EuroVision

EuroVision
Will Freeman

By Will Freeman

August 12th 2010 at 8:00AM

We speak to the studios and tech firms making Europe shine

So vast and varied is Europe’s culture, geography and populace, that it’s not an obvious contender for a simple definition as a games development industry region.

However, with an increasingly dominant common currency, and the significant power of bodies like the EU on the international stage, as a destination connecting the companies, services and technology behind making games, Europe is clearly as much a hub for development as Asia or the US.

For companies like Ubisoft and Crytek that have thrived by spreading themselves throughout Europe’s many countries, the continent clearly courts a certain quality that makes it a distinct home for ambitious developers and tech firms.

“All over Europe there are numerous pockets of highly talented people capable of making quality games,” suggests Ubisoft’s executive director of Worldwide Studios Christine Burgess-Quémard.

“Some of those pockets of talent are obvious because they have a concentration of gaming companies with a strong history of production – as is the case in several areas of the UK. Others are less visible because there are fewer companies present, but it doesn’t make them any less capable of delivering great experiences.”

According to Burgess-Quémard that’s exactly the reason Ubisoft has always kept an open mind when it comes to establishing or acquiring studios in Europe. And it isn’t only international giants of development and publishing that are singing the praises of Europe, as Vision Engine creator Trinigy reveals.

“Running a company in mainland Europe provides a lot of advantages,” confirms the tech firm’s general manager Felix Roeken, adding: “It has a great infrastructure and a history of technological innovation, cultural similarities and a uniform currency. All of these things are of great benefit to us.”



SMART MONEY

One of Europe’s distinguishing features as a continent is of course the Euro, which still serves as the world’s second largest reserve currency, after the US dollar.
 
“To have a common currency in most of the European countries was the best thing ever,” explains Dr. Andreas Gerber, group CEO of German AI specialist Xaitment.

“Maybe not for the individuals, but for a company it brings a lot more stability and if you ship products to countries out of the Euro zone you have to deal with fast changing exchange rates.

“Having the Euro as a single currency is a fantastic foundation for the games industry in Europe,” agrees Roeken.

“It not only eases our day-to-day business operations, it also helps facilitate global business. For example, many of Trinigy’s Asian customers trust the Euro. As a result, we see many of our transactions happening in Euro instead of the US Dollar or local currencies.”

Additionally, as Philip Belhassen, CEO of French app middleware specialist StoneTrip confirms, the Euro also makes it easier for smaller companies to manage as they don’t have to think about currency changes.
 
“Europe is the second largest market for the video game industry so the Euro has a very important position,” says Belhassen. “And a complete production chain based in Euros grants good stability for business.”

The Euro zone offers a lot more than a common currency of course, predominantly in the form of the European Union, which is a benefit to almost every citizen in the continent, regardless of their familiarity with the Euro.

While huge bureaucratic governmental bodies tend to be large and slower moving than individual country’s trade organisations, which can fell contrary to the fast-paced games industry, the EU isn’t beyond turning its attention to development.

“Particularly recently, the EU has offered many very good programs to support research and to bring these results into the market,” says Gerber.

“This is, I would say, not nearly as much as the EU could be doing, but the situation is getting much better. If we look to what other countries did in the past, and what China plans to do in the near future, it becomes more and more important that all games companies in the EU strengthen their own IP and work closely together, so that we do not miss an extreme, fast growing high-tech market again like we have in the past.”

All that considered, across the EU what Burgess-Quémard calls the ‘European touch’ has proliferated, and continues to be highly sought out by leading industry players across all continents.

“Our increasing internationalisation has facilitated the emigration of European developers to other areas, so it has become more difficult to sense where particular titles are developed. But Europe is far from alone as a development stronghold,” warns the Ubisoft senior figure.

However, that European touch does mean Europe can rival the giant development hubs of the US and Asia.

“Compared to companies in the US and Asia, most European game developers see their products as a creative effort and will not compromise on quality or their creative vision,” insists Daniel Klemesrud, business development manager at Swedish mo-cap and animation specialist Imagination Studios. “It’s not about releasing a sequel a year – as with so many games from the US and Asia that are on their version 10, 15 and so forth – but rather about providing gamers with intriguing and challenging experiences.

THE SPICE OF LIFE
Another benefit of being based in a continent with such a variety of cultures is that, for ambitious employers, the workforce can offer incredible diversity.

“The benefits to us are huge as you get a varied mix of talents and experiences from all over the world which makes for really rich products and untraditional thinking and perspectives which is desperately lacking in this space,” proposes Jagex CEO Mark Gerhard, who heads up an impressively multicultural team.

“Cultural differences across Europe are still huge and that is where local knowledge and expertise really does help,” continues Gerhard. “Really then, it’s more down to the knowledge of how you present your content both in terms of localisation and culturalisation, than a requirement for a
local office.”

That cultural variety is not something exclusive to large scale development houses either, and across Europe, from teams like Dutch outfit and Killzone creator Guerrilla, through to tech companies who support the sector, there’s a sense that Europe functions as a launch pad for products with an international presence.

“From our perspective Europe has a wealth of talent and a healthy mix of cultures that is unmatched by any other location,” confirms Imagination Studio’s Klemesrud. “Most European game developers have an international staff, and this reflects in the quality of the end product. European games tend to be more mature and creative.”

What really marks Europe out, of course, is that the multiculturalism is built on common roots. The similarities in each nation’s customs are as stark as their contrasts; something that many recognise as a perfect recipe for prolific creativity.

“Too often we look to the other countries and tend to forget our strong and very exciting history that spans thousands of years,” suggests Gerber. “The ability to be open to different cultures is a big plus for us – to come up with new outstanding ideas and technology. If we cooperate together in Europe, we can unleash much more creativity and business.

However, the benefits of multiculturalism bring with them their own set of challenges, as Belhassen is quick to highlight: “The difference in culture – mainly for support – is a very important factor that sometimes makes our localisation complicated, the challenge is always to provide solid relations with distant companies. But it is possible with the right management of priority.”

There’s other challenges too, not exclusive to Europe, but amplified my the complex mix of competing economies and governments.

“The biggest challenge is money,” admits Gerber. “Especially in these markets, investors spend much more money on the ideas of good people. There is much more trust in the work of people. So the way I see it, there is five to ten times more money you can raise by also doing business in the USA and China.

Ultimately, the threat of loosing talent and cash flow to rival regions is a global reality that will ensure Europe remains commercially buoyant as a development sector.

As the likes of Imagination Studios, Ubisoft, Guerrilla Games, Xaitment, Trinigy, Stonetrip, Jagex and Crytek prove, developers and tech firms large and small can thrive in Europe, and, with a loosely synchronised effort, guarantee that the continent remains varied and inspiring as a landmass sandwiched between its rivals the US and Asia.