Battlefield 4, Minecraft, Payday 2, Tom Clancy’s The Division, Hotline Miami and EA’s upcoming Star Wars: Battlefront and Need for Speed: Rivals. These games all have something in common: they’re massively popular game titles and they have all been or are being developed by Swedish studios. As it stands, the Swedish gaming industry is thriving: it is ranked as one of the top computer game exporters of the world, reaching a growth of 215 per cent between 2010 and 2012 and in 2012 the Swedish Gaming Industry had a huge turnover of SEK 3,700 million (Approx. 557 million AUD). After ABBA and IKEA, it seems like computer games has become Sweden’s next big cultural export. The video game industry has become a remarkable phenomenon for a country with only 9 million inhabitants. The question is why? What factors could possibly explain why Sweden is the place to be for video game developers and gamers alike.
Technology and a high level of technical know-how could explain why the Swedes are so successful in the gaming branch. It takes solid technical expertise, innovation, education and an easily accessible and stable infrastructure for gaming companies to get the competitive edge that they need in order to succeed. According to Staffan Björk, senior gameplay researcher at the Interactive Institute Swedish ICT in Gothenburg, there is a correlation between Sweden’s success in game development and its research community. “Scandinavia as a whole is a huge centre of gaming research, so we have a very high density of game developers compared with other countries.”
Sweden’s universities, free for Swedish citizens, act as hubs offering gaming studies, research facilities and institutes for students. They attract talented game developers to their doorstep from around the world whilst maintaining close connections with Sweden’s development companies for recruiting and research. Companies like DICE, which traces its history back two decades, have been able to pop up largely thanks to free schools and sponsored student grants. In other countries, students are forced to work to a greater extent in their free time in order to pay back their loans, which leaves them little time to use their knowledge and start fun experimental gaming projects.
The country’s flagship company, DICE, originates from the demo scene, a computer art sub-culture that is specialized in producing game demos and which is still very strong in Northern Europe. The demo scene was always pushing the boundaries of what’s possible on a PC, and this was happening long before the arrival of GPU’s. Demoscene events happen frequently in Europe and the largest party ‘Assembly’ is Swedish, attracting visitors from all over the globe. On a side-note, the largest LAN party ‘Dreamhack’, held twice a year at the Convention Center in Jonkoping, Sweden, is also Swedish. These parties are veritable breeding grounds for small-scale startup companies, allowing them to share ideas and concepts with other indie developers.
“For budding tech geniuses, it was a fertile place and time. Sweden prized engineering, and it was good to be a geek. Broadband made early inroads, so even that period’s primitive PCs could do some complicated things," NY Times’ David Streitfeld wrote in his article about DICE.
Broadband certainly is a contributing factor. About 90 per cent of Swedes are connected to the internet, and 99 per cent of all households and companies had access to broadband via 4G in October 2013 according to a broadband survey. Early on, the Swedes had access to a stable infrastructure with high connectivity due to substantial government investments in broadband development and low access costs. Swedish developers thus have all the technology, the know-how, the freedom and the creativity that they need in order for them to develop good games.
On top of that, experts argue that Nordics have a tendency to work well in groups; their consensus driven approach seems to fit well in this industry. In an interview with Øresond startup news, founder of Massive Entertainment Martin Walfisz stated:
“I think the Nordics are really good at games because of our consensus driven management style. Creating games is all about getting very creative artists to work with some of the best techies, something that I think requires a work-place culture where you have respect for one-another. Something we in the Nordics are very good at.”
It helps that Swedes like to play video games: they have become a major social activity standing on equal grounds with TV and music. In 2011, Swedes bought 4,4 million game copies for a total retail price of approx. 168 million euros (240 million AUD). In that year, the three games that made it to the top of the charts were Battlefield 3, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and FIFA 12.
And for many, the weather helps too. With cold, long and dark winters, the prospect of sitting indoors and working on computers is not so bad. Playing games and the making of games then become a more attractive and comfortable alternative for gamers.
“Nine out of 12 months here, it’s pretty dark, it’s pretty rainy, it’s pretty snowy,” Mr. Troedsson, the DICE general manager told the NY Times. “Sitting indoors together with friends, doing things with computers, it’s a pretty comfortable hobby.”
There is no doubt Sweden is playing a vital and growing role in the European video games industry; the growth of major European game events in the past 4 years such as Gamescom and Dreamhack can perhaps, to a certain extent, be attributed to its growing market. Currently, Sweden, together with the rest of Scandinavia, is a great place to be for video game developers as it has a large research community, a strong and stable infrastructure with high connectivity, the technical know-how and a large video game consumer base. In Sweden, video game export is no longer simply a business for the future; it has and will continue to have real importance for the Swedish economy.