5 stories behind the success of gaming in Sweden
Minecraft, Battlefield and Candy Crush – all Swedish. Find out how they all began.
1. Minecraft – a global best-seller
Minecraft has sold more than 300 million copies, which makes it one of the best-selling video games ever. These days, it is owned by Microsoft, but the sandbox and survival game was created by a Swede.
Markus ‘Notch’ Persson began the game as a hobby project and released a first version of Minecraft – the ‘Java Version’ – in 2009. It became an immediate hit in the gaming community, and the rapid success led to the foundation of Mojang, today known as Mojang Studios.
Many versions of the game have been developed since, and today Minecraft has some 130–140 million active players every month.
So what is it about a cubic character’s adventures in cubic settings that appeals so much to both children and adults? Many will say the freedom and creativity it provides. You can pretty much build anything in Minecraft – all the while managing to survive.
2. Battlefield – new levels of co-op gaming
Since its arrival in 2002, the Battlefield franchise has consistently been taking the co-op gaming scene to new levels.
Combine large-scale maps with an arsenal of weapons and vehicles, then involve hundreds of players, and you’ve got yourself a Battlefield game. Today, the Battlefield franchise comprises 11 games set in past, present and future warfare scenarios.
The story goes back to 1999 in Stockholm, where a small game development team named Refraction Games set out make an all-out war game. Tired of the story-driven narratives that dominated the first-person shooter genre at the time, the developers aimed for way more action.
A year later, Refraction Games were acquired by the rising Swedish studio DICE, and the newly recruited developers were encouraged to continue developing the game of their dreams.
Lars Gustavsson, who served more than 20 years as creative director at DICE, has recalled inviting his brother’s basketball friends for pizza nights with hours and hours of game-testing in his small flat in Stockholm.
Two years later, Battlefield 1942 was released, and the rest is history. To this day, the franchise remains known for the teamwork experience that comes with a huge battlefield where everything can happen.
In 2006, DICE were acquired by American giant Electronic Arts and became EA DICE. While the heart of the franchise remains in Stockholm, today’s Battlefield games are made in team efforts with EA sister companies Ripple Effect Studios (US), Ridgeline Games (US), and Criterion Games (UK).
10 biggest Swedish-registered gaming companies, by revenue (2022)
- Paradox Interactive
- EA DICE
- Coffee Stain Publishing
- G5 Entertainment
- Toca Boca
- Ubisoft Entertainment
- Avalanche Studios Group
Source: Swedish Game Developer Index
3. Candy Crush Saga – the engaging sweets game
Matching three or more pieces of candy to make them disappear may sound like a very simple concept, but those who have played Candy Crush Saga will attest to how engaging the mobile game is.
Fun trivia: It’s been estimated that players altogether swipe the equivalent distance of three and a half times around the globe on their phones every day.
Not that many people know that Candy Crush Saga was developed by Swedish company King, who launched it on App Store back in 2012.
Sebastian Knutsson, co-founder of King, has said he was in the bathtub when he came up with the idea to use candies in the game. As chief creative officer, Knutsson had been challenged by fellow co-founder Riccardo Zacconi to come up with ‘the best match-three game ever’.
‘The art team really got into it, and we found that we could make candies look amazing. It somehow resonated with the audience,’ Knutsson says on Apple.com.
In 2016, King was acquired by Activision Blizzard, which in turn was acquired by Microsoft in 2023. King’s headquarters today are in Stockholm and London.
In 2022, around 23 per cent of employees in Sweden’s domestic games industry were women. Of the approximately 500 new people who joined the industry in 2022, 44 per cent were women.
The LAN parties of DreamHack are known to bring together thousands of gamers at once, at venues in Europe, the United States and Canada.
But DreamHack actually began as small-scale as it gets.
In the early 1990s, a couple of schoolmates and friends in the little village of Malung, at the heart of Swedish province Dalarna, decided to camp together in the basement of a primary school to trade discs and exchange knowledge in programming and graphics.
In 1994, the initiators made it a public event and the gathering was moved into the school cafeteria. This was the very first event to be called DreamHack. DreamHack eventually established itself as Scandinavia’s biggest LAN party before it took off internationally.
In 2013, DreamHack made it into the Guinness Book World of Records as the host of the world’s largest LAN party. In 2020, the company merged with ESL, one of the world’s largest e-sports companies.
5. Welcome to Bloxburg – a solo success story
Every once in a while, a solitary wizard strikes gold alone in the gaming business. Erik Eriksson from Swedish town Sandviken is one of them. His creation Welcome to Bloxburg has been an absolute smash hit in the world of Roblox.
Erik was 11 years old when he began playing Roblox, the platform where players can create their own games for others to try out. He quickly began making his own games via experiments in Studio Roblox.
Under the alias Coeptus – the Latin word for ‘beginning’ – Erik introduced his initial version of Welcome to Bloxburg, where your character moves into the neighbourhood of Bloxburg.
Back then, the game only featured a small set of objects to place in the world, such as trees, cars and houses. But over several years Erik developed the environment into a Sims-esque experience.
Today in Bloxburg, you can build a house, create interior designs, pursue a career, arrange parties with your neighbours. And you need to tend to your character’s needs, so that they don’t go too hungry, tired – or bored.
As many players in the Bloxburg community share their in-game creations for others to see, Bloxburg content is huge on Youtube.
More than 8 billion visits have been made to the download page of the game, which costs less than half a euro to play but enables in-game microtransactions, which explain its financial success.
In 2022, Erik sold his game, and Welcome to Bloxburg is now overseen by Coffee Stain Studios.
So what's the winning recipe?
An estimated one in four people in the world has played a game made by Swedes, and the Swedish games industry continues to grow substantially.
In 2022, the total revenue for Swedish companies amounted to more than EUR 8.2 billion, according to the Swedish Game Developer Index.
So how did Sweden become a major player? The generally high computer literacy has played its part. Already in the 1980s, when Commodores arrived, computer use in Sweden was widespread – in relative terms.
Then 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.
Internet access is both the backbone of digital economies and a necessity to access online games. Connectivity got an early start in Sweden, with ambitious government goals for broadband access across the country.
Sweden also has some advantages in operating in a small domestic market – it makes it easier to ‘soft launch’ a product. A company can start by releasing a game in Sweden, get feedback and fix bugs, before going global.
...but Sweden has a skills shortage
The Swedish gaming industry relies a lot on a foreign workforce. According to the Swedish Games Industry – Sweden’s trade association for video game companies – there are more employees in Swedish game companies outside of Sweden than inside.
‘Talent is the major bottleneck for Swedish game companies right now,’ says Per Strömbäck, spokesperson for the Swedish Games Industry.
’We’ve got demand, capital, ways to reach the audience and countless game ideas. But there’s a limit to our production capacity. The Swedish game industry could grow even faster.’
Sounds like there are work opportunities in Sweden, if you’re a developer willing to move. Fancy bringing your foreign perspective?