Swedish Startup Space

Why are there so many successful Swedish gaming companies?

Written by on September 23, 2013

Some time ago the Swedish gaming news site FragZone had a interesting article (in Swedish) stating that Sweden might be the best country in the world at creating games. This was interesting, and we decided to delve deeper into this theory and find out why Swedish gaming startups are so successful.

What is remarkable about gaming in Sweden?

Actually, Sweden is so good at games that it’s almost ridiculous. Lets start with one thing: upcoming blockbusters in the video gaming sector.

Blockbusters in the making

As the FragZone article noted, if you look at the blockbusters from E3 you will notice that a lot of them will be produced in Sweden.

Hideo Kojima tweeted at E3, in a little shaky English: “Question: Battlefield , The Division and Mad Max. What these title have common?” to which Christofer Sundberg , studio manager at Avalance  replied: “Sweden rules E3 2013“.

Just look at the games that are made in Sweden:

  1. EA owned Dice develops Battlefield 4. Battlefield 3 was a huge success and sold in 17 million copies.
  2. It was also announced at E3  that Dice would get the honor of making Star Wars: Battlefront, and that Mirror’s Edge 2 is already in production,
  3. Ghost, a EA studio based in Gothenburg, is developing the next Need For Speed: Rivals and all these games are made on Frostbite – a game engine that was created on Dice for the Bad Company games and now is the engine for virtually all EA games except sports games.

But it is not just EA studios:

  • Ubisoft’s next great game, the MMO shooter Tom Clancy ‘s The Division, will be made by their Malmö based studio Massive Entertainment. After five years of development in secret – and no rumors leaking – the studio stepped into the limelight with a completely new game and to purchase a new IP.
  • Sony’s next big bet, Mad Max, is developed by Avalanche, also a Swedish studio. This game is a more uncertain bet, but the Mad Max IP is very interesting and has a lot of dedicated fans.
Minecraft – an indie that is bigger than anything else

Besides those blockbusters hits that are produced in Sweden, we also have the, by now quite famous, Notch and his Minecraft. A company that did an impressive 1,5 billion SEK (230 million dollars)  in revenue last year, with an amazing 39,30% margin. It is now the  game company with the biggest profit margins in Sweden, and its turnover is 3 times that of the second biggest company in sweden.

Social gaming: the giant king.com

It is not just in games on consoles and the PC that Sweden make well. A game-giant that is still not so well known is King.com, behind the hit Candy Crush Saga as well as other social games. The company is now said to have surpassed Zynga in size, and is making its presence felt in the social gaming sector.

Up and Comers:

Arcadelia, Imagination Studios and Hansoft are just a number of smaller companies running profitablne studios by acting as subcontractors for larger companies.

And not to forget – events like Dreamhack

Everything written above is about creating games, but Sweden is also the home of Dreamhack, which besides being the biggest LAN party in the world is also one of the big players when it comes to e-sports. The Dreamhack tournaments have evolved from once a year to a series that is almost bi-monthly, with the prize money increasing each year.

Why Sweden?

So there seems to be something in the water when it comes to Sweden and gaming – but why?  We have no proof, but these might be some of the factors contributing:

“A computer in every home”

In the 1990’s, the Swedish government subsidized the cost of computers for every family, allowing any Swedish family to buy a personal computer. This must’ve had a great impact – allowing a generation of Swedish kids to mess around with computers, coding and technology.

Broadband for everybody

The government was also good at bringing out internet access to a lot of the households. By the year 2000, more or less every home and school had access to a quality network.

Cold winters

Not a proven fact, but the cold and dark winters are not exactly encouraging for being outside, something that makes playing games or making games an more attractive alternative.

Management culture

Martin Walfisz, founder of Massive Entertainment and now founder of Planeto, said during an interview I did with for Øresund Startup News:

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.

I think all of these are definitely factors that have contributed to Swedens rise as a gaming country. What will be interesting to see now, is what will happen in the next 5-10 years…

  • whycantibeanon

    Knagglig engelska, men bra artikel!

    • jamespember

      Tack :)

  • Felix Andersen

    Might be worth mentioning Starbreeze Studios with their successful Payday title. Interesting article nonetheless.

    • jamespember

      Good call!

  • Elin Eriksson

    And hey, don’t forget Toca Boca! The Swedish play studio that makes digital toys for kids has won a bunch of rewards and their app Toca Hair, Toca Kitchen, Toca Train etc have been dowloaded millions of times.

    • jamespember

      Ah, good pickup! In the end, there were many great companies that missed out – but I guess that was the point of the article – plenty of amazing Swedish gaming companies!

    • Karsten Deppert

      Of course, that I completely missed!

