Ask game developers to identify the latest hotbed of industry activity, and few would name Norway. But that's exactly where some of the latest success stories are coming from.
Two of the biggest gaming franchises of the last half decade—Angry Birds and Minecraft—were born out of Finland and Sweden. It's taken a little longer for neighboring Norway, but thanks to a bright attitude and some government subsidies, it's getting there.
Geography has traditionally left Norwegian talent pools thin. The best and brightest head overseas, and an uncommon language can prevent international cooperation. In response, local developers have cultivated a highly supportive scene.
"There is no competition between us," said Anders Hillestad, CEO of development studio Antagonist.
Some Norwegian indie developers have already tasted mainstream success. DirtyBit's FunRun games have scored 65 million downloads and the #1 spot on the App Store.
'Manuel Samuel' forces players to complete even the most rudimentary actions—like breathing—for the main characters
Other Norwegian studios are turning critical heads. A group of student developers won a British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) award for their project Size DOES Matter. Teslagrad, made by Rain Games, has been picked up by Final Fantasy and Tomb Raider publisher Square Enix.
Over on Kickstarter, the studio Krillbite raised $248,000 for Among the Sleep, a horror title played from the perspective of a two-year-old boy, and Red Thread Games scored $1.5 million for its episodic game Dreamfall Chapters.
The country is also attracting offshore talent. Jory Prum, a sound engineer who worked at LucasArts and on Telltale's Walking Dead franchise, is moving to Norway to take advantage of a growing industry with little competition. But he's also a beneficiary of the Norwegians' friendly business environment—developers share assets, talent, and even hardware.
"I have never experienced that kind of camaraderie anywhere else in the games industry," he said.
He also cited some of his favorite projects, which showcase Norwegian creativity. Shadow Puppeteer, a cooperative game, relies on players working as the main character and his detached shadow. Earthlock makes players grow their own ammunition. Manuel Samuel forces players to complete even the most rudimentary actions—like breathing—for the main characters.
Part of the gaming industry's success can be attributed to the Norwegian Film Institute, which distributes funding for the industry and has allowed games such as Among the Sleep to get a head start. In November 2014, nine games received $1.1 million Norwegian Kroner.
All this activity has encouraged more developers to go full-time. According to a new report from the Norwegian Producers Association, 60 new companies were created alongside 127 new jobs between 2012 and 2014.
So why has it taken so long? "Norway is a small country," said Bendik Stang, of the developer Snowcastle, which raised $178,000 on Kickstarter for Earthlock. While other Scandinavian countries were building up their tech fields, Norway was still focused on oil and fishing.
Stang says Norway's small size creates opportunity, however. And when one developer or studio wins, they all do.
"It's also just part of how Norway works," Prum said. "It's a country used to being on its own." Perhaps that isolation is beginning to pay off.