From Iceland — Will We Foster A Nintendo-Of-The-North?

Will We Foster A Nintendo-Of-The-North?

Published July 20, 2010

Will We Foster A Nintendo-Of-The-North?

The Icelandic Gaming Industry is a relative newborn among the organisations here in Iceland. Formed just over a year ago, the IGI was created with the hopes of fostering a stronger and more supportive environment for gamers and game designers alike. One of their many projects is an annual awards competition, aimed at attracting new talent to the field. The first IGI Awards took place this past winter; the winners were just announced at the end of May. We sat down and chatted with some of the folks involved in the IGI and the awards to get a better sense of this fledgling industry.
A man of many hats
Kristján Friðbertsson has played many roles for the Icelandic Gaming Industry. He has done web editing, event planning, public relations, and a smattering of other things to support this new community. But, that’s the point he says; the IGI was set up to be an egalitarian club. “The whole organisation is based on everyone donating what time they have and it makes for a very nice, collaborative feeling. The only people with specific title are the board, but most of them do other things inside the organisation as well,” Kristján explains.
Kristján hopes that this style of organisation will prevent barriers from forming, allowing any and all who are interested to take part. “We want this to be a grassroots thing and we’re also trying to get many interested people who aren’t involved in the industry yet. A lack of titles is a good thing.” Along with this egalitarian set-up, the IGI Awards is another measure that, Kristján believes, will bring in new members.
“We knew people that were trying to create their own games, so we wanted to try to activate these people more and give them a chance, not just to showcase what they’re doing but to give them a platform to express that and try to formalise it,” Kristján says of the motivation behind forming the awards, a long winded competition that introduces newcomers to the entire process of creating a game. The end goal was to offer support and encouragement to those who are interested in game production, but may lack the proper resources and guidance required to break into the field.
Collaboration is key
The non-hierarchical nature of the IGI and its principles results in the organisation being completely separated from advertisers and money for marketing. Because of this, getting the word out about the awards relied largely on word-of-mouth—through Facebook, bloggers, free media and the IGI’s online forum.
Officially starting in November 2009, the Icelandic Gaming Industry Awards consisted of a number of monthly meetings, intended to familiarise all the applicants with the field of game production. The meetings featured talks by industry experts who explained the comprehensive steps involved in building, creating, and designing a completed game.
Another purpose of these monthly meetings was for interested participants to meet other like-minded game enthusiasts and hopefully form productive collaborations. From the beginning, Kristján and other IGI members expected that interested entrants would band together, combining their individual skills, in hopes of creating a successful game.
“We never expected everyone to have the entire skill set,” Kristján comments, “because it’s quite a big skill set you need to create a computer game. The hope was that if you were interested and if you had a skill in art or programming, you’d show up and see if one of the other group’s projects was something you could see yourself working on.” In most cases, particularly with the winning teams, this was what happened.
Quality & quantity
This long competition came to an end on May 29th at the University of Reykjavík’s Day of Games celebration, where winners were announced and prizes were awarded.
This being the very first IGI Awards, Kristján and the judging panel, composed of industry professionals, were unsure of what to expect from the entries. However, Kristján tells us that, “every one of the judges said that they were amazed by the quality of what they were shown. It was definitely a close competition.”
The entries were judged using a number of criteria, with special focus placed on the game as a whole. “We were looking at the big picture, the entire product. Game design is always important, but we looked at the whole package,” Kristján explains. With the large number of quality entries received, honourable mentions were also included at the awards ceremony.
And the winners were…
A group calling itself Clockwork Alien took home first prize. The group is eleven people strong, and consists of programmers, artists, designers, and writers. Project leader Auðunn Jónsson and lead writer Kristjón Halldórsson had been working on their own game world for years, but had never really gotten off the ground.
“We had nearly everything we needed.  We were just waiting for talented programmers, designers and things like that; we couldn’t do anything without them. So this competition really did it for us, because before, no matter how much we advertised, no one responded,” says Auðunn. Having the IGI Awards in their pocket, Auðunn and Kristjón can solicit for programmers and artists with an actual, tangible backing to their project. “The competition gave us the grounds to start talking to people,” Auðunn comments.
Clockwork Alien’s winning entry was a demo of their large-scale project, ‘Path To Ares’, an alternate universe adventure RPG featuring a biopunk (a slightly different variety of steampunk) society. This competition has helped to provide their project with some legitimacy and encouraged them to follow through with this game, for which, they assure me, they’re very grateful.
The group took home an HP computer from Opin Kerfi, software from Microsoft, books and a workspace from Innovation Center Iceland, and a free semester of a business course from Klak—basically everything a developing, independent company needs to get up and running. Through this competition, Clockwork Alien has turned itself into a real gaming company.  
Similar sentiments were offered by the second place group, aGame Company, who captured both the ‘Most Innovative Entry’ as well as ‘The Best Entry from the North’. Their approach was slightly different from Clockwork’s, instead focusing on completing a simple, level-based flying game.
At the IGI Awards, aGame Company’s eight-person team scored a workspace in Reykjavík and Akureyri from the Hugmyndahúsið, as well as books and a course from the Innovation Center.
aGame project leader Kjartan Jónsson says that his “main goal with this competition was to get to know people who also wanted to spend time creating games.” It appears this was a success, as the group is now working on several mini-application games for various gaming platforms.
Lots of things on the horizon
It appears that this grassroots industry is undeniably taking off. The IGI is currently negotiating a partnership with the University of Reykjavík as well as Menntaskólinn í Reykjavík. At the same time, ideas are being tossed around to ensure that next year’s IGI Awards are bigger and better. Other goals for this budding industry focus on governmental lobbying, to ensure that gaming companies can continue to flourish and operate here in Iceland.
The Icelandic Gaming Industry Awards are only a small part of this new exciting industry, but they have certainly had an auspicious beginning. In attempting to increase accessibility to the industry and attract newcomers, they have helped birth two new Icelandic gaming companies; something quite unexpected in the aftermath of the kreppa. More things are on the horizon for the IGI. Keep your eyes peeled as this organisation focused on creating virtual realities, manages to change our own!

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