‘Captains of Industry’: the name of the private event on the eve of the annual Dutch gaming conference Indigo promises smart suits, chic penthouses and business jargon. But this is the gaming industry. There are no suits in sight on Tuesday night in the hot, fluorescent-filled room of the Dotslash home campus in Utrecht. T-shirts and free beer.
And the jargon? It exists, with one of the buzzwords being the ‘metaverse’. “Well, the metaverse,” laughs Derk de Geus, president of the Dutch Games Association (DGA), referring to a 3D version of the internet that Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg is particularly excited about. “We work with the words we have.”
The metaverse may have been overtaken by artificial intelligence as a buzzword, but it often falls out tonight. Not necessarily because the Dutch game industry leaders present believe it will be a new revolution, but because they have known about it for a long time. “In South Korea, where I come from, we’ve had massively multiplayer online games since the early 2000s,” Trisha Lee of game publisher Kepler said later during a panel discussion. It refers to big games where many players can be together at the same time. “A metaverse is nothing new to us.”
Peter Warman, founder of data analyst Newzoo, agrees. “Only when outsiders find out it’s important do they put a sticker on it.” In his Powerpoint presentation earlier in the evening, he also highlighted: “blah blah metaverse crypto esports artificial intelligence”. Words don’t matter, he wanted to say. The important thing is that the world realizes that the games industry has a lot to offer in an increasingly digital world.
This is also the point De Geus wants to make. “Everything you need to design a 3D world, we’ve been working on it for twenty, thirty years. If this transformation really happens, then we will be crucial.” In Holland too.
Words like ‘power’ fly through the air a lot tonight. Because this year could mean a turning point for the Dutch gaming industry, De Geus thinks. National industry stagnated for a long time due to lack of investment, on the one hand, and lack of entrepreneurial instinct, on the other. While countries like Finland brimmed with successful game makers, the Netherlands relied mostly on Guerrilla, a hugely successful Amsterdam studio that is now a PlayStation pivot.
Every year since 2019, the number of people working in the Dutch games industry has increased by 5%, according to preliminary data from Indigo organizer Dutch Game Garden. With a total of over 4,500 in 2021. Previously, this increase meant more individual businesses, but now that growth is in large companies. In the private event, there are rumors about foreign game studios that might want to come to the Netherlands. Some rumors have already come true in recent years: the PlayStation studio Bungie now has a branch in the Netherlands. Also the creator of the popular game PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds set up a studio here.
All ingredients are present
At the barbecue, a surprised British businessman is talking about the supply of strong game programmers that are simply available here in the Netherlands. People who would get a quick job in the UK. “Did you hear him?” says De Geus. “Now we have all the ingredients we need here. The Netherlands is ripe for growth. There are stronger Dutch game companies like Triumph Studios and Vertigo Games. The gaming industry is reaching critical mass here.” And the government is starting to see it too, De Geus thinks. “That Prince Constantijn was here in the field afternoon, that says something.” Total turnover in the Dutch gaming industry in 2021 was 420-440 million euros. In 2018, it was still 225 to 300 million euros. For comparison: the revenue of the Dutch music industry in 2021 was 282 million euros.
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One side note: ‘conversion’ is always high among game developers, who often feel ignored by an outside world that still dismisses games as children’s entertainment. However, the one-day Indigo, the public conference that takes place the day after the Captains of Industry event, also looks different from previous years. Indigo is no longer performed in movie theaters and restaurants, but in the grand halls of the Van der Valk hotel in Utrecht. Lunch is free for the first time; at over 100 euros, admission is considerably higher than it was a few years ago, when it didn’t cost visitors any money.
Lectures are given throughout the day in three rooms: on designing villages in blockbuster games Forbidden Horizon West and virtual reality, but also about the business aspects of the profession. Older and more successful game makers are still worried about young Dutch developers’ lack of business sense, which has long held back growth. Young game creators mostly want to make art and don’t think about the business side of it. “Don’t make a game just for yourself,” thirty-year-old Ivo Wubbels, owner of Engine Software, exhorts his audience.
One of the best educational games
Back there, after the beer, the lectures and the games, the conversion continues smoothly. In front of a room made up mostly of civil servants, gaming journalist Bas Vroegop, gaming archivist Wytze Koppelman and Martine Spanje, director of the Dutch Gaming Association, talk about ‘the cultural impact of the gaming industry’. For Spanjer, this is a time to raise awareness about where things are going wrong and what authorities in their own municipalities could fix.
“We have one of the best gaming courses in the world in Breda, but half of those students drop out. It is a brain drain”, says the Spaniard. And: “Our biggest gaming companies, like Guerrilla and Vertigo, could only grow through a foreign financial injection.” She wants money and support – an old appeal from local industry, which still looks enviously at government investments in Finland.
However, the Spaniard also looks optimistic in retrospect. “In the past, you had to explain the basics of games to them, and then even more basics. Now the government understands us better. We see that the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, for example, wants to speak more often.”
And that, she says, is a big change from two years ago, when she and several other developers decided to revive the DGA interest group. “We finally have momentum.”
A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper on June 23, 2023.