What makes a video game profitable

Gaming: That is why so few successful video games come from Germany

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Los Angeles in the summer of 2018. A woman takes the stage at the Electronic Entertainment Expo and is visibly excited. E3 is the most important event in the video game year, here the big studios present the titles from which they hope to get the most press and the highest sales figures in the coming months. The developers' presentations are live-streamed by millions of people around the world. Cornelia Geppert came to Los Angeles from Berlin to watch her game Sea of ​​Solitude to introduce. The main character is a young woman who suffers from hopelessness and loneliness and therefore fights with monsters - with internal monsters that become external. Not a game for mainstream success, but the processing of a personal trauma. So it made it Sea of ​​Solitude even in the New York Times.

Otherwise, it rarely happens that the international press deals with a video game from Germany. Production hardly plays a role even on the domestic market.

Of the 3.1 billion euros in sales of video games in Germany in 2018, according to the Annual reports of the German games industry only spent 135 million euros on games that were also developed here. There are also some large studios in this country. In 2018, the French industry giant Ubisoft opened an office in Berlin and announced that it would fill 150 positions by 2020. The majority of the domestic developer scene consists of small companies, so-called indie studios, whose number of employees is often in the single-digit range. Large productions in which several hundred people work on a title for years, the development costs of which can exceed 100 million euros, can of course not be handled by these studios. In order to develop internationally competitive products, however, such large studios are needed that are willing to invest enormous sums of money. But so far they have had little incentive to settle in Germany.

More money, little expertise

Industry representatives and interest groups blame the lack of public funding for this. Because while countries like Great Britain or France have been subsidizing the development of video games for years and 30 percent tax breaks for game developers are not uncommon in Canada, nothing has happened in Germany for a long time. There are regional subsidies such as the Medienboard Berlin Brandenburg or the FilmFernsehFonds Bayern. However, the amounts that these make available are manageable.

That should change now. In November 2019, the federal government decided on a funding program for the computer game industry. From the budget of the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI), 50 million euros are to flow annually until 2023. Studios can apply for funding with their projects and receive grants of up to 25 percent of the production costs. It remains to be seen whether this model will attract really big developers from abroad to Germany. At least this could help studios in Germany that have so far lacked the funds for larger projects.

It is not yet clear which guidelines should be used for funding. Before the computer game subsidy comes into effect and larger amounts of subsidy can be distributed, the subsidy guideline must first be checked by the European Commission. In principle, only projects that are culturally valuable and deal with the history, society and culture of the respective country and also create jobs can be funded. Before the federal government's computer game funding has not been finally checked by the European Commission, only funding amounts below EUR 200,000 may be awarded, so-called de minimis grants.

Lisa Ludwig

Editor in the video department, ZEIT ONLINE

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Hundreds of applications for de minimis aid are said to have been received by the responsible federal ministry. Even so, only five percent of the available amount has been spent so far. According to the industry magazine Games economy This is mainly due to the fact that the BMVI, headed by Minister Andreas Scheuer, lacks specialist knowledge and capacities. A game developer who has been waiting for a funding commitment for six months described the process to the industry magazine as a "catastrophe". That might sound very dramatic, but especially for small studios, a certain planning security is vital. After all, the employees want to be paid even while the company is still waiting for funding.

But is it even important for the end product whether it was developed in Germany or somewhere else? For the people who ultimately buy the games, it shouldn't really matter where and with what money the games were created. Many games are usually produced by an international team for an international audience. In Grand Theft Auto V. a gangster is chased through Los Santos, a fictional city reminiscent of Los Angeles - but the game was largely developed in Scotland. The snowy hills of the most recent God of War however, originated in sunny Santa Monica. None of this can be seen in the end products.