Peter Nagy is a veteran of the gaming industry in Košice and Slovakia. Although he studied medicine, he quickly realised that the unlimited freedom and creativity offered by the creation of computer games attracted him much more. He started in 2001 when he co-founded Games Farm, a company that has created more than 20 cross-platform games. In 2017, he founded the boutique video game production company Grindstone. But from the beginning he understood the importance of building a strong community, which is why he is also a major force in the Slovak Game Developers Association (www.sgda.sk) – a nationwide organisation that represents game developers both to partners outside of Slovakia and to Slovak government institutions. Peter is personally behind more than 20 new games that have been fully developed in Slovakia.
How do you evaluate last year for the gaming industry in Košice? Would you say that you, as game developers, did well?
It’s certainly been a challenging year for everyone, developers included. We’re all connected and part of one global ecosystem, so all world events carry over to every part of it.
On the other hand, the games industry has repeatedly shown a relatively high resistance to external influences and has been able to grow even during previous crises. Many developers have certainly managed to thrive also in the past year.
I think the system in Košice is significantly undersized, has large growth reserves and therefore has developed despite more complicated external factors. I firmly believe that we will stay on this growth trajectory in Košice for a long time.
What would you say are the main challenges for the gaming industry in Košice but also in Slovakia? Is it skills, lack of people, funding?
Unfortunately, there are many challenges. Education is outdated and unresponsive to the needs of the market, or it is very slow to react, and rather than a top-down approach, we see reactions at the level of individual educators. Universities live in a kind of academic world that is largely detached from reality.
Funding and investment in the gaming sector is very marginal and in general people are looking for reasons not to invest rather than ways to invest. This is incomprehensible from my point of view, because revenues from the gaming sector have the potential for high returns – just look at the success stories, both in Slovakia and abroad. It’s just that a lot of investors don’t understand the games industry and therefore deliberately avoid it. Developers are therefore left only with foreign capital.
Would you appreciate any specific support from the state, city, or region?
Basically, every bit of support counts. Finances are the key to everything, but of course the support of education is also very important. I certainly wouldn’t like the state, region, or city to let us “just work” – quite the opposite. We are not an isolated system within society, but we are interconnected and part of it. Every piece of news, every mention of the gaming industry or activity shifts awareness of what we do and helps the gaming industry as a whole. Therefore, any form of support is important to the development of the ecosystem.
Of course, if we talk about what has the most added value, it’s direct investment, because that’s the key to being able to create success stories, to support education, awareness and new opportunities. Unfortunately, in Slovakia, this industry is quite marginalised when it comes to direct investments, whether in the private investment sector or in the public sector – despite the high added value and potentially high returns.
Could you explain why it’s important to invest in the game industry, besides the profit? What else does your sector bring to other industries, the economy and the community?
It is quite understandable that many find it incomprehensible why a sector that is potentially highly profitable and successful should be supported. It is therefore important to highlight its key benefits. This is a 100% export sector, with virtually all revenue generated from sales abroad, whether at B2B level or directly at B2C. It has enormous growth potential, and successful gaming stories have the very real opportunity to earn tens to thousands of times their initial investment. It’s a very attractive and popular field of work for young people, which can develop further on its own once a certain critical threshold is crossed. And, of course, it has considerable reputational potential. For example, President Obama received the Witcher game, which was developed in Poland, as an official gift during his visit. There are many other benefits as well, and ultimately in the future any investment in this sector will return to the state many times over in various forms. There are many countries that are very aware of the high added value associated with game development and are purposefully supporting this sector in various forms, whether through large direct investments or indirect support instruments. To be more specific, Poland, Germany, Finland, Canada, the United States, and the UK are using various support instruments to develop this industry. And it is no coincidence that these countries also have a well-developed gaming industry, which contributes significantly to the state finances.
What does a classic Košice coder look like? What does he struggle with most at work, what are his prospects in Košice, where can he advance?
I must say that the situation is improving. Before, everyone was shaking their heads in disbelief as to why I wasn’t a doctor or something more meaningful. Today, subjectively, the situation seems a little bit better, or maybe just the people around me got used to it, or maybe I got used to it.
