Scandinavia – land of the midnight sun and free college tuition; home to Vikings, IKEA, and Legos. This region of Northern Europe (including Denmark, Norway, Sweden and sometimes Finland and Iceland) is often omitted from the itinerary of world travelers visiting Europe, though it is rich in cultural and history.
I find that when I talk to Americans about Sweden, they often forget the name of the country we’re talking about just minutes into the conversation, instead thinking the country is Switzerland. In addition, Americans are rarely knowledgeable about the languages mainly spoken in these countries (English, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish, and Icelandic). While I hope this ignorance isn’t a worldwide phenomenon, I wanted to shed some light to the fact that Scandinavia has produced many notable games for social gamers and gamers alike.
Over the years, Scandinavia has brought many well-known video games to the rest of the world. A few large game developers have established branches in Sweden, such as Electronic Arts and Ubisoft. Here are some of the most popular games Scandinavia brought the world:
#1 Angry Birds – Finland
Angry Birds was released by Rovio in 2009, becoming a worldwide phenomenon in just a year’s time. The game was developed for touchscreen smartphones, requiring the player to slide their finger back on a slingshot, flinging different birds at large structures and pigs. The goal is to do away with all of the pigs in the level, which can be quite challenging at times given different obstacles (like rocks) and birds (like one large-beaked bird that boomerangs backwards).
Rovio was founded in 2003 (originally named Relude) and is based in Espoo, Finland. The company was started by three students from Helsinki University of Technology (now Aalto University School of Science and Technology) after winning a mobile game development competition for a multiplayer game King of the Cabbage World. (King of the Cabbage World was renamed Mole War and sold to another company, becoming the “first commercial real-time multiplayer mobile game in the world.”)
Angry Birds has received awards such as “Best Casual Game” in 2009 at the 6th annual International Mobile Gaming Awards, the fourth best iPhone game of all time in 2010 by IGN, “Best Game App” and “App of the Year” in 2011 at the UK Appy Awards, and “Best Game for Handheld Devices” at the 15th Webby Awards.
#2 Minecraft – Sweden
The alpha version of Minecraft was released in 2009 and the full game in 2011, selling one million units less than a month after Beta and four million just eleven months later. The concept behind Minecraft is simple – dig up blocks of dirt, stone, etc. to fashion tools and structures. There are different modes – survival, hardcore, and creative. Survival mode requires strategy for maintaining resources and surviving by satisfying hunger and sustaining health. Hardcore mode increases the difficulty of surviving, whereupon dying, the player must terminate the world. Creative mode eliminates hunger and health and provides ample resources and the ability to fly, giving the player complete creative control over the world. This is where you are likely to find many truly impressive structures players have built like the Taj Mahal, pyramids, and other famous structures and cultural icons (the Enterprise from Star Trek, Serenity from Firefly).
Minecraft was created by an independent developer Markus “Notch” Persson and has since been expanded upon by his company Mojang out of Stockholm, Sweden (mojäng is the Swedish word for gadget). The company was founded in 2009 and currently has only fourteen employees.
Minecraft has received awards such as “Best Downloadable Game of 2010” from Good Game, eighth best game of the year and eighth best indie game of the year by Gamasutra, game of the year by Rock, Paper, Shotgun, “Indie of the Year” award by Indie DB, “Game of the Year” by PC Gamer UK, and multiple awards in 2011 at Independent Games Festival (including the grand prize). In addition, Minecraft will be featured as one of eighty games in the exhibit at the Smithsonian American Art Museum for “The Art of Video Games.”
#3 Battlefield Series – Sweden
Battlefield 1942 was released in 2002 with sequels appearing each year since, the latest of which was Battlefield 3 from 2011. The games consist of large, online multiplayer battles with the ability to earn promotions and awards like medals and ribbons. The series sold 17 million by 2008, and overall the series has done well among critics, with the games often scoring between the 80’s and 90’s on Metacritic.com.
The Battlefield series was developed by Electronic Arts in Sweden – EA Digital Illusions CE (DICE) – a company that also produced Mirror’s Edge and Medal of Honor. The company was founded in 1992 by students from Växjö University and moved from the dorms in Växjö to Gothenburg in 1994, settling in Stockholm a year later.
#4 Hitman Series – Denmark
Hitman: Codename 47 was released in 2000 with sequels appearing every two years until 2006. The series’ latest release was Hitman: Absolution in 2012. The series comprises of shooter games requiring stealth, as players are often rewarded with weapons or money for assassinating without raising alarm. You can wear disguises, as it is important to blend in with the enemy rather than hiding. There is a tension meter to show how much attention you’re getting (which is dependent on many criteria such as your clothes and the area you’re in). The series has done well among critics, bringing in an average score of 80 on Metacritic.com.
The series was developed by IO Interactive in Copenhagen, Denmark, which is now owned by Square Enix. (IO Interactive also developed the Kane & Lynch games.) The company was founded in 1998 by developers from Reto-Moto.
#5 Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures – Norway
Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures (rebranded as Age of Conan: Unchained) was released in 2008 with favorable reviews (80 on Metacritic.com), despite bugs during the first months. Age of Conan is a fantasy MMORPG, which initially required a monthly fee but offered a free version with limited content in June 2011. There are four races – Aquilonian, Cimmerian, Stygian, and Khitan – with classes typical for MMO’s – rogues, priests, mages, and soldiers. On a side note, the dance moves in the game were produced with motion capture from dancer Hallgrim Hansegård, a background dancer for 2009 Eurovision winner Alexander Rybak for “Fairytale” (such a good song!).
This MMORPG was developed by Funcom of Oslo, Norway, a company that focuses on developing online games. The company was founded in 1993 and is considered to be one of the leading European independent game developers and publishers.
KitGuru says: While Scandinavia has produced their fair share of video games, these are among some of the most well-known and successful worldwide. We can certainly expect to enjoy many more great games from Scandinavia in the future. Copenhagen even has one of the few Ph.D. programs in the world for video game studies at IT University of Copenhagen. As Angry Birds and Minecraft in particular have made waves among gamers and non-gamers worldwide, Scandinavia is helping to bridge the gap between gamers and social gamers. We’ll see where Scandinavian developers take us in the future.