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.