In this image released by AMC, Danai Gurira, left, and Andrew Lincoln appear in a scene from "The Walking Dead." The Nielsen company says the latest episode of the AMC series was seen by 6.8 million viewers on Sunday. That's the show's smallest audience since 2012. (Gene Page/AMC via AP)
INTERNATIONAL - As the creator of Angry Birds faces turbulence, a Finnish gaming rival is taking a different route to dodge the marketing costs that have aggrieved Rovio Entertainment’s investors.

Helsinki-based mobile gaming company Next Games is betting on popular films and TV series to provide the backbone for its expansion from a one-game operation to several titles. It has four games in the pipeline, with augmented-reality zombie-fighter The Walking Dead: Our World set for a wider launch during the first half of the year.

“The biggest cost for any mobile gaming company is always the user acquisition - that is, marketing,” chief executive Teemu Huuhtanen said in an interview.

Rovio, once the darling of the European mobile gaming industry, has largely kept control of its franchise.

Next Games plans to tap into the fan base of the Walking Dead TV series to boost sales of its augmented reality game.Photo: Supplied

Its first movie made almost $350million (R4.1billion) at the box office. However, last month its shares dropped 50percent in a single day after posting a profit warning, as efforts to broaden its games portfolio largely faltered. During the second half of the year, Rovio nearly tripled its user-acquisition investments from a year earlier, attempting to halt the slide in active players.

Next Games plans to tap into existing fan bases, such as those of The Walking Dead TV series, and is also banking on augmented reality. The second Walking Dead offering will allow players to explore real-world settings based on the player’s location, fighting zombies with the help of characters from the TV series.

The studio has recently set up an office in Los Angeles to work with film studios, and later this year is launching a game based on the sci-fi movie Blade Runner 2049.

It is yet to be seen whether Next Games’ approach will be successful.

The company is nearing its first anniversary since its initial public offering and is trading below its offer price. Valued at e126.1million (R1.8bn), Next Games reported a e6.1m net loss last year, with most of its staff working on projects not yet out, and the company emphasised it was “willing to forgo short-term gains over long-term profit”.

Breeding ground

The Nordic nation has proved to be a breeding ground for mobile gaming companies, with many start-ups having earned their stripes building games for early cult devices such as Nokia’s N-Gage gaming platform, released in 2003.

Finnish company Supercell, the maker of mobile games Clash of Clans and Hay Day, posted revenue of just over $2bn in 2017.

Augmented reality has been a difficult medium to convert into revenue. In 2016, Niantic’s Pokemon Go became a social phenomenon.