A Billion Gamers: Sweden’s Quest to Dominate the Video Game Industry
By Marcus Andersson
Astoundingly, one in every ten people in the world has played a Swedish video game. According to the Swedish Gaming Association, games like Minecraft, Battlefield, Candy Crush, etc. are so popular and pervasive that ten percent of the global population has played at least one of them, making a billion worldwide users. These figures are only projected to improve over time, as the industry continues its rapid growth in both number of new companies and profit margins. Sweden seems to have found the same enigmatic formula for success that it has developed in so many other sectors. How is it that such a small country could become a world leader in yet another creative field?
Dream Hack digital festival. Photo: Jann Lipka/imagebank.sweden.se
To understand Sweden’s contemporary gaming industry, it is important to first consider its historical background. Excluding some exceptional cases, Swedish companies didn’t release any major video games until thirty years after technology giants USA and Japan, which had been active since the early 70s. Sweden’s gaming businesses grew in a humble and inconspicuous fashion: in the 80s and 90s, a community of tech hobbyists experimenting with advanced computer graphics on machines like the Commodore 128 emerged in what is now known as the “Demo Scene.” Companies quickly formed in this café-like milieu, one of which grew into what is now DICE. One of the most prominent names in Swedish gaming, DICE eventually created the extremely popular Battlefield and continues to dominate to this day.
In addition to Sweden’s healthy technological culture, regional competition within Scandinavia also contributed significantly to the state of its gaming production today. Sweden was earlier than its neighbours to reach a level of excellence in game design, which encouraged other countries to compete. Considered one of the leading innovators in the market, Finland quickly outperformed both Norway, Denmark, and Iceland, creating global hit games like Angry Birds. Finland’s precocity has pushed Sweden to maintain a high level of quality and opened a wider network of collaboration for Swedish developers.
Another reason why Sweden – and Scandinavia more generally – could become such a hotbed of video games is its rich IT tradition. Since Sweden is home to IT leaders like Ericsson, there’s a high level of computer literacy and a variety of educational opportunities in computer science. Today, two of Europe’s best schools in game development are based in Sweden: The Game Assembly School in Malmö and Future Games in Stockholm, both of which are in the top ten list, recently released by The Rookies, a renowned platform for digital artists.
Equally important to educational opportunities is the community of game programmers that still thrives throughout the country, continuing the tradition of the Demo Scene of the 80s and 90s. The student-driven Swedish Game Awards, for example, has been held annually since 2002 and is hosted by the Royal Institute of Technology. Schools also support other events, such as the Sweden Game Arena, which hosts a Microsoft game camp, providing yet another forum for exchange and inspiration. As unlikely as it sounds, even the small town of Jönköping plays a vital role in gaming culture, as it is home to Dream Hack, the world’s largest LAN party and computer festival, with over 25,000 participants.
The Dream Hack digital festival takes place at the Elmia Exhibition and Convention Centre in Jön-köping.Photo: Jann Lipka/imagebank.sweden.se
Clearly, the industry in Sweden is vibrant and continues to expand. According to Game Development Index (GDI), it has the second-highest concentration of video-game studios per capita in the world, falling only behind Finland. According to https://sweden.se/business/swedish-gaming/, Swedish gaming companies have seen a “26 percent revenue increase 2015–2017, and 44 percent more employees.” In Swedish fashion, this growth is being carried out in the most progressive and ethical way possible. Between 2012 and 2017, for example, the “number of women in the booming Swedish games industry has grown by 255 percent and the number of men by 157 percent.” Today, five of sixty-eight managing directors in industry organisations are women and, once Ebba Ljungerud takes over at Paradox, there will be a total of six. Moreover, there are many women in leadership positions, and three gaming companies have been founded by women. The GDI shows that, within a period of ten years, female employment in the industry grew from 107 to 800 full-time team members. Though gender representation is still far from perfect, the Swedish gaming community is aware of its issues and transparent about statistics, striving toward a more even distribution in the future.
Besides game production, Sweden has also contributed to global gaming culture. When they’re not playing games themselves, gamers regularly watch others livestream or record their experiences of video games online. There are many YouTube channels that boast millions of subscribers who solely create content of played games. One of the most popular professional gamers is Pewdiepie, a thirty-year-old Swedish man who is the second-most subscribed to and eleventh-most viewed content creator on YouTube. Worth around $30 million, Pewdiepie has made an incredible career for himself from his bedroom playing games, and has been an inspiration for a new generation of professional gamers in Scandinavia.
Professional gamer Pewdiepie plays Minecraft.
The future of the Swedish gaming industry looks bright, as shown by both the economic statistics and the culture that surrounds it. Internationally, Sweden has an incredible reputation, with global corporations like Microsoft and Apple expressing interest in the latest developments, and venture capital firms like GP Bullhound investing in graphics companies developing 3D tools. Most recently, Microsoft acquired Mojang, the creator of Minecraft (the second-most-sold video game of all time), for $2.5 billion. Figures suggest that Sweden will continue to lead the world in game production, and daily life reinforces the idea: one sees commuters playing Candy Crush on practically every subway train, shooting colourful gems on their cell phones, and Minecraft is going to be dramatised in a forthcoming 2022 blockbuster film. Perhaps the next decades will see the number of people who play Swedish games grow from the already impressive one billion to half of the human population.