Game publisher Martine Spaans is busy, she says via video call from North Brabant one September day. At that moment, not a month had passed since the Dutch Games Awards, and the Spahns – “practically furnished person” – appeared as the leader. “But I thought I’d have more time this year,” she laughs.
The job is bigger than it looks. The Dutch Games Awards have not been held since 2017, the organization is new. Everything about the event must be reinvented from the start, from the jury to the venue.
The Dutch gaming industry has been looking at Golden Calves with regret for years. Gala, Press Coverage, and Previews Nationwide: The Film Award gives a face to the national film industry.
The Dutch Games Awards never quite reached the size of a movie gala, but at least they did — until the money ran out. His face is gone. It’s a story like others, in a Dutch industry that, with €225-300 million in annual turnover, lags far behind a country like Finland – with just 5 million people and a game industry of €2.5 billion. Things are not going well for the biggest Dutch playmakers, but the industry has been stagnant for a long time. why? Game makers point to, among other things, a lack of government interest, a weak investment climate, and a brain drain abroad.
I stayed with this rain of complaints for a long time and very little happened. Even the industry itself came up with three initiatives in recent years to improve conditions.
1. Advisory body
In 2019, a number of large Dutch studios sat down for the first time for what became informally known as an ‘industry consult’. They thought it was time for a change. They confirmed that new winds were blowing in the industry.
“Before that, our industry always had that Dutch idea of ’every man for himself.’ We’ve all been in survival mode,” says Dirk de Goos, initiator of the Dutch Games Awards and president of the Dutch Games Association (DGA), the industry’s umbrella organization since last year. But the atmosphere around the meeting changed. We realized that if we wanted the Dutch gaming industry to be a success story, we had to do it collectively.”
The moment has come, says de Geus. After years of stagnation, the sector has entered a “new phase”. “A number of Dutch studios have now grown to a serious level. Some have been acquired by major international players this year, such as Nixxes, which is now part of PlayStation, and Force Field, which is now part of Koch Media.”
The hard core of Dutch game companies that, according to De Geus, “now have their sheep on dry land,” like his Paladin Studios and Delft Triumph, suddenly have money left over to invest in a team event like Game Prizes.
What helped is that “industrial consulting” also shook up the DGA culture of old interest organizations that already existed. says playmaker Adriaan de Jongh, known for his game hidden people. The industry umbrella has long been run by people far from them – for example on the educational side of game development. So De Jongh and De Geus joined the board of directors last year.
2: investment fund
De Jongh sees his work as “bridge building,” building a community of toy companies in the Netherlands. The investment climate is his biggest concern. Within national borders there are few investors with industry knowledge. That’s why Dutch game companies have had two options for a long time: make offers to international gaming giants who make great games, or get small amounts of money from the Creative Industries Fund NL, which supports small games. Outside, De Jongh saw how toymakers came together to invest in games of a size between these two extremes.
“Why is this not possible in the Netherlands?” Ask other successful playmakers. No reason, was the conclusion. “Now we call ourselves the Midgame Fund, although we are not a traditional investment fund where all the money is pooled together in a pot. Each participant decides for himself whether to invest in a project.”
Rule: Game studios invested in should be left as free as possible. “We have nothing to do with their choices. We are here to share contacts and for advice.”
The Midgame Fund hopes to be able to finance three to four projects per year, with an amount of up to €150,000 per project. They are currently working with two game studios. “I can see how many beautiful games are coming from Holland in the long run, their makers making a lot of money and giving that back to the Dutch game industry. An upward spiral.”
3: City Games
The Netherlands has many games tournaments, most of which target the smaller games that De Jongh wants to fund. Breda University of Applied Sciences (BUAS) is preparing for mega games worth hundreds of millions of euros worldwide. You could say it’s an asset to the domestic industry, but of the graduates who find a job immediately (80 percent), 50 percent get a job abroad, and 98 percent leave Postal.
Matisse van de Lar resided in Breda. His successful studio Twirlbound released his first game a few years ago, PineCaptured by Nintendo. A party Van de Lar would like to celebrate with others. “We really lost the feeling that we were working with more studios,” Van de Laar says. “That’s why we went to the municipality about two years ago: did they even know what was going on here, with BUAS?” The devotees were immediately excited. Together they created the Breda Game City Foundation.
The young initiative is currently mainly focused on helping students at BUAS. “In the meantime, four student teams have approached us with a question: If we want to start a gaming company, where can we start?” Van de Laar says.
According to BUAS educator and game maker Jitske Habekotté, they mainly benefit from a community that can provide guidance. “A lot can go wrong in an industry that operates solely on ‘passion’ rather than a healthy, proven work culture,” she wrote in an email. It refers to unpaid overtime, low wages and pressure from employers. “We hope to give companies in Breda ideas on how to do this.”
But dreams are bigger. “The next milestone will definitely be that we can welcome bigger companies to Breda,” says Habekotté. Breda Game City is currently consulting with the municipality about financial incentives for international game studios. “It’s too risky to start on your own, but I hope we can get a branch here from a big toy company,” Van de Laar says.
Could the “City of Trending Game Makers” have its own mega studio? It’s a long-standing question, as are all initiatives to bring the national gaming sector out of the doldrums. Martin Spanz is optimistic anyway about the game’s prizes. “This is our investment year,” she says. “Everyone in the industry is suddenly excited. We want to continue next year.” She laughs. “It’s good to be able to actively do more for the Netherlands.”
A version of this article also appeared in NRC Handelsblad on October 8, 2021
A version of this article also appeared on NRC on the morning of October 8, 2021
“Lifelong zombie fanatic. Hardcore web practitioner. Thinker. Music expert. Unapologetic pop culture scholar.”