I’m not a Abba fan, but feel free to listen to Abba’s old hit single Money Money Money while reading this article.
Because in Sweden, gaming gets funding from the government. This article is about how it works and how it has helped the gaming hobby in Sweden.1
In this example a gaming group with five members will get about 7500 SEK / 1100 USD / 900 EUR of government funding each year, for about five hours of administrative work.2
How does it work?
As you might imagine you don’t just sit down to game and then someone from the state magically appears and hands you an envelope full of money. To get the funding you have to do a few hours of administrative work. You have the Swedish Gaming Union, Sverok to help you. The gaming union’s mission is to help gaming clubs organize, promote the gaming hobby and hand out the money the state wants to give the hobby.
There are two systems that are the main sources of the funding you can get for gaming: Organised activities for youth and study circles. Sverok will help you with both.
Clubs and organized activity for youth
If you are between age of 6-26 years old the Swedish government wants you to have meaningful things to do with your free time. Youths with meaningful hobbies are healthier, have a richer social life, do better in school and are less likely to commit crimes or to end up with other sorts of social problems. Sponsoring activities for youth is a good investment for the society and the state.
The government sponsors it through giving funding to non-profit democratic organisations that offer activities for youth. One of these organisations is The Swedish Gaming Union, Sverok. Sverok in their turn hands out money to the gaming clubs.
By starting a gaming club you can get a share of the money. The club has to have at least five members and at least 60% of the members of the club need to be between 6-25 years old. The club must be democratic and open to all. You need to have one yearly meeting, a bank account and you need to send in a members list, a copy of the club’s constitution, and a yearly report of what sort of stuff the club been doing to Sverok. Sound like a lot of work? Sverok has all the necessary forms ready, you just go into the database, fill them in and upload them back into Sverok’s database. And it is really easy to get bank accounts for non-profit organisation.
If you do this the club gets:
- An activity grant each year of: 4000 SEK / 580 USD / 470 EUR
- A yearly membership grant for each member between 6-25 of: 60 SEK / 9 USD / 7 EUR (per member)3
In addition you get all sorts of nice benefits from joining Sverok. Like an insurance policy that covers all the club’s activities, free homepage space, a right to vote and get elected in the gaming union, a discount on train tickets to gaming events, free internet connection when you organize LANs and so on.
If you get a club house for the club, Sverok can also help you by paying 50% of the rent the first year, and 25% of the rent the following years. Or pay half the cost of if you buy a club house.4 You also get an insurance for the club house through Sverok.
If you host some gaming events open to the public to recruit new members you get 150 SEK / 22 USD / 18 EUR for each such event.
Each district of Sverok also has a budget of its own meant to support different gaming projects in the district. To get a part of that budget the club contacts the district with a project description and asks for that money, and if the district thinks it is a good idea to give you money, you get the money.
Sverok also has people working full-time on helping out the local gaming clubs.
The local city government or district government normally also has a budget to support non-profit clubs and youth activities and by contacting them it is possible to get even more money for the club.
That’s nice for clubs with a lot of people in the age between 6-25. What about the rest of the gamers? For example, me. I just turned 26 this year. While the government like that people older than 26 to have meaningful hobbies as well, we are expected to be adults and be able to pay for them ourselves.
But it would still nice to get some government funding right? Well, you still can.
The solution is study circles, which people of all ages can get funding from. The Swedish government thinks people who spend their free time studying or teaching other people stuff on a non-profit basis is something worth supporting.
To start a study circle you need 3-25 people, a plan and an organized activity that involves people learning something. If you have that, you can get a little funding for each hour of study.
Many gaming activities fall within the definition of a study circle, because gaming is in general a hobby that is a lot about learning.
- Painting miniatures? Yeah, you are learning crafts.
- Sewing costumes for a LARP? Learning even more crafts.
- Setting up a LAN party to play computer games? Absolutely. People are probably learning all sorts of things about computers.
- Larping? Yeah. Learning acting and stuff.
- Board games? Chess and games like that make people smart. Counts as studying.
- LARP organizers meeting up to write background material? Yeah, that is creative writing and people are learning organisational skills.
- Playing roleplaying games? Yeah, that is sort of like a book circle, writing circle, board game thing and theater thing all at the same time. People have to be learning something.
