Johan Sjöberg

HeForShe: Johan Sjöberg | CEO, Star Stable Entertainment

Johan Sjöberg

Johan Sjöberg is CEO of Star Stable Entertainment, the creator of Star Stable Online, a multiplayer role-playing horse adventure game that has been played by millions of loyal gamers around the world.

Johan joined the company in 2010 as a founding board member and was named CEO in 2018. During his tenure, he has maintained a vision to take the popular PC-game and transform it into a global multi-channel brand with a music label, original book series, animations, comics and mobile apps.

Equally important, Johan is fulfilling the founders’ vision to help transform the gaming landscape for girl-gamers. Johan is leading the company to inspire girls and young women by creating pro-social, inclusive environments across all of Star Stable’s entertainment channels.

Johan found his way into the gaming industry over 30 years ago by creating content for his favourite games. He also holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Ethics. Prior to Star Stable, Johan held leadership roles at digital companies, including Chief Product Officer and EVP of Brands at Paradox Interactive, and Vice President of Business Development at DDM, Inc.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I’ve been in gaming since my early teens. I started by writing and designing tabletop RPGs. I subsequently started working in Stockholm as a game designer by trade, but my background is very much in writing.

Early on, I started working on non-gender specific games, alongside non-violent ones and this then developed into working on games that focussed specifically on young female gamers, an area I felt was very under-served.

Having left my former job as Chief Product Officer at Paradox Interactive, I had the opportunity to join Star Stable Entertainment, where I had been a founding board member since 2010, as their then CEO was transitioning out. This afforded me the chance to take the reins at Star Stable and jump into the saddle as CEO.

I make sure to engage myself with everything in the business, from playing the games online, to watching others play. I love games. And so does my daughter actually, she’s an avid player and very much our target audience.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No, never. I was one of those stubborn fan boys that realised early on how I wanted to turn my hobby into work, so I kept knocking on the doors of the company I wanted to work for. And that took me to my current ride. But I never really planned it. I’ve always been guided by the goal of making great games, telling engaging stories and creating universes. Handing the rest over to players is where magic really, really happens. The passion for that is what’s driven me throughout my career. The same can be said of many of our Star Stable staff. They started out playing the games, becoming part of the community, and then grew into working with us, being part of our community making games for that audience organically. Seeing that process from gamer to actively wanting to be part of the business is a great inspiration.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

There’s always challenges. With one of our early studios, we had the bad luck of working with a publisher that didn’t treat us well, which ended with us having to shut down and restart. However, this eventually led us to building Star Stable Online, so it all turned out well.

I have always tried to see opportunity even when something bad happens, how you can turn something bad into your advantage. We went against the industry standard at the time, which was ‘Don’t make games for kids’ and if you do do that, ‘Don’t make games for girls’. And ‘Never make an MMO RPG. And if you do, do not make it subscription based’. And of course, that’s exactly what we did… and it worked. It took a while, we grew gradually, but it got us where we are today. We had the trust in the audience, believing they will come if we build something for them. It’s understanding that audience and taking it seriously and making the game they want.

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Star Stable Wild Horses Gameplay
Star Stable Wild Horses

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

We’ve built this sprawling, massive, beast of a game over the last decade called Star Stable Online. It’s gone from having just enough content to be completed in a day to having hundreds upon hundreds of hours of gameplay. And we’ve taken that massive experience and squeezed it so that it fits into mobile, I believe that’s our biggest achievement so far. We just launched Star Stable Online to mobile in the US and Europe on February 17th and we are also live in NZ, Canada, Australia, Turkey, South and Central America. The next big step is launching in the rest of the world.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

Taking our audience seriously. Continuing to build our game in collaboration with them and listening to them. Inviting them along for the journey has been the key success factor for us.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

Interesting question. Hopefully I provide mentoring in every interaction I have with the people I work with and meet. I hope that I can teach them something. At the same time, we’re all different enough to have vastly different experiences that I learn from each and every person I meet too.

As for mentors, I’ve had some really great mentors. Both of the founders of video game development agency Digital Development Management were great inspirations (Joe and Jeff). I loved working with Fred Wester, the CEO at Paradox as well as the Chairman of the Board there too.

What can businesses/government/allies do to help diversity and inclusion?

For businesses to actively create more diversity, they have to hire people not like themselves. Always look for people with backgrounds and interests that are not the same as what you have already. That will help you see different perspectives, enriching you and the business. Hire them. And learn from them.

Why do you think it’s important for men to support gender equality in the workplace?

You’ll get better work done! It’s as simple as that. I work with a lot of very smart people and I find that by having people with different backgrounds, ideas and philosophies, you get better work done. It just makes sense. It is in every man’s interest to support gender equality.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?

I think the advice I’d give to my younger self would be ‘keep the faith’ and never lose the trust in yourself that you can achieve anything.  My most difficult moments in my career have been where I’ve doubted my own abilities. I know that my younger self was absolutely fearless. There was no other option than becoming a game developer.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

As we grow on mobile, the next challenge will be to continue to be innovative and counter intuitive so that we can continue to surprise and delight our fans. We want to find new ways to make great experiences for other under-served audiences that haven’t been taken seriously or appreciated by the games industry. That will be a very interesting part in our next journey. We have some very exciting projects in the pipeline.