In a first for the video game industry, some of Sweden’s wealthiest video game developers decided to give both time and money to aspiring game makers. Stugan, which roughly translates to “cabin in the woods” in Swedish, over the summer concluded its first eight-week training course. Twenty game developers from around the world spent two months living in cabins in the woods far from Sweden’s big cities. But these cabins were equipped with the latest technology, including high-speed broadband and the latest high-end PCs, so that games in various stages of development could evolve with the help of team collaboration and under the guidance of experienced video game developers.
Some of the biggest games across all platforms and genres were made, or are being developed, in Sweden. This runs the gamut from King Digital Entertainment’s Candy Crush Saga to Avalanche Studios’ Mad Max, Mojang’s Minecraft and Electronic Arts DICE’s much-anticipated Star Wars Battlefront. Key executives from all of these companies are behind Stugan, including Jens Bergensten, lead developer of Minecraft; Oskar Burman, general manager of Rovio Stockholm; Christofer Sundberg, founder and creative director of Avalanche Studios; and Alexander Ekvall, director of product at King Digital Entertainment.
“The teams have been really creative and helpful working with their colleagues and also helping other developers,” said Tommy Palm, co-founder and CEO of Resolution Games and Stugan co-founder. Palm spent a lot of time at Stugan, especially on weekends. During the week he’s focused on developing new virtual reality games, but he has a lot of knowledge that he’s absorbed over his very long career in gaming.
“I see Stugan as the ideal university learning environment because the teams are project-focused and they’re together all day, every day,” he said. “The workspace is open, which encourages collaboration. They’re passionate about games and they spend breakfast, lunch, dinner and weekends talking about games and making games.”
The 20 participants in this inaugural Student “class” were the crème of the crop from hundreds of submissions from around the globe, including places as far-off as Australia, South Africa, India and Portugal. Palm points out that unlike other incubator programs, the game makers retain all rights to their games. The trip and guidance and introduction to game publishers are all free. The idea is to help game makers release their creations to the public and set off on a career in game development.
Mark Backler, a UK developer working on The Last Word, said the mentors have been incredibly helpful because they’re experts in a variety of different fields and have been able to advise all the teams on game design, public relations, getting investment, finding publishers, exploring different business models, explaining legal issues and more.
“It’s been great getting to sit with these luminaries and have them play our games, listen to our plans and then give us their feedback and advice,” said Backler. “I have learned about a great way of doing revenue sharing with team members, gained new ideas for levels for my game and a new direction for the art style, to name just a few of the ways they’ve helped me.”
Amy Dentata, an independent developer from San Francisco, said she received a lot of feedback from other developers that has improved her game, Sunshine, dramatically.
“I’ve gotten a better sense of how I should go about founding a games company,” said Dentata. “I’ve learned better ways to approach journalists about my games, and gained insight into how the developer-journalist relationship works. I’ve gained a more well-rounded sense of the parts of the games industry I don’t participate in, such as free-to-play and casual games. Honestly, it’s hard to nail it down to one all-encompassing sound byte because what I have gained from my time here is so diverse.”
All work and no play doesn’t spur creativity in any field, so Stugan mixed the two. Australian game maker Izzy Gramp of Geeiz Games enjoyed the midnight movies, morning games, and the dance parties in an abandoned shack out in the fringes of the woods, as well as huddling around a fire on the shoreline discussing topics like character motivations and games which moved participants and impacted their lives.
“What has made Stugan special is that you are able to experience these things with people just like you; discuss ideas, creative techniques and learn from each other,” said Gramp. “There are just so many things that I have experienced while at Stugan with an amazing set of people. Maybe it’s cheesy, but I think for a lot of creative people going on an emotional journey like this, it impacts your creativity every which way. Everything has been amazing, recorded into words, memories and photographs that I will be able to cherish and draw on forever.”
Palm said Stugan will definitely return next summer, but the program is a work-in-progress. As a perfectionist, he’ll work with the other leaders to tweak things in the hopes of making an even bigger impact on both game developers and the gaming world in the future.
John Gaudiosi has been covering video games and entertainment for over 25 years and has focused on the convergence between Hollywood and games for much of his career. Follow him on Twitter @JohnGaudiosi.
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