They have enough talent and quality, but the game developers in the Netherlands lack the business instinct to sell their games well. The question now is whether the government should come up with a fund, just like in other countries, to give the sector a lift….
The Gamescom fair in Cologne attracted 350,000 visitors this year.
Game developers are having a hard time putting their own video games on the market. The call for a new investment fund is louder from the industry, while it continues to grow independently.
At the Gamecom fair, the Netherlands presents itself as a country with special ‘indie games’. Countries such as Finland, Germany and Poland are actively investing in the games sector.
Meet Us’ shouts a banner from the Holland Pavilion in the Koelnmesse exhibition centre in Cologne. The pavilion – a kind of Holland Heineken House 2.0 with orange tones and a logo with a lion – is on Gamescom, Europe’s largest game fair. With 350,000 visitors, the trade fair now tops the leading Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles.
The Holland Pavilion.
While gaming enthusiasts have free rein in the other ten halls, in hall four of the pavilion you can hear no buzz of video games. Nor do knights in chain mail or other ‘geeks’ who play a game loudly. No, this is where game makers and companies exchange business cards on the assembly line. Above all, this where the Dutch game makers go to make their mark.
The global video game industry is a billion-dollar business, with enormous potential according to connoisseurs. In 2018, some $137.9 billion was spent, an increase of 10.9% compared to the previous year, according to market analyst Newzoo. Of course, big tech takes its pick in this industry. For example, Microsoft, the creator of the Xbox, launched ‘a Netflix for games’ this year. Competitor Google came up with Stadia: its own platform to stream video games.
In the meantime, the games sector has even outstripped Hollywood’s film business. At the same time, the two sectors reinforce each other. They form a joint entertainment industry. When you see how film, music and gaming come together more and more, you can conclude that the global industry has really grown up and is becoming bigger’, says game entrepreneur Reinout te Brake.
A Bit Lazy
With six games – video games without the support of a major financier – the Netherlands likes to profile itself as an independent gameland on the Gamescom fair. But besides being optimistic, there is also scepticism. Game developers, business developers and PR people from the Netherlands seem to agree unanimously: the own games sector is still in its infancy. If no action is taken, the sector is in danger of losing further ground.
Few developers can really put their own game on the market’, says Horst Streck, chairman of the Dutch Games Association (DGA), putting his finger on the sore spot. It’s all about the masses, more than 100,000 downloads. That’s when you count. This mindset is often lacking among developers.
Game developer Koen Deetman worked for four years on the video game Deliver us to Moon
Also game developer Koen Deetman often lacks business instinct among his peers. ”You shouldn’t just be developing your own game, you should also be selling it.” According to Deetman, the time has passed when video games on Steam – the iTunes for games – sell themselves. ”That thinking is a bit lazy,” he says. On the other hand, he does understand. Developing a video game involves trial and error. A game has to be adapted a hundred thousand times’, says Deetman, who himself worked for four years on the apocalyptic video game Deliver us the Moon, one of those indie games. Sometimes it’s so hard that you don’t really think about the next step.
Game developer Koen Deetman worked for four years on the video game Deliver us to Moon.
Photo: Keoken Interactive
At the end of 2018, the Dutch games sector had a turnover of €225 million to €300 million, more than 11.5% more than in 2015. This is shown by the Game Monitor 2018, which produces figures every three years. This money was earned by 575 gaming studios, most of which had less than 10 employees.
Although the sector is doing well on many fronts, Jan Pieter van Seventer, director of accelerator Dutch Game Garden, sees a shortage of growth money. In terms of innovation, talent and quality of games, things are going well, but investments are lagging far behind. According to Van Seventer, this has to do with the type of investors. ”We are missing an investment climate like in Finland or Sweden, where the government actively participates,” he says. According to those involved, all funding received by the Dutch gaming world goes directly to the pavilion.
Due to the tremendous successes of Angry Birds (by developer Rovio) and Clash of Clans (Supercell), Finland is the mecca for gamers. The agency Business Finland, formerly Tekes, which used to put a lot of money into Nokia, played a major role in this. However they made almost €1 million available for the marketing of games. Partly at the expense of the government, the Finnish games sector could grow rapidly’, says Van Seventer. As a result, deposits and returns flowed back into the Finnish public purse. Rovio eventually went public in 2017, for €1 billion.
According to Streck, other countries are also ahead of the Netherlands thanks to government support. The German government invests €50 million a year in the gaming industry,’ he says. According to the chairman of the DGA, not only fresh capital plays a role, but also knowledge and special programs help the German sector move forward. We must also follow that route,’ says Streck.
Incidentally, the Netherlands does have a success story. Guerrilla Games is often cited at Gamescom. The Amsterdam company, which originated from media company Lost Boys, achieved big hits with shooting games like Killzone and more recently, Horizon Zero Dawn. It was given a wealthy partner: fifteen years ago Guerrilla was incorporated as a studio by electronics giant Sony.
But Guerrilla is an exception and that’s how it will stay, experts fear. Once again they point to the lack of government support. Asked why the sector can’t support itself, Te Brake counters: ‘Isn’t there also a film fund? So why not a game fund?’ Such a fund, defended by the entrepreneur, pays for itself twice over. With extra investments, a studio can expand its workforce faster and increase its turnover,” he says. Between 2015 and 2018, the sector showed a 10% job growth, to 3850 employees.
By the way, a game fund almost came into existence five years ago. With the GameOn project, the central government would invest €10 million in the industry. Te Brake, one of the initiators, saw the plan failing. ”Maybe we were too early,” he says. But in the meantime, all sorts of other countries are coming up with investment funds. In terms of timing, it would have been better now, look at other European countries. In recent years Poland, for example, has pumped at least €26.5 million into the games sector.
If a game studio wants to get a government investment, it has to meet certain conditions, Te Brake knows. ”First find a private investor, who invests at least half a million dollars in it”, he says. In exchange he gets shares, the government then provides a subordinated loan and if profits are made, you release the loan.
However, the sector should look in the mirror more often. ”You can also pamper too much,’ says Deetman. According to the developer, young gamers should be better trained for the big job. ‘If you fail at school, it’s okay, but this also means that later on it will cost you a lot of money,‘
The game courses at higher professional education level in Breda and Utrecht are widely praised, and Van Seventer finds it strange that the universities are lagging behind. ‘I miss a Nyenrode or Erasmus’, says the director of Dutch Game Garden. On the entertainment side, there’s a lot to be achieved in the field of business to consumer’.
Finally, Streck puts his hand in his own bosom. ‘We can work even better together’, he concludes. A football metaphor is never far away, even in the world of games. Ajax has shown that you can come along with the big boys with less money. The Dutch Angry Birds also seems to be a matter of time.
The Rise of Esports.
Electronic sports, or esports, is one of the showpieces of the global gaming industry. The best-known example is Fortnite, a kind of cartoon-like shooting game, in which young people and the masses are active in order to meet each other virtually. The game, developed by the American company Epic Games and People Can Fly from Poland, has only been out for more than two years but is extremely popular.
So popular that even world championships Fortnite are organized. There young people play against each other for dizzying amounts of money. For example, 21-year-old Dutchman Dave Jong, known online as Rojo, finished second on the WC last month. A place that is good for €1 million in prize money. He has to share that money with his British teammate, the six year younger Jaden Ashman.