      • Elin Eriksson

        The nature of the comments are really proving the point of the article – there are a lot of interesting gaming companies around!

  • Åsa Wihlbeck

    Hey, aren’t any of you “gaming-hackers” interested in creating the same success but within health care? I’m on my way to Silicon Valley to find someone, but perhaps the right people are just around the corner. (I know I’m old, a woman – and lots of other thumbs down, but hey, I’ve got an idea, I’ve got passion, great stamina and a will-power that few can match – and actually knowledge from being a medical doctor, useful for the field.) Desperate? Yes, of course.
    Contact me: asa@wihlbeck.com

    • jamespember

      Perhaps you could tell us a little more about the concept, idea? I’m sure plenty of engineers are interested in the med tech space. Also, you can feel free to post a job on the Jobs page.

  • Philip Nordenfelt

    We also have the best horror titles in the world.. Amnesia and Machine for pigs!

  • Glöm inte Paradox Interavtice också!

    • jamespember

      Good call!

  • Mārtiņš Untāls

    Isn’t Paradox Interactive also famous Swedish game studio?

    • jamespember

      Yep, but we had to leave out a few – which is kind of the point of the article – many great Swe gaming companies!

  • Daniel dos Reis

    I think one component is missing that help to explain why the Nordics/Sweden are good in game development. They had a very strong Demo Scene. I think of Events like Assembly and groups like Future Crew. Demo scene was always pushing the boundaries what’s possible on a PC long before we had GPUs. That might be another reason to explain why we see AAA titles from Sweden.

    • jamespember

      Great comment

    • Fredrik Gustavsson

      Yes definitely. It also stretches back to the C64 and Amiga times. DICE for instance where a demo group before they started to make games for the Amiga.

  • Fredrik Stål

    A rather unique and contributing factor to companies like Dice popping up are free schools and state sponsored student grants. In other countries, students are forced to a much greater extent to work in their spare time. In one’s free time in Sweden one can, together with friends, use one’s own knowledge and start fun projects that even can become large companies.

  • It’s not just the games. Look at software like Spotify and Skype, and the Swedish music scene with several international stars from a country of just 9 million. Also an incredible underground scene for things like dance music and metal. I think actually our high tax state is a key factor. Here innovation and quality are the goals, not just a way to increase the number of sports cars in your garage. There is a sense of achievement and group effort in Swedish companies that really brings out the best in people. It might sound strange but ask several of the key players in Swedish game developers. They’re proud to live in a country that takes care of everybody, and they don’t mind paying for it. It gives you better schools for everyone, free rehearsal spaces for young bands etc etc etc. Or the fact that education, all the way through university, is paid for (and as a student you even get a small amount fromthe state for living expenses every month). This means everyone, more or less, can go the distance and get an education, not just people with money. It also means people can work without worrying about paying off a fortune in student loans (or start worrying about the cost of their kids future education). This in the long run levels the playing field, creating more creative people for our industries.

    Of course, things like the 80’s demo scene plays in as well. But this was a factor not mentioned here yet.

  • SlightlyNormal

    Imho, Sweden is highly overrated with few heavy hitters (Minecraft, DICE, Massive, Paradox) with rest of indies being at the bottom, where any indie in other countries are. This article makes Sweden look like some kind of paradise for game devs, while in fact it can’t even be compared to say UK or Canada, being on same level as some other more active EU countries such as Germany.

    • Karsten Deppert

      The interesting thing is that, taken per capita, it is really amazing what gets done in Sweden. But I also agree – game development is very much a “hit-or-miss” scene, where only a few are very successful, but the vast majority can’t make a living.

  • MillionMind

    Great article!

    The thing about games is that it’s fun and easy to play and to get hooked. Bigger companys take advantage of it and are using games to market their company/product or to educate their customer/staff.

  • It usually all Nordic/Scandinavian countries. Finland ..Angry Birds..Mobile Phone ..Nokia…and Linux ..Linus Torvalds…Most of the popular programs like C++, PHP, Python, MySql, Ruby on Rails, Google Maps etc were written by Scandinavians.

    • Junis

      Almost exactly what I wrote without reading your comment. Google Maps was written by Scandinavians?

      • Simon Forsman

        Google maps was originally created by a danish startup (Where 2), Google bought them in 2004 and released their software as Google Maps in 2005.

  • Junis

    Swedes are intelligent. So are the rest of Scandinavians. I don’t like it to be the case but one simply has to look at the facts.

    For an example, which sparsely populated peninsula has produced the following epic computer technology achievements?
    Skype, Linux, C++, Spotify, Minecraft, MySQL, PHP, F-secure, Angry Birds etc.

    You guessed it: it ain’t Pakistan (an area I am orginally from).

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