WORKING WITH GAMES AND LIVING IN PITEÅ? OF COURSE. THE BÄCKSTRÖM WIKMAN FAMILY MOVED TO NORTHERN SWEDEN AND GOT A FLYING START FOR THEIR COMPANIES.
The opportunity to move 850 kilometres from the capital came when Robert Bäckström got a job at game publisher Raw Fury. They have an international philosophy of employment where you can work from anywhere in the world. Since his partner Bibbi Wikman had resigned to freelance, she too was flexible. So they decided to give it a go. They would try out living in Piteå, Bibbi’s hometown, for one year.
– We ran in the rat race pretty fast in Stockholm. It was a lot of work, travel, taking care of children and building companies, while we also wanted an active spare time. We rarely had any babysitting and the stress level was sometimes quite high, says Bibbi.
– I had been here before during the holidays and was mainly attracted by being able to live with another closeness to nature. We love to fish grayling and longed for hiking, which we can do in a different way when we live here, says Robert.
On the job side, both Bibbi and Robert feel that it has been quite easy to be part of different contexts up here.
– Robert started a company here in Boden, and I started my other company after the move. It has been easier to get life together and start up here. Everyone has been very accommodating and interested. There is a wonderful energy and fantastic to work with and be inspired by the exciting and creative people who live up here.
UMBRELLA COMPANIES FOR INDIE GAME DEVELOPERS
Robert’s company, Limit Break, consists of several studios, or networks of game companies working together. It began with Robert having previously met some of the students at Futuregames who had started the game development company Frozen Waffle. When he had moved to Piteå they met again, and started Limit Break together. During the year, more game developers joined. Jonas Roininen, who already runs his company Pixadome. Kristofer Stenskog and Jakob Olofsson also joined the company because they had a good game idea that they wanted to develop. In some cases, as with Pixadome, there was a game we wanted to work on.
– Limit Break is an umbrella company and a base for indie game developers. We want to create a secure employment, which is not so common. Then you can also keep the creativity that exists among the game developers.
Robert is employed as a game producer at Raw Fury, which is a game publisher. There he is the company’s contact with the game developers, and comes up with advice and business development ideas. For him, Limit Break is his side line where, together with renowned people in the games industry, he has invested and serves as an advisor. Among the others involved in Limit Break are Andreea Chifu, Head of Sales & Business at Raw Fury, former Dice CEO Karl Magnus Troedsson and Mattias Wiking, CEO of Turborilla.
The employees are spread throughout Sweden and also in Europe.
– We have people in Boden, Skellefteå, Umeå, Piteå, Malmö, England and Spain. I have not even met all the employees because we are scattered, and because of covid-19 which has made us unable to travel in the same way. Our communication is done daily via Discord instead.
PROMOTING GAME COMPANIES DIGITALLY
After many years in the gaming industry, Robert knows that in the beginning it is difficult when dropping a game and trying to reach the market. That’s how Bibbi’s idea for Cold Pixel was born.
Bibbi’s first company focuses broadly on digital marketing as she has worked with it for the past 13 years, including as Sales Marketing Manager at Bonnier. The idea for her other companies had grown for several years, based on the challenges that exist in marketing for smaller game developers. The fact that she specializes in the gaming industry means that she can build a database of players and create even better results for her customers.
– Marketing is a major challenge for self-publishing companies. Most people want to focus on creating good games and have neither the time, the budget nor the knowledge to market it. My business idea is to democratize and enable even the smaller developers to have the same visibility as the larger ones.
“THE FACT THAT A LOCAL BANK CALLS A GAMING STUDIO DOES NOT HAPPEN IN LARGER CITIES”
HOW IS THE GAMES INDUSTRY IN NORTHERN SWEDEN COMPARED TO STOCKHOLM?
– Lots have happened, but it has just started to take off. Previously, there was no long-term vision up here. Everyone was more or less forced to move in order to have a career in gaming. I feel that there is a shift, especially in Skellefteå and Umeå, where the companies are growing ever larger and in the digital society we live in, it doesn’t matter where we live in. To create really good games, we need to create collaborations internationally. Then there is also some difference up here where you really feel that you are making a difference for a smaller city. For example, someone called from the bank and wanted to have lunch when we moved here. The fact that a local bank calls a gaming studio does not happen in larger cities, says Robert.
WHAT IS NEEDED FOR THE INDUSTRY TO DEVELOP MORE UP HERE?
– We need some companies that can gather the talent that comes from here and all those who want to move here. Corona is terrible, but it has brought distance work to be the new normal, which you should take advantage of here. And I think even those in larger cities are beginning to understand more and more that it is possible to let people work from distance. In that case, we are getting closer to the rest of the world up here. One reaction I get now is “I didn’t know you could work with games there”. If you do not want to move from Burträsk, you can actually live there and work in the games industry. The place become less significant. You do not have to live in Stockholm to succeed. The market is global.