10 facts about gaming in Sweden
Mojang, King and DICE – all Swedish. Here’s the success of gaming in Sweden summed up.
1. One billion players
It is estimated that around one in four people in the world has played a game made by Swedes. No wonder then, that gaming in Sweden is booming. The growth in the Swedish games industry from 2010 to 2020 was substantial, to say the least – there was a 25-fold increase in total revenue: from EUR 130 million to EUR 3,312 million, according to the Swedish Game Developer Index.
And the games industry is bigger than the big names such as Mojang, King and DICE.
2. From subculture to success
In the very early days of video games, successful international companies mainly came from Japan, the US and the UK. Then, in Sweden and a handful other countries, a subculture emerged in the early 1980s called the Demo scene. People used early home computers such as the Commodore 64 and Amiga to show off their programming skills through audio and video shows.
One example is Digital Illusions, now DICE. It was started by four friends from the Demo scene in 1992, when they released cult hit Pinball Dreams followed by the hugely successful Battlefield franchise.
Swedish gaming industry 2016–2020
Number of companies: +71%
(EUR 720M in 2020 vs. EUR 872M in the peak year of 2016)
Employees, globally: +221%
Source: Swedish Game Developer Index
3. Minecraft madness
As of March 2021, more than 140 million people played Minecraft every month. In this popular sandbox game, which is developed by Mojang Studios, players build 3D worlds with different types of blocks and then explore and craft items in their new world.
Minecraft was created by Markus ‘Notch’ Persson and started out as a hobby project. The game was released in an early version in 2009 and became an immediate hit in the gaming community. The rapid success led to the foundation of Mojang. In 2014, Persson sold his enormously successful gaming company to Microsoft for USD 2.5 billion.
4. The gaming culture
Looking more closely at what made Sweden step up and become a major player, Per Strömbäck, spokesperson for trade organisation Swedish Games Industry (Dataspelsbranschen), says part of the explanation lies in Sweden’s affinity for the culture that surrounds games.
‘Game development doesn’t take place in a vacuum’, he says. ‘It is part of a broader context consisting of gamers, e-sport competitors, DreamHack-type festivals, YouTubers, and so on. And Swedes are at the top across that spectrum.’
Swedish YouTuber PewDiePie has more than 100 million subscribers, DreamHack is the world’s largest digital festival and within e-sports – or competitive video gaming – Sweden has several players in the world elite and the country is the second largest e-sport market.
5. Swedes are experienced computer users
Computer literacy also plays a great part. Computer use was widespread, in relative terms, already in the 1980s when Commodores arrived.
In 1998, home computer access received a further push through a government and union initiative that used subsidies and tax incentives to allow employees to affordably lease personal computers with an option to buy. This helped increase computer literacy among the public. It also got more people into computer games.
6. Early internet access, early gamers
Internet access is the backbone of our digital economies and societies – as well as a means to access to online games. Connectivity got an early start in Sweden, with ambitious government goals for broadband access across the country.
High-speed internet has most likely played an important role in Sweden's development as a nation of gamers and game developers.
In 2020, 81 new gaming companies were started in Sweden. It probably helps that there are startup hubs and gaming clusters to help new businesses kick off.
Sweden is also one of the top ten most competitive countries in the world, according to the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Index (its last pre-pandemic ranking). The ranking is based on the country's relatively stable economy over time, a high rate of ICT adoption and its high innovation capability and business dynamism.
The IMD World Digital Competitiveness Ranking – which rates 64 economies in their capacity and readiness to adopt and explore digital technologies as a key driver for economic transformation in business, government and wider society – ranked Sweden third in 2021.
It's not a wild guess that the success of early risk takers inspires the next generation. DICE, Mojang, King and other billion-dollar companies – so-called unicorns – serve as an incentive.
8. Good test market
Operating in a small domestic market such as Sweden has its advantages. One is that developers start to focus on the entire western market much earlier than developers from more populated countries.
Another benefit is that it makes it much easier to ‘soft launch’ a product. That means a company can start by releasing a game in Sweden, get feedback and fix bugs, before going global.
9. More game developers wanted
One vital factor behind the success of the Swedish games industry is a competent and creative workforce. The quick growth does makes recruitment a challenge, though, with Sweden being relatively small. Many Swedish game companies now employ talent in their offices based abroad.
10. Team work for the win
There’s a way to tell game developers are also gamers: they’re in it to win. But game development is a team sport. And Swedes are legends at collaboration.
Game production has evolved to more iterative methods. Instead of following a pre-decided blueprint, a detail of the game is developed, checked with the community, discussed, added to, and so on. It is based on feedback and collaboration and won’t work in a hierarchical environment.