'We want Holland to produce the next Supercell': GameOn on nurturing Dutch talent

'We want Holland to produce the next Supercell': GameOn on nurturing Dutch talent
James Batchelor

By James Batchelor

March 10th 2014 at 3:44PM

Funding programme’s Reinout Te Brake discusses how a united Holland hopes to create the next gaming phenomenon

Reinout Te Brake is a man of passion. This is evidenced best by the enthusiastic – and sometimes colourful – language with which the GameOn funding partner describes the efforts and more importantly the ambition of the Netherlands’ government-funded programme.

Launched last month, GameOn is an organisation that dedicates itself to nurturing new and emerging games developers, with a government-backed fund of €10m now available to its companies. But Te Brake is not just looking for any studios that want to make games because they’re lucrative; he wants studios that are just as devoted to games as he is.

I think too much attention is focused on the financials in today’s world and not enough on the passion,” he tells Develop. “You need to understand game development, you need passion for games and the ambition that one day everyone will play your games. I think a lot of times people forget that.

“We want studios that have a passion for games, and the charisma to attract talent but more importantly retain it. We’re looking for people that can think about portfolios; if you create a game and you only want to do that one game, we might have a problem because if the game’s not a success – which is a big possibility these days – then, you’re fucked.”

The government didn’t how much talent we have in Holland. So we went knocking on their door – and then we kicked it in. Now we work together.

Reinout’s eloquently made point indicates the level of support GameOn is willing to offer the right studios. The organisation will work with new devs for a full year, not just on recruiting talent and improving their games but helping them to think about their portfolios and what might be next for them.

GameOn can also offer funding of up to €750,000, and can introduce developers to potential investors, both within their home market of Holland and in international markets such as the UK. These investors will also advise GameOn about the studios’ future prospects, whether they are raising enough awareness of their work and whether they could qualify for growth funding later on.

“These are all things that young start-ups and entrepreneurs don’t know how to do, so it’s really helping them,” says Te Brake. “The only thing we don’t do is bring you the coffee.”

START AT THE FINNISH

The inspiration for GameOn comes from the funding available in nearby Finland. Finnish funding agency Tekes, also a government-backed initiative, has breathed new life into the country’s technology and gaming markets.

In 2013, more than 3,000 companies applied for funding from Tekes. 1,860 received it, of which 680 were start-ups. According to Te Brake, the results speak for themselves.

“Finnish gaming companies now employ 3,000 people and generate a combined revenue of 1.2 motherfucking billion euros,” he says with no small amount of enthusiasm. “Cha-ching. Thank you government, and thank you Nokia for laying off all those people who then said they were going to try new things on their own.

“I looked at Tekes and thought ‘why can’t we do that?’ I knew that in Holland we have a lot of people that also want to try new things, but the government didn’t. So we went knocking on their door – and then we kicked it in. Now we work together.”

With the government now on board, the GameOn partner says the biggest challenge is uniting the country’s various development hubs to maximise the potential of Dutch developers, a feat that has yet to be attempted.

“We have a lot of creativity and talent in Holland but it’s not yet connected in a way that it can be successful,” says Te Brake. “We have to think as an industry here, we have to promote Holland as Holland – not the city of Amsterdam or Rotterdam or whatever, which we did in the past, but freakin’ Holland. Because otherwise I wouldn’t do it. Fuck off, we can all help ourselves, with all due respect. I want to make sure that we as Holland can be successful.

“If you compare the industry to the Dutch soccer team, there’s no players from Rotterdam saying they won’t play with the guys from Amsterdam. No, there’s a Dutch team. They play as Dutch teams over here, but once we go to the European or world stage, we are Holland. So I’m okay what they do in the cities, and we stimulate that with events and that kind of stuff, but overall, we’re putting ourselves out there as Holland.”

We have to think as an industry here, and promote ourselves as Holland – not the City of Amsterdam or Rotterdam, which we did in the past, but freakin’ Holland.

