Dutch Design – The political economy of the Dutch games 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: 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”?