— Microsoft raised eyebrows in 2014 with the
announcement it was spending a hefty $2.5 billion to buy
Mojang, the Swedish developer of world-building game
reaction among the fast-growing video-game industry in
Stockholm was a little different.
us, it was like, ‘Microsoft got a pretty sweet deal,’"
said Susana Meza Graham, an executive with Swedish
video-game maker Paradox.
by the time Microsoft came calling, was a global
phenomenon. It instantly gave Microsoft a hugely popular
brand with kids and gamers of all ages, as well as the
$100 million or so in profit that Mojang was then
pulling in annually.
Mojang and its 35 employees under Microsoft’s umbrella
also thrust the Seattle-area company the center of a
vibrant, and unique, video-gaming cluster.
video-game boom in the last half decade is one of the
biggest success stories in the industry, fueled by a
talented and creative workforce and the fruits of years
of government support for education and technology.
country today boasts the second-highest concentration of
video-game studios per capita in the world (neighboring
Finland is No. 1), according to data from industry
tracker Gamedevmap. The U.S. clocks in at 13th, with
less than half the rate of game companies per capita as
an industry trade group estimates that one out of every
10 people in the world has played a game developed in
Sweden, from casual titles ("Candy Crush") to
the high-end ("Battlefield") and whimsical
many have plugged into "Minecraft," an
open-ended game that lets players pilot blocky
characters and build elaborate universes. The game has
sold more than 122 million copies, the second-biggest
all-time seller behind No. 1 "Tetris."
Sweden’s largest city and home to 930,000 people, is
spread across an archipelago of 14 islands and coastline
where Lake Malaren meets the Baltic Sea.
the core is the kidney-shaped island of Gamla Stan,
"old town" in English, a maze of narrow
cobbled streets connected by bridges and ferries to the
to the south sits Sodermalm, an island primarily used
for farmland until its bogs and lakes were drained and
working-class housing was built in the 19th century.
Today, it is Stockholm’s cultural capital, and the
heart of its gaming scene.
recent Friday, Meza Graham and most of Paradox’s 220
employees gathered on the sixth floor of their Sodermalm
headquarters to toast — Prosecco in hand — the
simultaneous release of two updates to their games.
another development studio, occupies two floors of the
same building. Dice, the biggest employer in Sweden’s
gaming industry, is headquartered across the street.
would have to be the most populated game-development
area in the world," says Jacob Kroon, a spokesman
with the Swedish Games Industry trade group.
few blocks away down a street of utilitarian-looking
apartment buildings and brick-walled former factories
converted into offices is a subsidiary of Rovio, the
Finnish-headquartered "Angry Birds" builder.
And around the corner from there, on the first floor of
an old tobacco factory, is Mojang.
company was founded in 2009 by Markus "Notch"
Persson, who built "Minecraft" in his spare
on, he spurned a job offer from game publisher Valve,
which wanted him to bring his game idea to the
the sale to Microsoft closed, Persson and Mojang’s two
other founders left the company.
purchase of one of Sweden’s crown jewels of video
gaming sparked the concerns that typically come when a
big company acquires a smaller one.
oversight and an infusion of foreign corporate culture
can end what made the acquired company successful in the
first place, particularly in the creative and
personality-driven video-gaming industry.
were "a lot of worries" among employees at
Mojang, said Jonas Martensson, who joined the company
the year before the deal and would stay on afterward as
CEO. "What would Microsoft do? Who would we work
executives and developers in Stockholm say they haven’t
seen much change in direction from Mojang in the 2 1/2
years Microsoft has owned the studio, which now employs
more than 50 people here.
outward appearances at Mojang today, there’s little to
suggest the company even belongs to Microsoft.
of the change has been in the Seattle area, where
Microsoft has set up a studio to pilot some editions of
"Minecraft," and used the game prominently in
marketing materials, including for the HoloLens, Xbox
and the company’s education initiatives.