GameOn is also following the example of its national football team in the way it targets and nurtures young talent. The sports industry approaches aspiring footballers at a school age, promoting soccer as a potential career, and GameOn plans to do the same.

“I’m going to invite gaming entrepreneurs to talk to the young kids in schools now about everything: about monetisation, about level design, about modelling, whatever,” says Te Brake. “We’re going to do our utmost best and reaching people in schools who want to become successful in gaming, and talk to people that already matter in the industry because it will be good for the network and good for our vision. Hopefully that will lead to better internships and better opportunities right here in Holland.

“If I have a guy that’s getting a great internship at Rovio, for example, and then comes back and starts his own company, we can help him with investments. And through the investment, he might achieve major success. So I want to have the next Supercell in Holland.”

MORE THAN FISHING

Of course, The Netherlands’ development community has received a fair amount of attention over the past year thanks to the success of indie studio Vlambeer and its best-selling title Ridiculous Fishing. And while Te Brake applauds the team’s accomplishments, he’s looking for new studios that can steal Vlambeer’s limelift.

“We have Vlambeer, and everyone writes about them – but that’s annoying. No offence to the guys, it’s just annoying,” he says. “Look at their ambition; they want to make really awesome games, but they don’t want to raise funding – they’re happy with the money they make right now. If you compare that with what we want, we want the type of Vlambeer that grows to 80 to 90 people, and makes millions and millions.

“If an indie wants to make really cool games, and make enough money to stay as a two-man studio, that’s okay, your call, your choice. We stimulate that too. But we’re there for the people that say ‘you know what? We want to take it to the next level. We’re want to make an awesome game, have it become a best-seller, then make another one’. That requires funding.”

We want the type of Vlambeer that grows to 80 to 90 people, and makes millions and millions.

And Te Brake’s dreams of growing large studios with portfolios packed with multi-million selling games is in no way motivated by generating more money for GameOn. On the contrary, the funding partner reveals that the programme doesn’t actually benefit in the way you might expect.

“I do this from the passion, because I can see how young entrepreneurs are struggling to get companies up and running,” explains Te Brake. “It’s difficult with VCs running around going after many opportunities all the time. I really want to help these guys become a success.

“We’re not in the business to make money. We’re not going to take money out of the fund unless it exits. What more would you want from a government fund? Normally they give you money and a percentage goes to the people that run the und, but no, we’re in this for the success of the studios.”

€10m is already available, and most of the Game On team is looking at how that can be invested, carefully going through applications made through the programme’s website: www.gameonfund.nl. But Te Brake is already working on the next step.

“I’m going to work on a fund that is for 50m,” he says. “If any of these companies on the first fund become successful and need growth funding, then I want to commit with that second fund so that we do 50 per cent and I’m trying to attract VCs from other areas internationally to do the other 50 per cent.

“I am also currently busy with two studios that I have convinced to relocate to Holland, because then I can get Dutch people to work in their studio. I’ve also been looking at the talent we already have in Holland and thinking about how we can better connect them. The setting of a team is extremely important: a lot of time you have two techies, but they have no clue how to run a business. And they have no charisma, because they just want to look at their computer. But you need someone that attracts talent and goes out to conferences, because it works both ways. A bit of PR might give you your next big break. But who can do that? If you’re young, you don’t know.

“We’re not just a fund, we’re a programme and I don’t think you can compare us with anyone.”

Te Brake finishes up with a look at the name of that programme. ‘Game On’ is not just a cheesy phrase that is linked tenuously to development, it’s an attitude that the team endorses wholeheartedly.

“I end all my emails to my team with ‘Game On’ because that is the most important message because we need to game on,” says Te Brake. “I’d like to see and welcome all those new kids who want to try making games. I want to see more Vlambeers and more Clash of Clans. Those games take over the news, and the more games that do that, the most investors will be willing to invest in games companies and entrepreneurs.”