As my refurbished website now boldly proclaims, I have left Britain’s shores for colder pastures in Stockholm. My partner and I became expatriates at the very end of November, meaning that with a gap around Christmas, I’ve been abroad for a month.
That month has afforded me many opportunities, from the mundane (tidy up my hard drive) to the ambitious (work out where my career can take me – literally). Ultimately my objective has been to take a 3-month sabbatical, helping us both to engage with a foreign culture and helping me to work out what the games scene is like in Stockholm – and where my career should go from here.
Suffice it to say, it’s all a world apart from the daily rhythm of commuting into London, to design games just outside the Silicon Roundabout.
If there is any conclusion to be made at this point, it is that Stockholm’s games scene seems rather more disparate than London’s. There is a vibrant scene of app. makers and games enthusiasts here, but I’ve yet to see an encompassing community for them. There doesn’t seem to be an answer to London Indies, for example. For those who don’t know, London Indies is a lively gathering of developers, held once a month in an Islington pub. This sort of thing is lacking here – unless it’s gone deeply underground. I cannot find any groups still in operation, despite the fact I was asked about London Indies on a few occasions when in attendance at a local Unity Meetup. All I’ve heard are Twitter-based whispers of Indie Beer Stockholm – a hashtag which no longer generates any results:
Are YOU an Indie game developer over legal drinking age? Do YOU live in Stockholm? #indiebeersthlm tonight at 18:00. Jameson, Folkkungagatan
— Markus Persson (@notch) April 5, 2011
Of course, this strikes me as a vacancy and an opportunity, but any indie group needs a relatively cheap venue in which to gather, and I’d be hard pushed to work around that. The Crown in Islington – home of London Indies – is a solidly London-priced venue (i.e. a couple of quid more expensive than anywhere outside of the capital), but there are ways to have a good night there without damaging your wallet. Here in Stockholm, anything over 3% proof starts to become prohibitively expensive, and so I suspect we’d need to gather somewhere different, like a café – not a type of place which is known for being open late after work.
Still, it’s clear that the act of playing games is well catered for. In this short amount of time I have yet to ascertain whether or not Stockholm has any independent games shops to speak of, but the likes of Game and Gamestop are in attendance, offering an exact mirror of high street retail as we know it in the UK and the US. Prices are high – 3DS games sell for around 490kr (£48, compared to an average £30-35), and the console itself is at least £20 more expensive than in the UK – but I’ve always seen customers in those shops. This is perhaps because Sweden has yet to be ‘graced’ with the presence of Amazon, and so online shopping isn’t as prolific as in the UK.
There’s also a business catering to a more Apple-savvy crowd in Norrmalm, named Webhallen. Here the front of the store is dominated by demo machines, running games on massive TVs. Customers can try the hardware out, hang out there if they wish (I don’t know if the shop actually holds competitions, but I’d hope so), and they can buy chart titles and hardware from a Genius Bar-style counter at the back of the store. It feels markedly different to high street games retail as I’ve known it, and while I was quite unnerved not to be able to browse any game boxes on the shop floor, I left wondering if this is the better way to sell games, through being able to demonstrate the experience first.
Ultimately I feel that Sweden’s gaming culture lays in mobile – to a far greater extent than in the UK. Here in the land of Ericsson, 4G comes as standard, and femto-cells are threaded throughout the tunnelbanan (Tube) network, providing mobile connectivity on the move – and not just at stations. On a personal level, I think the fact I can sit on a ‘Tube’ train and stream YouTube video some tens of metres below solid granite is extraordinary, and although mobile gaming is a common sight on London Underground too, it’s hard to ignore the possibilities given that every Swedish passenger can remain connected to their service provider down there.
I understand that in Tech City, 4G base stations have been provided to a handful of startup companies in Shoreditch. At the risk of sounding dismissive or somehow snooty, I now realise just how much Britain needs to catch up if it is to properly provide for games and other software development. The same technology which allows me to instantly upload photos from my wristwatch to Dropbox – and to download whole new applications in seconds – is severely hobbled when I return home. It’s entirely conceivable that I could play Minecraft Realms whilst on a commute here, whereas in Britain I’m lucky if I get EDGE signal in my own home.
As for how I intend to react to this: my first step is to learn, to the point I can cobble together my own interactive demos. I’ve become familiar with Unity by attending game jams and using it to prototype games in my previous job, but it’s largely superficial knowledge until I can get into coding and constructing more detailed game levels. Later down the line, I hope to explore what can be done with wearable computing, as I’ve been using a Samsung Galaxy Gear in partnership with my Galaxy S4 Mini since I got here. There may also be a blog post in that, as it’s a bafflingly simple new way of doing things. Suffice it to say: well-connected Sweden is the place to do this sort of work.
I also hope to keep up my attendance at games events, both in the UK and further abroad now that I’m dependent upon an airport anyway. The year already holds in store the likes of GameCity 9, Nine Worlds Geekfest and EToo, but I’ve also been considering where LadyCADE could pop up next.
I’ve taken to keeping a calendar on this website, detailing where I’ll be and when. You can also be sure of LadyCADE-specific announcements on its website, and Facebook and Twitter accounts, should you be interested.
All this, and I’ve yet to learn any proper Swedish. I’d best crack on…