Hello There Games’ founder and CEO Oskar Eklund has been named “Most Innovative CEO in the European Games Industry” in the 2023 CEO Awards. He spoke to Business Worldwide Magazine about what inspires him, his leadership style and Hello There Games’ unique proposition.
BWM: Hello There Games is a multi award-winning video game developer based in Gothenberg, Sweden and known for creating games with AVICII Invector,Laser Unicorns – Kung Fury , Alan Walker and more recently Invector Rhythm Galaxy with Warner Global Music. What inspired you to start the company?
OE: I have always liked to play games, and my brother and I played on the first ATARi consoles as children. My first really immersive gaming experience was Space Invaders, which quickly turned into an addiction and I remember my mother having to drag me away from the arcades. I’ve always had a big interest in music too and I became a DJ very early. By 15 I had started a small business with one of my childhood friends, where we offered DJ services and equipment for local school discos.
I started to work in the IT industry in 1994, and after working on some early internet marketing campaigns I began to recognise the impact you can have with games, particularly if you could do it better than the other marketing and advergames that existed at the time. I started to see the potential and initiated a lot of new projects where we used games for marketing and education. I started a new business area within a listed IT company which still exists today, but building games is so creative and challenging that I felt that I wanted to focus my time and efforts on it full time.
Working in internet marketing, I thought about how much time was spent interacting with B2C customers and wondered what else could be done to make them want to spend more time with a brand. That relationship must be really strong, so user experience is everything and games can be very effective. To create really great games with fun gameplay and pleasurable frustration (the stickiness that makes you want to throw away the controller when you don’t succeed, but you’re back there playing again a minute later) is a fine line and can be very challenging to create.
Under pressure in a company that just wants to focus on short-term revenues it became difficult to create really great gaming experiences, and that caused fallbacks on the creative side. It became impossible to find the right balance with all the high ambition we had at the time, so I decided to start my own company and focus on getting it right. I asked a few people I really enjoyed working with if they wanted to be a part of it and they all said yes. We moved to a not-so-exclusive office next to a well-known MC gang. And that’s how it all started!
BWM: What projects are you particularly proud of?
OE: The first projects we worked on were gamins that helped kids with cancer to connect to other kids with similar diagnoses around the globe and kids with diabetes to understand and come to terms with their diagnoses. I am particularly proud of these games and also the collaboration with Tim Bergling (AVICII) We developed several games with Tim and I got a chance to really get to know him during these sessions and that is something I will never forget.
Several of our games have won awards, and it feels good to know that thousands of kids have learnt how to handle their health conditions through playing our games. Learning games are still a part of our business today, and right now we help with hygiene in hospitals through VR games too.
BWM: Did you see yourself working in the gaming industry when you were a child?
OE: No, I haven’t always known this is where I would end up. When I was a child I wanted to be a rock star, but I failed! With my DJ and music background, the dream was always to work in the music industry.
BWM: You now work with some huge names in music. How did that come about?
OE: I’ve always thought that combining music with games was a very interesting niche. I had the idea of creating games for a couple of artists, one of which was ABBA. One morning I was sitting on a plane and spotted Björn Ulveus. I was looking at him and thought, “Should I talk to him and tell him my idea? Or is it kind of a stalker warning?!” I plucked up the courage and approached him when we landed in Stockholm, and his reaction was that it was a really cool idea and I should contact the CEO Mrs Hanser and say hi from him. Then when I was delivering the ABBA pitch I met AVICII’s marketing team too, and the rest is history.
BWM: What do you love most about the gaming industry?
OE: I love that it’s so creative and fast-paced. It’s at the forefront of technology and changes often, and when it’s done right there’s some really fantastic craftsmanship on show. It’s also one of the most challenging and difficult jobs in the world, and the audience can be extremely picky and hard to please. But the reward and satisfaction that comes when they love our games is priceless. I also get to work with some amazing people, and we have a lot of fun at Hello There Games. That’s really important for me and I like to think that I bring that side of my personality to the business. It brings me so much joy, and work shouldn’t be serious all the time! The gaming industry is full of interesting people, and it’s a great opportunity to learn new things. We all hang out together, even if we’re competitors, and I think that’s amazing.
BWM: How would you describe your leadership style?
OE: I may not be the best person to answer that, but I hope I am someone who inspires others. People say that I really care, and I definitely think that being a good leader means using your heart 100% of the time. My team sees that, and I am fair and give people space to grow. When it comes to games, you can’t force creativity and put speed first. The team also need to have their own separate lives outside of work, so I try to help them by giving them plenty of freedom and understanding. I’m nice to them, and they’re nice to me. But I still have a clear vision of what we should achieve, and I try to make sure everyone buys into this and gets more pumped. People come to me with new ideas about how we can solve and improve things, and I love that.
I don’t interfere too much with the creative process. The studio is a place where people are allowed and encouraged to grow, and where juniors have a voice and are valued. It’s a humble atmosphere, but with kickass skills.
BWM: What are your core values at Hello There Games?
OE: Creativity, Empathy and Playfulness. When we founded the company, those were the core values we voted for, and they’re still very strong now. I hear all the time that our team are very positive and nice to work with, and that positivity helps us deliver exceptional quality and warms my heart. It’s also ok to fail and make mistakes, because that’s how we learn. And however senior the role, everyone is here to help out. I’ve been training in Taekwondo for over 35 years and am a head instructor. I see a lot of similarities between my work and Martial Arts, and I use the philosophies to help me lead and develop a positive working culture. Be kind always, but be a leader with a clear vision of what you want to achieve and how to achieve it.
BWM: How do you make your business stand out in a saturated market?
OE: That is one of the challenges you have in any gaming studio today, and we’re all playing for survival. It’s easy to become flaky and give up, but to succeed you have to really focus and come up with something that’s of a high quality that people really love to play. We are focused on premium games with a niche, and by combining music with games we’re in a unique position. Through networking we’ve been able to work directly with the creators of a movie and musical artists, such as AVICII (Tim Bergling) , Alan Walker, Cazzette and Aron Chupa to name a few.
My biggest task is to create an environment where my team can grow and create some magic while making games. Good games. It really is truly magical when that happens.
Follow Oskar and his team on Instagram at @hellotheregames, or visit