Stugan: A Game Developer’s Heaven

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Game development in the same surroundings for long periods of time, trying to bring a vision to life can be difficult at times.

As a game developer, I wanted to be able to broaden my horizons and work in new, unfamiliar places so lucky for me, I came across Stugan.

What is Stugan?

The Swedish games accelerator, Stugan, began in mid 2015 and I was fortunate enough to be chosen as one of the participants.

The program entails spending eight weeks working in the beautiful Swedish countryside at Dala Storsund away from civilisation, building the game of your dreams.

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It’s hard to believe but the cost for two months of accommodation, food, and mentorship from international games industry luminaries is zero.

You aren’t asked to give a revenue share, hand over your IP, sign away rights to your game, pay any kind of fee or give shares in your company.

I felt slightly apprehensive before attending because it seemed almost too good to be true but I can testify that there is no catch and it has been one of the best experiences of my life.

There were 23 developers, or ‘Stuganeers’, as they have since been christened, working on fifteen games. I heard about the program from a friend and recorded a 90 second application video and filled in a remarkably brief application email.

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The accelerator is run by Tommy Palm (Co-founder of Resolution Games and ex-King games guru), Oskar Burman (General Manager, Rovio Stockholm) and Jana Karlikova who is the project manager.

Mentors included Minecraft lead developer, Jens Bergensten, King VP Game Design Stephen Jarrett, I/O Ventures Paul Bragiel, Carve Communications founder Paul Brady and freelance games journalist Will Freeman.

It was highly motivating to live with so many other developers all following their dreams and making their own games. It felt almost like a commune and was great to be sharing your life with so many amiable people.

What else did Stugan have to offer?

The food was incredible and I sorely miss being able to swim in the lake any time I wanted. A sauna was available for use one day a week and I think I came home fitter than I’ve ever been before.

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At Stugan, good habits get encouraged merely by an other person doing something around you – whether that’s working hard or doing exercise. With 22 other people, the odds of being constantly motivated are high! 

We played lots of board games in the evenings, had movie nights and even had a couple of parties.

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Motivation was never low

I was so bowled over by the other games in development that it was overwhelming trying to comprehend all the hard work I had to do to get to the finish line of my own game but the feedback, stories, advice, deep chats, and kind words provided by the participants and mentors were highly motivating.

Sometimes seeing all the other people all struggling with their games can bring home just how many developers there are all trying to do the same thing as you and release a successful game.

In that respect Stugan is a microcosm of wider game development – you can either envy other people and allow their amazing games and success to intimidate and demotivate you, or you can try and help them out any way you can, share information with them and be inspired and motivated by them.

An experience like this certainly gives you the perfect conditions and support to work hard on your game.

The place itself provides inspiration both directly and indirectly, and the people suggest great ideas, motivate you and inspire you, helping to spark new ideas.

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People separate themselves from their egos and give and receive feedback based on what feels true for the games. We had dinner discussions where several people would all suggest ideas for someone’s game and put their heads together to try and solve various problems.

I found that having the game reviewed by Stugan peers and mentors provided very helpful feedback and direction.

In difficult times it can occasionally feel like it’s only the belief and kind words of others keeping you going, assuring you that what you’re doing has been worth all the hard work and will be worth all the rest that’s still to come.

Working alongside the talented developers there helped me out directly on the game in many different areas and has also provided a close network of friends even after the event.

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Getting the games out there

The event garnered the teams press on Swedish TV, one of the biggest national newspapers in Sweden – DN Fokus, Playboy, Pocket Gamer, The Wall Street Journal, Develop and even on the Unity blog.

After the eight weeks was up, putting the game in front of the Swedish public at the Stockholm Tekniska Museet and seeing the joy it created on the faces of adults and children alike was the perfect way to end such a magical experience.

I find that seeing people that you don’t even know enjoying the thing that you’re developing is probably one of the most motivating and inspiring things about making games.

The Outcome

I fall repeatedly in and out of love with my game so to see people already enjoying it suggests that it’s on the right track but also illuminates the places where it’s off track and where things need fixing!

The first Stugan game to be released has recently launched, which is _Prism by Clint Siu and has been doing phenomenally well and was actually conceived especially for Stugan.

At then end of it all

When it came time to say goodbye to my fellow Stuganeers, I struggled to find the words to tell them what a great time I’d had and how much they all mean to me.

Stugan is like The Force – it is a powerful ally to have and it’s always with you.

I can’t recommend the experience highly enough and the amazing thing is that it’s going to be on again this year too. So with applications already open and running until March 31st, what are you waiting for?

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