In any case, many people still see game development as something where people just play, they don’t fully understand the whole process and rather see computer games as something negative, as it is often portrayed by the media. Yet from my point of view it is the most creative industry where you can really create anything and not be limited by anything but your own creativity and abilities. And you can potentially make good money out of it.
At the beginning, there are mostly inexperienced people who just want to make games. At the very best, they have mastered the basics of game development at school, be it the University of Technology or other schools. At worst, they learned everything at home. But it should be stressed that this is not a barrier to success – on the contrary, there are many successful people in Slovakia who started this way (practically almost all of them, I guess?) – basically, there was no other way to start.
And that’s why we started that way too, only much longer ago. Unfortunately, the ecosystem in Slovakia is generally undernourished and people rarely come with experience from abroad and start studios or join existing studios where they would bring their knowledge. This is a cycle that is common in countries with a more developed ecosystem, but unfortunately in Slovakia we have not yet reached a critical mass of developers that would allow for such a productive cycle. There are a few exceptions but it is not the rule.
Personally, I got into this field partly by accident – I’ve always enjoyed games, but I never thought it was possible to create them until several of us got together and founded Games Farm in 2001. What has always attracted me to making games is mainly the unrestricted freedom and creativity – both visually and in terms of content. Nowadays, this creativity is even greater; technology allows us almost unlimited creativity – in my opinion, more than a film. In films the interactive element and the ability to take responsibility for our decisions is missing and the viewer is rather placed in the position of a passive observer. On the other hand, I understand that some people may be more comfortable with passive observation.
How do you work with trends? Do you create them or is the scene in Košice too small for that?
We are certainly not one of the trendsetters of the video game industry yet – the Košice scene is too undeveloped for that. But everything is gradually shifting, more or less successful stories are appearing and I believe that Košice has the potential to become a centre of game development in Slovakia, especially in the field of PC and game consoles.
Technologically, we are moving forward quite significantly every year and we already have extremely smart people working on the world’s top projects, learning from the best and the most successful people, using the most advanced technologies. So the trend is clearly set up well. We just have to keep going and not give up, and in the foreseeable future more success stories will start to emerge which will then start to generate more interest, attract more people and the cycle will begin to function better.
Do you also work with other types of creative industries? Is such collaboration common?
Absolutely. It is important to remember that game development is not a programming matter, unlike the development of various applications. On the contrary, game development is an extremely multi-faceted affair within creative industries and involves very diverse specialisms. To develop a single quality game, you need not only programmers, but also 2D graphic designers, 3D graphic designers, game designers, visual designers, writers, animators, video editors, actors, sound designers, musicians, directors, testers, managers, network administrators, admins, economists, marketers, community managers, and so on – the range is exceptionally wide. Some professions are not very common in Slovakia, which again creates limitations in the growth and development of the gaming industry.
How do you perceive Košice today? Is the city changing for the better?
It is definitely changing for the better. Many things bother me, I’m the kind of dissatisfied person who is always trying to improve and move on in something and then I naturally try to pass it on to those around me, either directly or at least by example.
Košice is a great city, I see incredible progress in the last years, but also huge reserves and the typical Slovak rigidity in which most of us were brought up. But I also understand that it’s difficult to change the ingrained system, and that I shouldn’t criticise failures – but at least I’m trying to improve the things I can reach and improve.
What are you working on right now? What are you looking forward to in 2023?
This year we plan to finally finish and release one of our projects, Die by the Blade. We are also preparing for the first Game Jam in Košice, which will be run with the support of Game Days and in cooperation with the Technical University. I strongly believe that it will all come together and we will be able to organise a pilot edition of this project. In autumn, at the end of October, we are preparing the Game Days 2023 conference, where we will host great talents from all over the world. We also plan to start another bigger project, collect some investments, and expand our activities outside of Košice, so we have quite a lot to do. I’m most excited to release Die by the Blade this year for sure. Our great team has invested in this project a lot of time and effort, and they deserve to have players from all over the world finally be able to experience the game.
Invisible Mag is supported using public funding by Slovak Arts Council. The Slovak Arts Council is the main partner of the project.