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A Tale of Two Cities: How Malmo and Copenhagen are spurring each other to smartphone success

A Tale of Two Cities: How Malmo and Copenhagen are spurring each other to smartphone success

It's news to absolutely no-one that the Nordic games industry is thriving, but when it comes to mobile, it isn't just Finland that rules the roost.

While for many gamers, talk of Sweden and Denmark evokes thoughts of big console blockbusters - DICE and Battlefield, IO Interactive and Hitman, Massive Entertainment and Tom Clancy's The Division to name a few – the cities of Malmö and Copenhagen also operate as a hive for mobile indies.

Malmö-based Simogo, for instance, has fast become something of a staple on smartphones, while Copenhagen's PlayDead is the force behind the critically acclaimed LIMBO, which made the leap to iOS in 2013.

What makes these two cities especially interesting, however, is that the two respective game developer communities have a direct geographical connection, despite being in entirely different nations.

The Øresund Bridge connects the Danish capital, Copenhagen, with Malmö in Sweden and, between them, the two play host to some of Scandinavia's busiest and most successful independent and mobile games studios.

Throughout this week, we'll be speaking to developers on both sides of the bridge to find out how this unique relationship really works, and whether the close proximity of the two cities has helped breed a competitive spirit that's propelled them both to success.

King of the castle

Despite being officially registered in the UK, social games giant King is undoubtedly one of Malmö's major players, with the developer's one small studio in the Swedish city responsible for the firm's number two title Pet Rescue Saga.

Kim Nordstrom - formerly of Sony Computer Entertainment America - was compelled to come home to Sweden to head up King in Malmö having previous worked on PS4, Ps Vita and PlayStation Mobile.

"The region has a very interesting dynamic," Nordstrom tells us.

"We have Massive across the street with 300 people doing The Division, a very traditional Triple-A game. We have Tarsier bringing LittleBigPlanet to Vita. We have game schools, the Nordic Game Conference and small indie studios like Simogo, breaking all the laws of game development, doing whatever they want to do.

"For such a small town we have a lot going on. Its the mixture that makes it interesting. None of us will go away. We'll end up spending a lot of time helping each other to build the region. We're constantly talking about how we can help the region, help young studios, talent and conferences."

Recognition

Simogo, one of the studios mentioned by Nordstrom, believes that the Swedish games industry isn't recognised in the right way from a cultural point of view, despite its success in recent years.

When Nordstrom talks about building the region, perhaps building the industry's reputation is just as important. Simogo's Simon Flesser explained to us why he thinks games aren't always given their due in Sweden.

"When games are talked about in Sweden it's very rarely as a form of culture," Flesser claims.

"It's always talked about within a financial or technical perspective. Sweden is a land with a lot of engineers, so I guess that is why games are often looked upon and talked about as part of IT rather than entertainment.

"Another problem is that almost all national media in Sweden is based in Stockholm, so all reporting tends to be very focused on that city. Stockholm is very far away and culturally different from Malmö, so for all we care the reporting might as well have been from the North Pole."

Tarsier is another of Malmö's most reputable gaming companies having worked closely with Sony for a number of years, most notably on the Vita version of LittleBigPlanet.

Its CEO, Ola Holmdahl, loves his city, but thinks that much more can be done to maximise the opportunities for collaboration with the Danes on the other end of the Øresund Bridge.

"I feel that there is a divide. Sometimes the Danes come over when they are formally invited, but there's no naturally occurring organic high energy meeting forum that I'm aware of," argues Holmdahl.

"That's a bit of a failing. The two spheres are clearly segregated.

"The minute your office has two floors with stairs between them, communication becomes difficult. You don't know what Floor A is doing any more and people become suspicious. The bridge is a real divide that makes communication conscious."

On the other side of the bridge in Copenhagen, developers are much more positive about their relationship with Malmö.

Lau Korsgaard is the creative director at Knapnok Games and the VP of the Copenhagen Game Collective. He argues that there are plenty of opportunities for the Danes and Swedes to get together.

Friends forever?

"There is a lot of connection with Malmö and Sweden in general," says Korsgaard.

"We are trying to throw some events where devs from both cities show stuff and drink beers together but it has been hard to get rolling. We do go to each other's game jams and events though.

"A lot of people from Sweden come to the Nordic Game Jam in Copenhagen every year. There is a also a cool game jam in Sweden called No More Sweden which gets invaded by developers from Copenhagen."

It's only natrual that some form of rivalry would exist between the two cities, however, and that may explain the differing views about the interaction between the communities on each side of the Øresund.

Korsgaard believes that if there is any rivalry, that is only exists between the big studios like IO Interactive and Massive Entertainment.

"We all compete with the rest of the world," he says.

"If there are successes in Denmark or on the other side of the bridge everybody is happy. Maybe on the Triple A scale you could imagine more rivalry that at the grass roots."

Throughout this week we will be exploring this relationship between Copenhagen and Malmö through interviews with some of the cities' most successful games developers.

Come back each day this week for in-depth interviews with King, Illusion Labs, Simogo, Tarsier, Playdead, Copenhagen Game Collective and Swedish Games Industry.

Joe just loves to go fast. That's both a reflection of his status as a self-proclaimed 'racing game expert', and the fact he spends his days frantically freelancing for a bevy of games sites. For PocketGamer.biz, however, Joe brings his insight from previous job as a community manager at iOS developer Kwalee. He also has a crippling addiction to Skittles, but the sugar gets him through the day.

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Karsten Deppert
Jeppe, I agree with you, and to bridge the gap a little atleast I started oresundstartups.com, which also focuses on gaming businesses. We are thinking about getting a job listing up, currently we are linking to http://copenhagenstartups.com/

There is also an online community at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/249999908452851/ where a lot of both swedes and danes are active.
Jeppe Kilberg Owner, Director at Kilberg Media
Starting up a new office for mobile developer Kiloo in Copenhagen I've experienced the gap of Öresund. Though we recently hired a great Swedish artist, he did not come from Malmö but came all the way from Stockholm to Copenhagen. I do not recall getting applicants from Malmö.

One of the challenge is to get a common virtual space for the region suitable discussions, job posts, shameless bragging etc. My impression is that these fora are quite locally based: Spiludvikling.dk in Denmark, Spelutvecklarambulancen in Sweden, something third in Finland - and so on and so forth.

Creating such a common ground would be a great addition to the local and grassroot initiatives happening in the region. IGDA or Nordic Game may have the network to do such a thing - but I do not see it happening at this time.