picture, "Microsoft hasn’t really shown yet what
they want to do," said Patric Palm, chief executive
of Hansoft, a Sweden-based game and software development
tool maker. "And since they paid such a hefty
price, they obviously have a bigger game in mind
STORY CAN END HERE)
Swedish game studios have flourished under new
creator of the "Battlefield" series, was
scooped up in 2006 by Electronic Arts. The
California-based company commonly called EA has a
reputation for pulling the plug on studios it acquired.
of withering, Dice has thrived. It employs more than 550
people in Sweden, including the team behind the hit
"Battlefield 1." Dice’s CEO at the time of
the sale, Patrick Soderlund, now runs EA’s worldwide
network of studios.
Swedish gaming company, Massive, has kept producing hits
in nearly a decade as a subsidiary of French gaming
anything, (international acquisitions) have only been
positive" for the local industry, said Oskar Burman,
an industry veteran who has led Stockholm studios owned
by EA and Rovio, among others.
many of Sweden’s video-game pioneers, Burman got his
start in the "demo" scene, tinkering with game
making on early personal computers built by the likes of
Atari and Commodore.
in the 90s, it was really hard," he says. "It
was not seen as a proper path by anyone. We struggled
(for legitimacy) with the government, our parents,
did, however, have advantages that would come into play
as video gaming grew from hobby to a multibillion-dollar
made English-language education compulsory for all
children in the 1960s, seeding a population fluent in
what would become the default language of the internet
and computer science.
investments in the information age paid dividends, too,
from subsidies to buy home computers in the 1990s, to a
state-funded broadband internet build out in the 2000s.
Zetterberg, a Swedish video-gaming pioneer who helped
pilot Microsoft’s Mojang acquisition, said the country’s
cultural scene has also benefitted from a patient
parenting attitude. Kids, he says, are often given the
freedom to learn through play, rather than pressured
into traditional career paths.
the frustration of my parents, we had a computer, and I
sat in front of it a lot," he said. "We fiddle
with things, we tinker, and eventually, we might find
the thing we want to do."
the country’s small domestic market forces companies
to look to the global market — and particularly the
Graham, a former consumer-goods marketer and Paradox’s
12th employee, was hired in 2004 to help build the
company’s international presence and publishing
studio. Paradox’s games — mostly deep, historical,
world-spanning strategy simulations — were written in
English. So were its website and user forums.
first, everyone assumed we were American," she
said. The company didn’t go out of its way to correct
Graham also tried to inject a bit of American-style
confidence into the company’s correspondence, a
contrast to a Swedish tendency for humility and
deference. Simple things, she said, like "if we
think we’ve made a good game, say that in the news
would go on to make its share of hits, and went public
last year, listing shares on the Nasdaq First North
exchange in Stockholm.
industry’s biggest growth has occurred in the last few
years, a boom partly fueled by digital downloads of
games that meant startups like Mojang didn’t need to
work with a publishing-house gatekeeper.
2010 and 2015, the most recent figures available,
employment at Swedish game companies more than tripled,
to 3,700 people, according to the Swedish Games Industry
group. Sales surged from the equivalent of $132 million
to $1.4 billion.
has contributed much of that revenue growth, and its
sales have continued to climb under Microsoft. Revenue
attributed to the Mojang subsidiary during Microsoft’s
fiscal year that ended in June was up 84 percent from
the company’s last full year of independent ownership,
to $443 million.
Palm, chief executive of Stockholm-based Resolution
Games, said Microsoft could prove to be a good home for
Mojang. "I think Microsoft certainly has the
long-term vision," he said. "Minecraft is a
super interesting product, there are so many things you
can do with it."
Sweden, Microsoft’s cash also minted another set of
wealthy game-industry veterans who might wind up looking
for second acts.
and Burman are both repeat entrepreneurs, using some of
the cash from previous deals to test new ideas. Many
here are also waiting to see what Mojang’s departed
founders do next.
need heroes," said Martensson, the current Mojang
CEO. "And we’ve had a few success stories. That