So most gaming activities can get funding by being organized and registered as a study circle.
The only parts of the gaming hobby that generally have a hard time getting any money from study circles are Magic players and other card game players. The study circle organisations seem to have decided that nothing useful can be learned by playing Magic. (I don’t know why, and neither does anyone else. People suspect that the study circle organisations draw a line at card games because otherwise they would have to give money to poker players.)
From a study circle you get about 15-30 SEK per hour depending on what study circle organisation you turn to. In my example below I’ll use 20 SEK as an average. You get the same amount of money independently of the group’s size, and you can just get funding for 4 hours of study each day.
- So, if you start a study group you can get: 20 SEK / $2.90 USD / 2,4 EUR per hour.
- If you have a 4 hour gaming night each week that is: 80 SEK / $11.70 USD / 9.6 EUR weekly
- It it a weekly game you might have about 40 gaming meeting each year. That means you get: 3200 SEK / 470 USD / 380 EUR yearly
To be able to receive that money you need to register the study circle, send in a description of what you do, a members list and a list of what days and times you met. Once you have done that you send in receipts of the costs you had because of the the study circle, and then you get the money.
It might take a few hours to get the forms in order, but both Sverok and the study circle organisation have employees whose job it is to help you out.
There is a third way to get funding that I want to mention but I won’t go into any detail. There are bunch of government organisations in Sweden that want to hand out money to projects run by non-profit organisations. One of these is the Swedish Inheritance Fund who hands out money to volunteer projects for and by children, youths and people with disabilities.
There have been gaming project, such as LARPs, that have gotten grants from the Inheritance Fund valued at hundred of thousands of Swedish Kronors yearly. (That is ten of thousands of Euros or USDs yearly.)
You can also get project money from other sources. If you want funding from the local city government it is often easier to get funding if you ask for project money. But project money is exceptional, not the norm. So I won’t include this possibility in my example below.
The funding for youth clubs/activities and the study circle funding, what does it add up to?
Let’s see. So if we have a gaming club with five members under the age of 25, who meet weekly to game for 4 hours they end up with:
4000 SEK from Sveroks activity grant.
60 SEK * 5 members from Sverok membership grant
3200 SEK from running a study circle
Total: 7500 SEK / 1100 USD / 900 EUR
That is a lot of money, in my opinion. To get the money the club needs to do about five hours of administrative work, about 1-2 hours for Sverok, and about 3-4 hours for the study circle organisation.
What do you do with all that money?
Here is the thing. You get government funding for gaming, but the money goes into the non-profit club, not into any of the member’s pockets. The club in turn is a democratic organisation that is accountable for how the money is spent.
That is the deal. The state is willing to give your gaming hobby money, but if they do, you are expected to spend that money on gaming and you are expected to do it within the framework of the democratic non-profit club. Simply put, you are supposed to use the money as it is intended, and not try to abuse the system.
It works. There are very few cases of abuse of the system. Because well… There is very little incentive to abuse the system. Because people are usually very motivated to spend the money on exactly what the system wants them to spend it on. Someone handing you money for free saying “Here. Have some money to spend on your favourite hobby!” that usually means that you will squeak with joy and spend it on your favorite hobby.5
How does the accountability thing work?
The money you get from Sverok you get up front. Normally the club gets the money, then you spend it, and in the end of the year you simply report to Sverok that you spent the funding on gaming. The larger clubs that get a lot of funding needs to make a more detailed report on how the funding is spent, but small clubs don’t need to do that. The club can spend it in any way it wants, as long as it is for the club and for the gaming hobby.
The money from the study circles are a bit different. They don’t give you the money up front. They pay you for costs you had running the study circle. So in the case of study circles, you first pay for the cost, send in the receipts to the study circle organisation and THEN get funding from the study circle organisation. They approve costs that are relevant to the study circles, so you send in receipts for things that are useful for the thing you are studying.
For example your role-playing group buys a bunch of new role-playing books and sends the study circle organisation the receipts. They approve the cost and send you the money. Nice and logical.
But they won’t accept the receipts or send you any money if you try to abuse the system.
