When thinking of Iceland, a few things might come to one’s mind right away. Glaciers; Volcanoes; Northern Lights. But there’s something else that needs to be in your mind when you hear “Iceland”: gaming.
Iceland is the home of CCP Games, the studio behind Eve Online. However, it’s also the home to much more than that.
Recently, I, along with five other journalists, had the opportunity to attend Iceland Innovation Week in Reykjavík, where we were introduced to a number of studios and developers of all sizes. From being able to talk with CCP Games CEO Hilmar Veigar Pétursson to the smaller Parity Founder and CEO María Guðmundsdóttir, there’s a clear excitement in the air about what the Icelandic game industry has to offer the world.
“We are creating meaningful products that bring people more meaningful experiences, and we are doing it right here,” said Pétursson.
It wasn’t always the case in Iceland, especially two-to-three decades ago. Many regarded the gaming industry in the country, like many other places, more as a child’s hobby. And that was the case even with those who were making the games people across the planet would play.
“[Years ago] there was an identity crisis of, ‘Is this a valuable thing to do?’,” Pétursson said. “Everyone in the environment is [asking] when are you getting a real job? You lived in this imposter reality of making a game, feeling like it’s important, but you can’t put words to it.”
That mentality amongst many has improved in a number of places in Iceland as more have seen what the gaming industry means. Guðmundsdóttir, whose studio’s first independent game Island of Winds is set to launch later this year, says that the market is something that she’s seen grow more over the last few years than at any other point in the past.
“It’s everyone trying something new and different,” she said during a special “Future of Gaming” event featuring several Iceland-based studios. “We want to show the gaming community that there are great games coming from places that [they] may not know about.”
Dasha Podenok of Solid Clouds, the studio behind the Starborne franchise, said that seeing all these studios come together shows what the country has to offer.
“You can see what we’ve known [for a while]: a passion for gaming here is just as strong as everywhere else,” she said.
Iceland’s esports scene has helped with that growth
It’s not just game development growing in the country, either. Esports has become a major focus within Iceland, and it’s led by the Icelandic Esports Association (IEA) and the Esports Coaching Academy (ECA).
COO Ólafur Steinarsson helped found the association and academy after spending time working at both CCP Games and Riot Games. Steinarsson returned in 2018 to help grow the esports scene within the country. Alongside his partners and team at ECA, Steinarsson has been working to create the next generation of esports players that are viewed in the same sense as “traditional” athletes.
“At the start, you would see the parents who knew of the games but didn’t know the significance,” he said. “Next thing you know, you have the parents standing right behind their kids getting just as into it as the kids. They are leaning into every shot, action, or whatever it is.”
As the growth of the industry continues, the Icelandic government has also taken notice. The country offers numerous tax incentives and rebates to attract new studios to move to Iceland and others to form. With the Icelandic Game Industry (IGI) helping lead the way, the country is now home to 20 active gaming development companies with nearly 450 employees. It’s a sign that not only is there a desire to grow the industry within the country, but it’s a space with people determined to make it a success.
“We have dozens of people in this tiny space [ECA office for an IEA-sponsored gathering] together just because of the passion for games,” Steinarsson said. “Teaching and developing and having fun. It’s what we want to do and what people should see.”
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