Building a community of game developers in Košice

The story of Game Days in Košice began in 2017, when we started to organise monthly meetups of the gaming community in cooperation with CIKE. We aimed to bring together game developers from Slovakia and further afield to share their experiences, and start to connect our community of developers. As part of our collaboration with CIKE, we managed to combine one of our game developer meetups with the Art and Tech Days conference and bring interesting speakers from Ubisoft. These speakers came with a lot of experience and captivated many people, who attended in such large numbers that the capacity of the lecture room was exceeded and we ran out of chairs. This was a huge inspiration for the organisers of the first Game Days, as it showed the potential of such a format in Košice. In addition, Art and Tech Days showed that even in Košice it is possible to create extremely interesting things and bring together fascinating people. It was also a successful test of people’s interest in this type of content.

The following year we organised not only regular meetups but also added the first Game Days Košice 2018. It was incredibly challenging, as we had no funding and the organising team was very limited (meaning one person), who prepared the programme, worked as the moderator, guest service, cleaner and presenter – and we could still pay for it. Although the first event failed to break even financially, the support of CIKE was really invaluable – without it this would not have been possible. Even at the expense of their free time, people from CIKE helped us with organisation, volunteers, venue rental, on-site registration and other things. It was an incredible help, and with this kind of support it was possible to organise the first Game Days event. I have to admit, it was very stressful as every organiser is afraid that not enough people will come to the event. Luckily, Game Days proved the potential of this concept in the Košice environment and created a proof of concept for future editions. Visitors enjoyed the event and we received very positive feedback, which created the motivation to continue, develop and organise future editions. Since then, the event’s organisation has improved, received more support, more partners and every year we try to bring something new and push it to a higher level.

This year we are preparing Game Days 2023, and once again we will bring many interesting national and international speakers in two tracks. It is always very interesting to see the diversity of visitors who attend the event and bring their knowledge and experience to share with others. On the other hand, this presentation also works the other way around – speakers are usually very positively surprised by the quality of the event and the attention they receive from the attendees. Because this format of events is practically non-existent in Slovakia, people value the opportunities and international contacts that Game Days bring to our region. The conference provides a space for regional creators to showcase their work to other creators and publishers who are looking for interesting titles and are planning to attend the event. We see the interconnection of people, companies and opportunities as very important for the future development of the games industry. This year we also expect the support of investors from abroad, including some of the biggest companies in this field. Thanks to Game Days and other activities that we carry out, the potential of our region is beginning to be recognised.

Game Days is held to increase the outreach within our region. We work with several schools that have expressed interest and bring their students to the event each year, providing inspirational stories to tomorrow’s potential developers. Students can be inspired and meet the creators of some of the most famous games from around the world, and see how it is possible to create projects independently in their own environment. We see this as crucial for the future of the whole ecosystem – to show future creators the possibilities and motivate them to independently create new opportunities and hopefully successful stories.

However, I also consider it essential that we retain our own know-how and intellectual property and do not become mere production factories, as has happened in Romania or Bulgaria for example. These countries welcomed large companies which employed thousands of people, but they operate almost exclusively as large factories and the added value benefits predominantly the parent companies. It is the parent companies that produce billions in profits, but none of those profits remain in the region, and even the limited scope of such factories can become an obstacle to the development of the ecosystem. Because of this it is very important to support the domestic gaming scene and the independence of creators, so that Slovakia does not become just an assembly line for big companies.

However, one event per year is obviously not enough for the development of the ecosystem. We try to continue organising meetings of game developers on a regular basis, and to further develop the potential of the region. This year, under the banner of Game Days, we started to organise Game Jam at the end of the summer semester in cooperation with the Technical University. Game Jam was attended by over 200 participants, which we consider a great success for the first year. The role of Game Jam is to connect students and developers from working studios, so that students have the opportunity to network and participate in real, albeit time-limited, development. We also considered organising a physical event, but unfortunately the lack of partners and the high cost of renting space and catering did not allow us to physically carry out the event, except for the final evaluation, which took place in the auditorium of the Technical University.

It is important to note that all such activities require time and money, alongside a large amount of other resources. Therefore, we are very grateful to our partners who make it possible for us to carry out these events to a high standard that is appreciated by visitors from abroad who regularly visit conferences around the world. The reality is that, after factoring in the cost of people, every event to date has been run at a loss, and a relatively large one. Realistically, without the support of the Slovak Arts Council, it would probably not be possible to organise Game Days at all, and certainly not of this quality. Nevertheless, we are very happy to see the event growing every year. In 2022 we welcomed to Game Days more than 500 visitors and the event was also attended by representatives from the city and state institutions as well as the Ministry of Culture. They are the ones who should be interested in the development of the video game industry, as it is a 100% export segment with high added value and enormous growth potential, which generates high volumes of revenues (and subsequent taxes).

We may use Finland as an example, a country with a similar population to that of Slovakia. The gaming industry in Finland employed more than 4,100 developers in 2022 and generated a turnover of 3.2 billion euros.  Slovakia, in contrast, employed 1,300 developers and generated 83.2 million euros. Of course, many will say that we cannot compare ourselves with Finland, but the truth is that the relative success of Finland is the result of systemic, long-standing support that has been injected at all levels since 2005. Gradually, this support has started to produce success stories, capital and developers, stimulating in turn the creation of new studios, projects and further success stories. It is these success stories that Slovakia needs as an inspiration to thrive in the gaming sector and subsequently produce our own success. The support of the Slovak Arts Council is the first Slovak systemic instrument that supports the game development sector.

I firmly believe that in the future we will be able to create success stories and other forms of support so that we can follow the examples of successful countries and further grow and develop the Slovak gaming ecosystem. We see a lot of potential in the creators from our region who can create success stories, and we try to provide as much support as possible. That is why we have also founded, together with other veterans of the Slovak game industry, the Slovak Game Developers Association to support the ecosystem and help creators represent our work abroad and, of course, to collect information that can then help quantify the current potential of our region and ensure that this potential can be better understood and explained to government agencies and officials.

Peter Nagy

The author of this article is a co-founder of Games Farm, the longest running independent game development studio in Slovakia, founder of the Slovak publishing house Grindstone, co-founder of Game Days, a conference of game developers in Košice, and co-founder of the Slovak Game Developers Association.

Invisible Mag is supported using public funding by Slovak Arts Council. The Slovak Arts Council is the main partner of the project.

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