Stuart Richardson spoke with Dutch developers to find out about making games in the low countries...
Received wisdom has it that art and business are clearly deliniated enterprises; the artist creates, the businessman pedals.
The entertainment industry has rarely questioned this notion. The writer is considered the artist and the agent, the businessman – as with the director and the producer, the musician and the manager, the developer and the publisher.
For the Dutch, art and business are not mutually exclusive. Historians widely consider the Netherlands the original capitalist nation; the Amsterdam Stock Exchange was a world-first upon its founding in 1602.
Artists – and in particular painters – were a cause of and later driving force behind this groundbreaking economy. Johannes Vermeer lived and died by its peaks and falls. Van Gough is one of the most influential artists to have lived, and still one of the most profitable Dutch exports going.
All of this bodes well for the video game industry in the Netherlands, currently growing around 50 per cent faster than any other industry in the region. The blurry line between creative enterprise and business is one familiar to everyone ‘in’ video games, but few peoples can boast the level of experience with the it that the Dutch can.
Peter de Jong, founder and CEO of Rotterdam-based casual games studio Codeglue, agrees.
“Traditionally the Netherlands is known for its creative industry. Just look at the design industry, or all the famous national painters. The Dutch games industry is just a contemporary addition to this,” he enthuses.
“The big advantage of having a Dutch studio is that you can tap into a huge well of creative talent already here.”
Herman Hulst – MD for Killzone studio and Sony subsidiary Guerilla Games – also believes that the history of the Netherlands points towards a bright future for game design in the country.
“Culturally, the Dutch form a non-hierarchical society, where people are used to sharing power and working in large groups,” he explains.
“This is ideal for companies that operate in teams, and it taps into the creativity of the group as a whole.”
Maarten Brands, who co-founded MMO and browser games studio Virtual Fairground, singles out the excellent electronic infrastructure in the Netherlands as another reason the contry has a competitve edge on international competition. All major worldwide ISP’s connect to the Amsterdam Internet Exchange hub.
“The Netherlands is one of the most connected countries in the world,” he declares.
“Despite being a small country we are fourth in online spending on games behind the UK, Germany and France. We are growing fast and have a lot of hands-on experience in online monetization.”
EVP of Amsterdam-based publisher Playlogic Rogier Smit describes the various support packages available to companies and individuals working in the video games sector in the Netherlands as a huge contributing factor to the relative health of the industry.
“Development is well supported by the government here. They offer certain tax breaks, providing support for technology and innovation and this is known as the WBSO – The Act for Promotion and Research Development,” he explains.
“There is also a regional stimulation package available called ’Pieken in de Delta’ and this helps fund the Dutch Game Garden, which provides a range of support services for new companies, from finding office space to assisting in hiring.”
Harking back to the idea that the Dutch understand the ties between business and art, Smit also explains the WWIK – a form of income support in the Netherlands for all young artists – including those involved in games development.
“The Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs supports the ‘Dutch Games Go Global’ initiative, which helps Dutch developers expand into markets like the US and Japan. Subsidies for games development is better elsewhere, but in the Netherlands there is a deeper understanding of the issues facing developers,” he adds.
Executive digital producer of Media Monks Joris Pol points towards what he sees as strong links with local education as another reason for the continuing good performance of the Dutch industry. With an estimated 1,500 people working across 100 studios, video games have become a significant national employer.
“Most companies work together with schools on some level. We give regular keynotes, classes and help out with work placements,” Pol affirms.
“The biggest challenge for any company in our line of business is finding great people, so it’s imperative to stay connected to new generations of developers and designers.”
CCO of Almere-based mobile games studio Rough Cookie Erik t’Sas agrees with that sentiment, but describes the relationship as one that needs to work both ways.
“In the Netherlands there are over ten game-related educational programs across the country. We believe that input from the industry itself is essential for education,” he says.
Dittmar Tukker, CEO of Gamedia – an online games studio located in Altmaar – has high priase for what he believes are congienial relationships between Dutch studios that foster an atmosphere of friendly rivalry.
“I really can’t imagine that there’s another country in the world where the community is as friendly as in the Netherlands. Most studios are doing great because the game business is one of the fastest growing industries here,” he adds.
Tukker also hints that he prefers the idea of Netherlands developers continuing to work at the level they currently operate at, and not expanding for the sake of it.
“That positive climate could change over the years when the industry evolves to a more serious level and the passion for games becomes an obsession for making more money,” he warns.
Lead Artist at simulation specialists Stentec Software Daniel Kuik sees the potential expansion of the games industry in the Netherlands as a much more positive thing, however.
“I would like to see more studios here,” he confesses.
“The Netherlands has a growing community with great expertise. Our firm has just started to expand into the games market proper, and we would like to see ourselves as a good influence.”
This view is shared across most perspectives.
“The development circle here has been rapidly evolving as more and more skilled people flock to the Netherlands,” says Rogier Smit of Playlogic.
“We expect to see plenty of new small studios opening, closing and consolidating over the coming years. In the longer term, those who previously left the Netherlands in search of opportunities abroad will see a move back as a viable option, given the landscape.”
Codeglue CEO Peter de Jong has a very bright outlook for the future of the Dutch industry, and its relation to international games development.
“There is always room for creative games and developers – our playing field is truly global. There is room for everyone to do business.” he enthuses.
MD of Guerrilla Games Herman Hulst shares that point of view.
“The game development community is now very much a global community and a phenomenon,” he explains.
“That is a very good thing.”