Case Study: Arctic Game Lab
Northern Europe’s fastest growing game cluster.
In the most northern part of Sweden five municipalities, covering an area close to the size of Belgium but with only 3% of its inhabitants, decided to work together to boost the game industry. These five municipalities initiated a cluster organisation. Five years later, Arctic Game Lab1Arctic Game Lab: http://arcticgamelab.com/ is Northern Europe’s fastest growing game cluster. It features a growing number of game companies, game developers and new education opportunities in games in the area. The success has come through dedicated resources, passionate people and a unifying brand.
Demonstrate outcomes to provide legitimacy
To finance the cluster activities a project was formed. The focus is on developing the cluster, networking and establishing the brand Arctic Game Lab. The project was funded by the European Regional Development Fund, co-financed by the regional authorities and local municipalities. The financiers showed interest in this ”young” industry. At the same time it was obvious that local and regional decision makers saw other traditional industries as more important when aiming for regional growth.
To provide legitimacy, the cluster had to speed up the pace in which activities took place, constantly trying new ways of going forward and simultaneously demonstrate outcomes in various areas – develop new education opportunities in the area, attract students, support the start-up of new companies, offer office spaces and high-end game technology and competence when needed, market the cluster and help companies through their first contacts with investors, demonstrate values for other local industries, establish international game companies in the area, etc. A number of open workshops, fairs and exhibitions for the industry and the public were also arranged, as well as a number of strategic press releases.
All of this gave the game industry a positive aura. Today, the game industry is mentioned in the strategic plans for all municipalities involved. The industry keeps growing in numbers. Arctic Game Lab has become a natural partner when discussing regional development and strategic competence supply, with direct contact to the business.
The great variety of activities taking place in Arctic Game Lab could not happen without passionate people. The cluster involved experienced people from the business, rooted in the local and regional surroundings from the start. Instead of building an organisation with large overhead costs, the services needed were procured instead. In this way, a larger number of enthusiasts from the business could be engaged in the activities, working together with experienced project personnel. This established a creative culture that is still going strong. If you fail the first time, you try something else instead. Arctic Game Lab is learning whilst doing.
Now, some of the municipalities have hired a local resource. This is thought to be part of a natural development, since the cluster is growing and local differences and challenges may need different approaches. Regardless, the people involved in the cluster work closely together, and Arctic Game Lab is still run by passionate people!
Several major tech industry investments are currently underway in the north of Sweden. Around 1,5 million Euros are put into wind power, battery industry and carbon dioxide-free steel production. This means that the market is a bit overheated right now, resulting in new challenges for the game industry. We need to work even harder to make decision makers understand the need of a game industry. A variety of successful industries gives us a more attractive regional labour market, and this will make it more interesting for people and their families to move to the region.
The growing game industry also needs competent people and investments. This means that the companies have to work strategically, get more involved and learn how things work. They have to make sure that education and training opportunities and are good enough, and target the right areas of expertise. Also, they need to attract people to their companies, understanding the swedish rules for employment and labor immigration. They need to know what an investor is looking for when investing. Just saying, all things combined, it is not always easy. The cluster organisation is an important partner in this work.
Arctic Game Lab acts in a large geographical area. All partners know that for the cluster to be successful they have to be generous with each other and rejoice when an investment, game success or progress is made, no matter where it takes place. This may sound easy, but this isn’t always the case. The municipalities involved in the cluster have a long history of competing for people, jobs, in sports, you name it. Each municipality has the obligation to work for the benefit of its own inhabitants. It is a thin line to wander. The culture we built and success stories we share helps us focus. We are doing good, but everybody needs constant reminding about the advantages of working together instead of separately.
Do we need a Game Incubator?
Arctic Game Lab started by building the game industry without game incubators. The focus was building the cluster community expecting the ordinary incubators in the region to help the game companies. The aim was to “colour the innovation system with games”. Additionaly, the goal was to teach existing infrastructure such as incubators, science parks, etc. about how the game industry works, offering support from senior game industry people.
This only partly worked out as planned. The ordinary incubators in the region have embraced a large number of game companies so far, but their programmes have not been adjusted for game companies. Even with support from the game industry, it has not been successful. This is why a game incubator starts in May 2021 and other initiatives are underway. This will hopefully make a huge difference. In a year or two we will have the answer.