Dr. David B. NIEBORG

In policy we trust: A survey of the European game industry

Dr. David Nieborg
Researcher, Faculty of Humanities, University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Prof. Jeroen de Kloet
Professor of Globalisation Studies and Director of the Amsterdam Centre for Globalisation Studies (ACGS), University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Keywords: Creative clusters, European Union, Political Economy, The Netherlands, Finland, United Kingdom

This paper will survey the European game industries. Similar to the culturally and economically heterogeneous set of nations comprising the European Union, the European game industry consists of a patchwork of individual markets. Rather than exploring the entire European continent, this exploratory research will map the geographical creative clusters in the Netherlands, Finland and the United Kingdom. Each industry is at a different stage of development and each country gives way to a slightly different political economy and economic geography.

For example, whereas the British game industry has a relatively long history, starting with bedroom coders in the 1980′s, the Dutch gaming industry is by all accounts expanding but this has been a fairly recent development. Finland is representative for industry development in the wider Scandinavian region and hosts many interesting academic/corporate links. For example, the cellphone giant Nokia funds fundamental game research at Finnish universities.

First, through a comparative case study based on a study of the Netherlands, the UK and Finland, complemented with existing literature on individual European nation states, this paper will argue that the European game industry is highly divided. Countries grapple with a different set of challenges and mapping these respective challenges will gain a deeper insight into issues of labor, globalization, localization, and national creative clusters. Moreover, a comparative study will highlight the effects of state intervention and creative industry policy initiatives.

Second, this paper will specifically focus on the geographical creative clusters in the Netherlands. Because of its size it is argued that a study of the Dutch game industry offers a chance to flesh out the cultural and economic elements contributing to an industry in flux. For example, the Dutch “Topsectoren” government policy signaled out the creative industries as a crucial market segment, singling out the game industry as a stand-alone growth sector. In cultural terms, Dutch independent (“indie”) games demonstrated their potential and met critical acclaim by receiving multiple honorable mentions and nominations at the Independent Game Festival. In economic terms the Netherlands hosts several development and publishing powerhouses such as Guerilla Games, Zylom and Spil Games.

This survey investigates how the Dutch have reached this turning point as it is hypothesized that government creative industry policies have played a vital role in the industry’s growth. Numerous reports have quantified the volume of the industry and its growth potential. Yet, less attention has been paid to how this growth has come to be. We also aim to probe into the flip side of this growth, by, first, discussing the precarity of creative labor, and second, by pointing at the related budget cuts in other creative domains. The Dutch creative industry policies, we argue, produce new patterns of inequality and reduce culture and creativity to a copyrighted commodity.

 

Dutch Design – The political economy of the Dutch games industry

 

Keywords: Mobile games, platforms, app

Spurred by the diffusion of mobile devices (smartphones and tablets), local game industries are undergoing a significant transformation in terms of production, circulation and content. Discs have become apps, and retail stores have become virtual “stores” and “marketplaces”. The worldwide market for mobile games is estimated to grow to $12.1 billion in 2014. Next to mobile game hits such as Wordfeud (2010), and SongPop (2012), the success story of the puzzle game Angry Birds (2009) has been one of the major catalysts drawing attention to the potential of the mobile game market. Driver of the brand’s success are the Angry Birds mobile games, which have been downloaded over a billion times. Angry Bird’s sudden rise as a mobile game hit begs the question: what conditions led to its global success? Or, more broadly, is developing hits for the mobile games market a replicable process, if only in niches of the mobile game market?

Parallel to the growth of the addressable market for mobile games, the Dutch game industry seemed to have reached a turning point. What was a decade ago considered a small industry, employing, literally, a handful of professionals, turned into a full-blown segment of the Dutch creative economy. The main goal of this project is to survey the Dutch mobile game industry and take stock of the conditions that afford hits on mobile game platforms. The potential for mobile game hits—“Made in Holland”—is exemplified by a few recent mobile titles that met with critical acclaim, such as Game Oven’s Fingle (2011), Vlambeer’s Super Crate Box (2011), and Gamistry’s Munch Time (2012). That said, for Dutch studios, the mobile game market offers as many economic opportunities as it offers challenges. This paper will map the factors of economic value in relation to growth models, revenue models, online ecosystems, and their positioning within global markets to explore the question what makes mobile game development in the Netherland economically sustainable.

First, the game industry in general is known to be particularly hit-driven, meaning a small number of hits generate a disproportionate amount of attention. But what does this imply for small Dutch developers, startups and beginning entrepreneurs? Second, despite the promise of a lower barrier to market entry it is an open question whether start-ups in the long term will benefit from access to innovative development tools, middleware, game engines and more open platforms, or if incumbents will ultimately dominate the mobile game market segment. Third, it is argued that mobile game platforms are key spaces in which established and new practices of cultural production and circulation are renegotiated, reorganized, and re-commoditized. How, then, is content monetization organized and integrated in the gameplay of mobile games, for example, via so called “in-app purchases”?