In countries that don’t have significant gaming industries (read: any country outside the United States and Japan), most budding developers rely on the growing support of the mainstream gamer to help flood existing behemoths with cash, thus fueling the need for regional game studios to pluck the best and brightest of the local graduates.
In recent years, some of the largest game houses in the world, such as Ubisoft, THQ, EA, Sony, and Microsoft have branched out past the traditional strongholds and established unique presences in many other countries – including the UK, Australia, Canada, India and even China.
What entices a company to start a studio in a particular place, and not others? Does local government play a role?
It’s generally unlikely that expanded studios, those that are “arms” of traditional developer houses, will branch out and create titles unique to that team. In some respects, it’s just great business sense. Having a studio in another country holds fantastic advantages when it comes to tight deadlines and budgets. Australia starts its business day when the American day ends. China has lax labour laws that allow for cheaper costs during development.
Sometimes it’s the ability to collaborate across different ideas and flush out stale ones. Staff generally stay with studios for very long lengths of time, and being able to contact another team to discuss concepts can be valuable to a new project. One team, possibly in the case of Bioshock, which was developed across borders, would work on one aspect of the title, such as art or programming, while the other handles textures and level design.
Other companies, like EA or Microsoft, might rather prefer to buy or heavily support existing studios and help fund existing successful projects. Most smaller studios generally have extremely small budgets, making it impossible for them to compete with the behemoths whom may pump hundreds of millions into larger titles (Your Halo 3s). So the possibility of a deep publisher agreement, which provides the ability to continue the same work with larger budgets, may be too much to pass up.
But what about the smaller studios that are key to burgeoning fresh and unique titles outside the umbrellas of the larger studios? What entices them to start companies in places that generally have smaller markets without large amounts of investor capital? Aside from a patriotic sense of duty, generally, it seems to be tax breaks and support from local universities.
Canada and France lead the world in providing tax breaks, governmental support and other initiatives to pull developers to their respective countries. Both countries are #1 and #2 in worldwide game development (outside the US and Japan), providing generous support via income tax reductions, salary payments as well as other crucial resources and tax holidays to developers to make building games in their countries easier (and cheaper) than in the US.
Other countries, though, aren’t waiting to be left behind in the digital landscape. Britain, #3 on the list, has introduced the Digital Britain initiative which allows developers easy access to tap local talent along with visa help to draw overseas grads. In Australia, the Queensland University of Technology supports local developers via their Creative Industries Pricinct, where graduates and developers can co-ordinate, while the governments of both Queensland and Victoria offer generous state tax reduction incentives in a battle to secure the most studios.
Has it worked? Most definitely. Out of the 100 top performing studios on the Develop 100 list, about half of them are outside the US and Japan, and appropriately, the numbers are based on the support provided by their local industry. Canada and France sit on top, followed by the UK, Australia, South Korea, Germany, China and so on. But unfortunately, there are still preventable and ultimately solvable problems, which prevent these still infant industries from expanding.
Outside of the incredible support from the Canadian and French governments, most federal states still refuse to provide film industry style creative grants to developers. Why? Most tend to site a lack of “cultural significance” when compared to other creative industry stalwarts such as music, art and film. While debatable in its excuses, it hasn’t stopped local development organisations, such as TIGA in the UK, GDAA in Australia or the IGDA worldwide, from pushing for this to happen.
Many say that without more favourable market conditions, it’s impossible for local developers to attract talent. I mean, if you could develop in Canada, where 37% of your staff’s salaries were paid by the feds, wouldn’t you rather set up shop there? As a counter, most local organisations tout the local living conditions, such as beaches or exciting locales to work in, as advantages to setting up shop.
Games that have been developed may surprise you. The UK was responsible for Little Big Planet. Australia gave up Dark Reign and Destroy All Humans. Canada’s given us some of Rockstar and Ubisoft’s best. The quality of titles is rarely so different since great games don’t necessarily require massive budgets. The case for smaller studios, in the end, are getting access to publishers, or finding ways to project their work across the oceans to the larger markets.
In any case, developers continue to set up shop across the globe. While American and Japanese companies continue to dominate the marketplaces for interactive entertainment, smaller independent houses still continue to make names for themselves, whether #18 Media Molecule (UK), #27 A2M (Canada), or #41 Krome Studios (Australia) and continue to push the game development cycle further into the global stage.
So if you are sitting at home in Europe, Australia or Canada, wondering and wishing if you will ever be able to make game development your career, never fear. You won’t even have to get a Green Card.