‘Everything in my life was pointing me towards Sweden’

"It feels good to know how to defend yourself, and everyone should have the right to learn. Stockholm is a very safe city to live in, but life is life," says Jo Hall, who runs a training studio, Good to Go, in the Swedish capital.

'Everything in my life was pointing me towards Sweden'
Jo Hall. Photo: Private

The Australian has been training in martial arts for 25 years, and her studio offers courses in self-defence, life-coaching, massage therapy, and marmori budo – a martial art she created herself based on the principles of self-defence. Its name comes from the Japanese word for a protection talisman.

While Sweden is statistically extremely safe, Hall believes that the skills learned in self-defence are valuable in many aspects of life, not just extreme circumstances. Most of the women who participate in the courses tell her it gives them a confidence which can be channelled into other areas of their life, prompting them to speak up in meetings, for example, or challenge inappropriate behaviour.

“The confidence you gain from knowing you could defend yourself can be used not just walking down the street late at night but at any time when something or someone is making you feel like you're 'less than',” Hall tells The Local. “These situations creep into your life and we often just brush them off, when actually we need to turn around and say 'that's unacceptable'.”

“Self-defence isn't just about hitting people; it's about stopping that situation in the first place, because a self-defence situation actually begins a long time before you're physically compromised. So, if you can learn to recognize that situation, you can learn to slip around it, to stand up for yourself or for someone else. You get the awareness of when these things start as well as the ability, if necessary, to end them. Epic!”

Good to Go has now been open for over four years, with courses ranging from martial arts for children to a self-defence course launched in collaboration with a Stockholm women's social group. “Empowering people is a real passion, and the joy of working for myself is that I can be really flexible and create programmes that suit all kinds of people and groups,” says Hall.

While she loves her work, following her passion hasn't been an easy ride.

The Sydney native first moved to Sweden in 2009, after meeting her Swedish wife who was travelling in Australia. After a three-week holiday to see what the Nordic country was like, Hall decided to take the leap and move to Sweden permanently. “Everything was telling me to come here and I like to trust my instincts, so I did. I'm not much of a future-planner, I like to live in the moment,” she explains.

Jo Hall moved to Sweden in 2009. Photo: Private

Though she had run a fitness studio back in Sydney, she decided to spend some time getting to know the Swedish language and culture before striking out on her own in a new country. At first she found it difficult to find work, eventually starting a job in the building industry – something she had never done before – which she found through a friend.

It was after her first child was born that Hall says she realized she had to “follow her mission” and get back into martial arts training. “I had given myself time to settle in, but on parental leave it really hit home that I just couldn't go back to my job,” she explains.

Setting up the business in Sweden wasn't too different from the process in Australia, according to Hall, who jokes “they just use different words here!” But she admits that Sweden's tax system is complicated, particularly for foreigners, and that it's very tough on small businesses.

“You sit down and calculate it all, and you think 'why do I even bother getting out of bed'. But the other option is to do something I don't want to do. That's how it works, so you have to make the system work for you,” she says.

Taking the risk has certainly paid off, and the studio has many long-term clients, including Stockholm's roller derby teams who have trained there almost since it first opened. Hall notes that Swedes grow up with the Scandinavian concept of 'friluftsliv' or 'outdoor life', with an emphasis on learning by playing and outdoor activities in childhood.

This continues through adulthood: Midsummer festivities, berry- and mushroom-picking, and winter sports mean Swedes stay outdoors and active whatever the weather and this mindset means they are usually prepared to put in hours of training at the studio rather than expecting a quick and easy fix. 

“On TV here, people in fitness adverts are sweaty whereas when I lived in Australia they'd never show someone sweaty. Swedes know they have to work hard and they want to do that, and they don't whine so much!” says Hall.

The focus on fitness isn't the only aspect of Swedish culture that Hall has embraced. She says she is also glad to be raising her children and working in Sweden, thanks to the famous work-life balance.

“I couldn't have the same lifestyle in Australia – my wife and I would have even less time with each other. This summer, I shut my business down for almost eight weeks because nobody's here, and I opened up in autumn as usual. If I did that in Australia, I wouldn't have a business to come back to,” she explains.