Your role-playing group can’t sent in receipts for a shining new pair of new boots for the game master and expect the get money for that. Or send in the receipts for the weekly gaming pizza. Because that is not study material. The money is meant to go to books, crafts materials, tools and things like that, not pizza or new boots.6
That is the only catch. To get the money you actually need to spend it on gaming stuff.
How does all this funding affect the gaming hobby in Sweden?
One effect is that Sverok, the Swedish Gaming Union, exists. A big national organisation, the biggest youth organisation in Sweden, and it just exists to promote the gaming hobby. Sverok is bigger than all the political parties’ youth organisations combined. It is huge. 190,000 members and 1,200 gaming clubs all over the country. In a country with a population of just 9,4 millions. That by itself is awesome. But having a big organisation promoting gaming as hobby also has big social effects. Gaming as a hobby has a higher social status in Sweden, and is much less marginalized then in many other countries – and I do think Sverok has been important for that development.
Another aspect is that since there is an economic incentive to organize into clubs, people organise into clubs. Since all clubs needs to be open to new members and there is an economic incentive for the clubs to get more members, that means that many of the clubs actively try to recruit new members into the hobby. Gaming is much bigger hobby in Sweden than in many other places in the world. The club structure also makes it easy to keep on gaming. All the gaming clubs that are part of Sverok are in Sverok’s public database, so when you move to a new town you just need to search Sverok’s database to find gaming clubs close to you.
The clubs are economic unities of their own, which means that there also is a lot of continuity in the hobby. Even if people come and go, many bigger gaming clubs live on for decades, and acquire a lot of money and material that the club owns. They have clubhouses, game libraries, lots of war-gaming terrain, gear for LARPs, books, etc. that they gotten over decades. The material is used for years by countless gamers. Even if the people who originally started the club might have moved out-of-town or isn’t gaming actively any more their contribution to the hobby lives on.
Running a things in the form of non-profit club has huge effects by itself. Non-profit clubs are a very common form of organisation in Sweden. Government and private business alike on all levels like non-profit clubs and are often willing to help and sponsor them. That means, for example that the city government often is willing to lend a gaming club a school during the weekend for free to house a small gaming convention. Or that private businesses often are willing to sponsor gaming events, like a LARP, with free food from a local producer or supermarket.
Money changes things
Then there is the money itself. Money changes things. Let’s take the example we used. The yearly 7500 SEK / 1100 USD / 900 EUR a gaming group of five people could get. You can do a lot with that money. Buy a lot of role-playing book or computer games. A lot of material for LARP gear, a lot of paint and terrain for wargaming… and so on.
But that is if the club only use the money for the club’s own gaming. In general, especially when clubs get bigger, people start to use that money to do things for other people. They use it to organize LARPs, or gaming tournaments, or LAN-parties, or gaming conventions. Or to rent a gaming clubhouse.
That is the real game changer. When people, independent of their own private economy, are given the economic possibility that through volunteer work create great gaming event and meeting places for gaming. Not just for themselves but for other people.
You and you friends can be dirt poor students, and still get the economic possibility to run a big gaming clubhouse for all the town’s gamers. You can organize fantastic LARPs or gaming conventions, where you and all participants are fully insured without risking your own personal economy. You can do stuff for others, to make to hobby better and to make to hobby grow.
That is my favorite thing about the system.
If you have any questions, feel free to comment below and I’ll try to answer to the best of my ability.
Thanks to Lloyd Baltz, Board Member of Sverok and Business Developer at one of the study circle organisation, and Martin Ackerfors, Sveroks Professional Communicator, for providing information and fact checking the article. Thanks to Emily Care Boss for editing.
- The other Nordic countries have similar systems, but I’m a Swede so I’ll just talk about the system in Sweden. ↩
- The exchange rate in the article is from 31st of July 2012, and the numbers have been rounded off. ↩
- To get this level of funding the club needs a membership fee of at least 50 SEK / 7,3 USD /6 EUR. Clubs without a membership fee gets less money. ↩
- Up to the maximum of 24000 SEK / 3500 USD / 2800 EUR from Sverok. ↩
- But the political parties youth organisations are occasionally found cheating the system. I think that proves that gaming is more fun then politics. ↩
- Spending a little money on coffee, tea and other “fika” is an exception to this rule because no Swede is expected to be able to do anything without fika. ↩