BetaDwarf – a success against all odds

Becoming a successful game developer in Denmark is not easy. Yet Steffen Kabbelgaard Grønning, the CEO of the Copenhagen game developing company BetaDwarf, has managed to stand out.  

By Jesper K. Kristiansen 

In 2011, Steffen Kabbelgaard Grønning and his BetaDwarf cofounder, Kenneth Harder, were both medialogy students at Aalborg University, Ballerup dreaming of becoming game developers.

There was only one problem: the Danish game industry was badly afflicted by the financial crisis, resulting in several bankruptcies and closures. The market became flooded with skilled and experienced game developers, making it difficult for beginners to gain a foothold.

But the gloomy outlook did not deter Steffen and Kenneth. Rather, they drafted an ambitious and imaginative plan to make their dream come true: instead of seeking employment with established game developers, they would found their own game development studio and build their own jobs.

With this ambitious plan in mind, they invited the most talented developers from their campus to a secret meeting and gave them an offer: work unsalaried on BetaDwarf’s new game in exchange for experience and training, to gain a competitive edge for desirable positions in the Danish game industry later. 

Squatted an empty class room

With a core of talented developers, they started working. BetaDwarf had no actual office, but found an unused classroom in the corner of the Ballerup campus. In fact, the room was so unused that after awhile they moved mattresses and microwaves into it, since eating and sleeping there meant more time to develop!

After 6 months, several people had begun living permanently on mattresses in the classroom. This became a serious problem, when BetaDwarf’s secret office was discovered, and they were thrown out with a day’s notice. With nowhere else to go, they then rented some space in a villa in Karlslunde, which at that time was the cheapest place to live in the Copenhagen area.

BetaDwarf stayed in Karlslunde for about a year. During this period, Steffen Kabbelgaard Grønning worked hard to transform the group of students into a professional company. The process required major changes in terms of how to run the business and how to work together as a team.

In 2013, BetaDwarf moved into a real office in the Northwest area of Copenhagen to complete the game, now called Forced. But the grants they had received from the Danish Film Institute and  money they had collected with a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter were nearly used up.   To make ends meet, the two founders each borrowed $ 72,000 from the bank.

Created their own jobs

In October 2013, they released Forced for PC, Mac and Linux with great success. After only two days, the two founders were debt-free. The game has now sold almost 400,000 copies worldwide. Their dream became reality – they created their own jobs! 

But the story does not end here. Inspired by Steam, the massively successful American digital distribution company, and their owners, Valve, Steffen Kabbelgaard Grønning developed a new model for BetaDwarf.

The goal of the new model is to create a business in which everyone gets a stake in the success of the company and where employees are assessed by peers, not a boss who may not understand what they do. This is the model BetaDwarf has followed since 2014.

Meanwhile, work continues with development of versions of the original Forced for new platforms and Forced 2: The Rush, which is scheduled for early release at the end of 2015.

Meet Steffen Kabbelgaard Grønning at this year’s TechBBQ in the Opera May 20.


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