinely boost the resource-starved healthcare sector in, for example, the fields of rehabilitation and lifestyle education. One of Hiltunen’s recommendations encourages local authorities to consider allocating 1-2 per cent of their annual healthcare expenditure to long-term investments in new and innovative services.

“Creating a sustainable Finnish health games ecosystem will require long-term, systematic public sector investment. New services must be integrated with the overall healthcare system.”

So it looks as though it’s all right, quite literally, to play with your health! 

Sitra’s Gesundheit 2013 health game competition winners Johannes Koponen, Ville Sundberg and Samuli Viitasaari believe that a market for health games will emerge in the well-being service sector in particular. For entrepreneurs, health games represent a solution rather than a goal – and in their opinion, the problem with many games on the market is forced extrinsic motivation.

“These games are not made for the players. They are often a hoax in pursuit of some ulterior goal. People are not that stupid. Fun has to be an aim, alongside better health,” Sundberg believes.

According to Samuli Viitasaari: “Gamification does not necessarily have to involve playing concrete mobile or similar games, but certain direct incentives familiar through games could be introduced in support of a “boring” long-term goal.”

Sitra’s Gesundheit 2013 health game competition is aimed at generating fun and viable games and applications that get people hooked on healthy lifestyles. In total, the competition’s games category attracted 25 participants and the ideas category 112. Koponen and Sundberg won the games category of the competition with their Herring hearing test game. Samuli Viitasaari’s Ravintoguru (Nutrition Guru) won the ideas category of Gesundheit 2013.

Commissioned by Sitra, Neogames’ report Mapping the full potential of the emerging health game markets is available for download at:

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