dutch-guys

Sad news: $15 million for the Dutch game industry

I’m a bit upset at 10 million euro subsidy for game dev in the Netherlands and no mentions of a plan for supporting independent development. This whole rant is based on a reading of a VentureBeat article and the original plan for the GameOn fund in the Netherlands that I read.

The weirdest thing is that in the article promoting the program, Vlambeer and myself get mentioned over and over as examples of what’s right about the Dutch development scene, but then discarded as non-scalable when the question arises why not to invest in independent games.

Non-scalable? We have an average ROI of over 500%, we’ve never made a game that earned less than the previous one by a margin of at least 150%, we’ve been stable, we’re visible and we’re a respected, award-winning company. Hell, we can sit down and do nothing for the next dozen years and still have a comfortable salary, but instead we’re making more games that’ll earn more money. That wasn’t “a single hit game”, that was incremental revenue building. Every game we made added a tiny slice of money to our monthly revenue, and we were already way in the green when Ridiculous Fishing launched.

Vlambeer *can* scale, we just opt not to. Our impact on the national and international industry, however, has scaled exponentially over the years. WhatsApp had about 50 employees when it was bought by Facebook for 19 billion. 37signals, which creates the industry-wide Basecamp, was under 50 employees until just recently. In technology, the size of a company generally doesn’t matter that much until the company becomes a success.

In Dutch games, Game Oven made an IGF nominated game and is now working on one of the most interesting physical games I’ve seen in a long time with Bounden. Ronimo Games have long been the Netherlands largest independent studio, working on titles with the reach and continuous revenue of Awesomenauts. Abbey Games is four students that made millions on their first game with just the Dutch Game Garden and the local scene as support.

Yesterday, I attended the International Press Academy’s Satellite Awards, one of the more prestigious Hollywood awards. Courtney Love, amongst others, presented the award for best Mobile Game. We were nominated for our Apple Inc. Game of the Year winning title Ridiculous Fishing, and Finnish independent premium title Badland won.

Studios like those listed above are exactly the people that would not be able to benefit from this fund when starting out. People like the guys at Guerrilla Games, Game Oven, Abbey Games and Ronimo Games – some of the best known and stable game companies in the country – are glanced over in favour of a still not perfectly understood business model and attracting foreign companies to drain resources that could be used to support our local industry.

Instead, the fund focuses on a model that is still not proven to be sustainable. Mobile free-to-play is undergoing scrutiny in the European Union and has the same amount of problems that premium has with becoming sustainable – but while we have dozens of small studios making rapid headway in the industry in premium, we barely have any good examples of small, lean studios making succesful games like that. It’s nice to use Rovio, Zynga and Supercell as examples, but you’re glancing over the thousands of hopeful investors that fall under that 2012 figure with a 94% industry mean income of less than $1,200 a year.

Additionally, the fund has set apart part of their money to attract foreign companies to come to the Netherlands. Not only is that a terrible way to foster a local development scene, it also means that the money is directly headed out of the country, creating temporary jobs that will last as long as the money is there, instead of structurally supporting a burgeoning independent scene.

The Netherlands have great entrepreneurial support, but if I want to support independent game dev, I still have to ask foreign companies. The government just threw 10 million dollars into a fund that is spending part of the money out of country, does not have plans to support the part of the Dutch industry that is doing the most for the image of our country, uses Vlambeer as an example, and then discards indie as non-scalable.

None of these things impact Vlambeer, so I’m not arguing this for my own sake. We don’t want to hire, we don’t need external money. We’ve never taken external money, either. But there are many Dutch indies with potential that could use a push in the back without having to adhere to a pre-defined business model that is optimised to take the cultural value out of the game. All this impacts is the ability for new Dutch studios to arise, to join the local scene and make a structural improvement.

I understand the need to grown the industry economically, but there are ways to do that without essentially forgetting about local companies and then creating competition for them from outside of the country. This isn’t how you create ‘creative startups’, this is how you stifle them.

So, here’s to 10 million in one part of the industry, while independent events attracting international talent like Indievelopment 2014 struggle to get funding to be able to organise the event. Here’s to 10 million in one part of the industry, while Ostrich Banditos could’ve easily flown their team out to GDC for their IGF nomination with some financial support. Here’s to 10 million in one part of the industry, while Ragesquid could use a little money to showcase their highly promising debut title at events.

I guess that in a country that spends 10 million on games, I’ll still have to go to the Japanese Sony, the Danish Unity, the American Microsoft or some other foreign corporation to try and get support for our country’s brightest.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m happy that the government is spending money on games, and I’d like to congratulate the people that made this possible on their efforts and hard work. I’m just fundamentally disagreeing with how the entirity of this extremely valuable money seems to be spent, rather than distributing it over potential and obvious growth sectors in our industry – both economically and culturally.