Another way Sweden has changed her is that she now identifies more as a feminist, and says that the level of equality in her adopted nation has opened her eyes to instances where this is lacking back in Australia. “I never realized it, but after moving here I get treated very differently; very fairly and with a level of respect I was never given in Australia. Being in a same-sex relationship, there's a lot of stigma about that in Australia, but here there's not even a raised eyebrow.”

Despite these positives of Swedish society, Hall is open about the fact she is still adapting, and often confused by particular quirks of the Swedes, not least during the cold winters, during which she says many locals tend to become more insular. However, her work and expat friends allow her to stay social, and she has developed ways of coping: “I take my vitamin D and I try to plan fun things and stay optimistic. I actually really enjoy cold weather and snow so I get very excited at this time of year, and if no one wants to join me, that's their problem, not mine!”

And she adds that “even on tough days, I feel that my life here is far better than it ever would have been otherwise”.

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How to switch to a career in Sweden’s booming gaming industry

Sweden's gaming industry is crying out for top international talent, but the skills shortage also creates opportunities for professionals in other fields to switch to a career in gaming. Senior experts share their best tips with The Local.

How to switch to a career in Sweden's booming gaming industry

Home to world-famous gaming studios like Mojang, King and DICE – the creators of Minecraft, Candy Crush and Battlefield, respectively – Swedish games have been downloaded nearly seven billion times. Every fourth person on the planet has played a game made in Sweden.

And the number of new gaming companies and employees is only increasing, despite concerns about the impact of the pandemic, according to a new report from Sweden’s gaming industry association

In 2022, Swedish gaming studios increased turnover by 18 percent to 32.6 billion kronor, setting a new record. Combined, the turnover of the 23 listed computer game companies amounted to 61 billion kronor – a threefold increase since 2020 and almost twice as much as in 2021.

However, the talent shortage is an ongoing struggle, and the industry relies heavily on foreigners to plug the gaps.

“There’s a massive skills shortage, especially on the technical side, due to the sheer amount of coding required. I think the industry wants to do more to keep growing the Swedish game phenomena, but the talent shortage hinders us,” says Ludvig Moberg Edenbäck, people experience partner at Mojang Studios.

But if you’re a gaming newbie, how do you make the switch?

Bringing a fresh perspective could be your ultimate ability

Magdalena Björkman, a senior producer at Arrowhead Games, has a background in linguistics and started her career in the manufacturing industry back home in Poland.

“The gaming industry needs people from different backgrounds more than ever. We really need to encourage people who bring different perspectives to the table to come in,” she says.

After studying Japanese, Björkman worked as a translator and coordinator, acting as a conduit between Polish and Japanese engineers. One day she stumbled across a job ad for a Polish games developer looking for an assistant producer who could handle localisation, and eventually started looking for opportunities outside of Poland, landing a role at King in Sweden.

“Swedish and Polish work culture is totally different. I had to get used to not having to be the loudest person in the room to get my opinion across, which I actually really like. It was really, really nice working for King. It was a lot more collaborative. In general, Sweden felt a lot more progressive than Poland.”

Björkman knows other linguists who switched to gaming too and says being able to interpret and translate what people are saying to others is a crucial skill, especially as a producer.

“Whatever you do, you always end up working with people, communication and translation. I’ve always been trying to connect people, and as a games producer, being able to translate different perspectives to help collaboration. Gaming is also a multinational crowd. So if you come from linguistics and you know how to work with different people and cultures, it’s a good fit.”

You don’t need to know how to build games – but you need to be passionate about them

Luis Cascante, currently chief of staff at Rovio and head of the board of education for Futuregames, stresses that this is an industry that values passion. “If you don’t care about games at all, don’t bother,” he says. Gaming isn’t just a business, it’s a creative art form, and you’re unlikely to get hired if the interest and passion aren’t there.

“I’ve worked with studio founders who basically tell everyone they expect passion, whatever their role is, and if they don’t have it, there’s no place for them in their studio,” says Cascante.

Around half of Mojang’s staff have a technical background, and 30 percent are foreigners. Photo: Melker Dahlstrand/

Mojang’s Moberg Edenbäck, who is an avid gamer, agrees that demonstrating an interest in gaming helps, although it’s not a strict requirement for all roles.

