CULTURE

Could Greece become a video game production hub?

could-greece-become-a-video-game-production-hub

In the last decade, revenues from Hollywood blockbusters such as “The Avengers” and “Avatar” have been dwarfed by those generated through the rapid rise of the highly profitable video games industry. A good example in this case is “Grand Theft Auto V,” a project which earned a spot in the Guinness Book of Records in 2014. Within 24 hours of its release, the popular video game had sold 11.21 million copies, reaching 814.7 million dollars in revenues – after three days, those revenues had reached 1 billion dollars.

Standing out among 160 indie video games (projects developed by independent companies) from around the world, “Apocalypse Now” recently earned the top prize at the Indie Game Contest in Strasbourg, France. The game’s creator, Athens-based Monsters, is a company currently laying the foundations for an increasingly strong presence in the field of local video game production.

According to game developer John Koumoundouros, a representative of the company, “a video game is like an interactive form of art bringing together different specialties: The central figure is the game designer, who takes on a role of general coordinator; the programmers make the game operate; the artists develop the graphics; the animator is in charge of motion; the level designer lays out the game’s different levels; and the sound designer works on music and noises. While in Greece it is quite common for an entire game to be developed by a small team – in some cases even one person – there are even more specialties at large international studios, where, besides the story writers, you might also have writers adjusting the text to the game, dialogue writers exclusively on the dialogues and a copy editor checking the text and giving the various copies a sense of homogeneity. Similar specialties may exist in all the different stages of production. Salaries are very high abroad: In the United States a junior artist starts on a $80,000 annual salary, while a more experienced developer gets $120,000 per year. I know developers who make up to $200,000 per annum.”

What are the different stages when it comes to the creation of a video game? According to Vangelis Kalaitzis, who has an MA in game designing and is one of the creators of “Darkfall,” a successful online video game, “the first step is pre-production. This is where the game’s central idea is outlined in detail along with the heroes’ mechanics –  for instance, will they be driving vehicles, using weapons? What is also defined at this stage is which audience is being targeted and what type of experience we want them to acquire. The process may differ depending on each company’s staff. The next stage is production, where all the different specialties come into play, a time-consuming process which could last up to three years. The next phase is play testing, where players get to test the game and developers follow their reactions. Corrections, changes and the game’s final polishing are carried out in the post-production stage.”

Video games are not subject to border restrictions and their production offers tremendous potential for profit. Could Greece claim a piece of this international market? Koumoundouros comes across as both hesitant and optimistic.

“There are three inhibiting factors: To begin with, it’s hard to come up with the funding. Consider this: In Denmark, state funding for the production of video games may reach as high as 10,000 euros for a prototype and 200,000 euros for the final product. A second reason is the lack of experience, even though there is no shortage of talent. A third factor is the fact that we are far away from all the action. In the US there are plenty of trade shows and conventions which we cannot afford to attend on a regular basis. On the other hand, Greece’s competitive salaries could be attractive to aspiring investors. The video games industry is a global market worth billions of euros and it’s time for Greece to actively take part in it.”

One of the fastest-growing areas in video game production is Canada, with over 329 production companies employing over 16,500 people. The ability to attract state funding in combination with quick and easy access to technology and creative experts makes it an ideal place for the development of a video game production company. In Ontario, for instance, major tax benefits encourage such activity.

In 2014 the Canadian state gave 35 to 40 percent of the money that games companies had invested in developers’ and artists’ salaries back to the companies. In the same year, 23 video gaming companies based in Ontario received 150,000 dollars each in funding – an amount equaling about 50 percent of their budget – in order to develop projects.