“At Mojang, we’re in a unique spot because we’ve been around for 15 years and a lot of people that reach out to us have grown up with Minecraft. Sometimes Minecraft is even the reason they started coding, and working here is basically their dream job,” he says.

“But if that’s not the case, one thing people can do to demonstrate interest is to have hobby projects. A lot of people create games in their spare time, or designers and artists create characters just for fun. If you do that, it’s definitely a positive.”

Identify your transferable skills to help you level up

Like any other industry, there are plenty of transferable skills that make your application more desirable. Coders have a slight advantage, as games are built using programming languages (specifically C++ and Java), putting experienced coders in high demand.

“If you’re a C++ developer and you have some experience, even if it’s not with games, you will always be on the map. There is absolutely no shortage of roles that you can apply for,” says Luis Cascante.

Many blockbuster games are built using C++, and experience with 3D creation tools like Unreal Engine and Unity provides the easiest entry points if you come from a technical background.

Cascante says data analysis is another sought-after skill: “It’s not necessarily part of hands-on game creation, but data analysts are definitely in demand. At Rovio, none of our data analysts are from Europe, because we simply can’t find them.”

“If you’re good at maths, statistics and SQL, studios are more likely to pick you up, even if you’re slightly more junior because there’s such a demand right now,” he adds.

DICE, headquartered in Stockholm, is one of the major players in the gaming industry. Photo: Melker Dahlstrand/

But it’s not all about coders.

“Producers, artists, designers, marketers and HR practitioners are all needed to successfully build, launch, and market a successful game,” adds Moberg Edenbäck.

Project management, product management and UX design are also highly transferable skill sets, with many people bringing this kind of expertise into gaming after starting out their careers in other industries.

Network, get a mentor and look for internships

Some practical tips Magdalena Björkman shares for those wanting to switch to gaming are to network, look for mentors, and keep an eye out for internships.

“People are very friendly in the gaming industry, so just talk to them! It’s easy to reach out and approach people as mentors, which can help a lot. Also, look for internships, and go to networking events,” she says.

“There are more opportunities now compared to ten years ago, with boot camps and such. I work with a producer at Arrowhead now who had a background in publishing, but he did a course, and now he’s a full-time game producer.”

However, she urges people not to take the decision to switch careers lightly.

“Gaming can be tough. You need to love what you’re doing, take care of yourself, and have other hobbies outside of gaming. It’s easy to get consumed,” she says.

Get an education in gaming

For those who are truly committed to switching to a career in gaming, studying at one of Stockholm’s specialised gaming schools may be an option (they also offer evening classes).

Unsurprisingly, Futuregames’ Cascante is a big advocate for gaming schools and believes they’re a great pathway into the industry for people with the interest but not the experience.

“I’m chairman of the board of education at Futuregames, and we see people in Stockholm are actually taking courses to break into the industry,” he says.

“They take around two and a half years, which sounds like a lot, but you get a lot of training and professional internships in studios. The schools are really good at matchmaking between companies and students. Often the students stay on after their internships, and if they don’t, they still get at least six months of real experience in the industry.”

Minecraft has sold more than 300 million copies, making it the best selling game ever. Photo: Melker Dahlstrand/

Other schools include the Sweden Game Area and The Game Assembly, which offer courses in everything from agile project management in gaming to game design and 3D modelling for artists. Most of Sweden’s gaming studios offer internships regularly, including Mojang.

Swedish universities also offer part-time remote modules in for example coding. It’s free to study at university in Sweden for EU citizens and for non-EU residents who are in Sweden on another permit than a student permit, so for example work permits or spouse permits.

Ride the post-boom wave

The gaming industry has a historic reputation for only hiring people with gaming experience, but Björkman believes this mindset is changing.

“In the past, the industry has been a little elitist. It used to be that you needed ten years of experience to get into gaming, but now that’s changing and it’s becoming more open. This is great because we need experience from different industries to bring new know-how and knowledge. We don’t need to do things the same way all the time,” she says.

This is no surprise. After substantial long-term success, it makes sense that a talent-strapped industry has to start casting its net a little wider.

The conclusion? As long as you’re passionate, proactive, and can offer a valuable new perspective, it’s definitely possible to switch to a career path in Sweden’s burgeoning gaming industry.