FNE Film Meets Games: Q&A with Jari-Pekka Kaleva, Managing Director of European Games Developer Federation

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    Jari-Pekka Kaleva Jari-Pekka Kaleva credit: EGDF

    STOCKHOLM: FNE spoke to Jari-Pekka Kaleva, managing director of the European Games Developer Federation (EGDF), about their current activities, as well as the state of the game industry in the region.

    The European Games Developer Federation e.f. (EGDF) unites 23 national trade associations representing game developer studios based in 22 European countries. Through its members, EGDF represents more than 2,500 game developer studios, most of them SMEs, employing more than 40,000 people.

    Central and Eastern Europe is one of the most important locations for global games developers and studios, and artists in the region are increasingly working for both film and games. FNE looks at how these two sectors of the entertainment industry are converging and why this trend is important for the future development of both.

    FNE: When was the EGDF founded and what have been your main missions and strategic projects so far?

    Jari-Pekka Kaleva: EGDF was founded in 2006 to build a unified voice for game developers in the EU. Defending games as the leading cultural medium of the 21st century has been one of the key themes on our agenda since the association was founded. In the early days, EGDF had to overcome numerous negative allegations and broad scepticism on including games in the European cultural and innovation agenda. However, step by step, public institutions started to follow a more cultural and positive approach to games.

    In the early 2000s, European game developer associations campaigned for public support for European game development. At that time, those industry associations that represented mainly international game publishers and distributors were strongly against a cultural approach to game policy, and thus they equally opposed cultural state aid for game developers. Thanks to the push from EGDF, the French state aid for video games was approved by the European Commission in 2007 and the British in 2013. EGDF also paved the way for embedding games in EU media policy and funding programmes.

    In the 2010s, thanks to recent digital distribution channels, the position of European game developer studios strengthened rapidly. Suddenly game developer studios were able to get up to 70% of the revenues from the games for themselves on mobile platforms. This caused rapid growth of the European games industry and a change in the focus of EGDF activities. EGDF widened its focus from culture and media policy and state aid to other topics. On the other hand, EGDF pushed forward European legal safeguards for game developers operating through digital platforms. EGDF also joined the debate on the changes in European taxation, data protection and consumer protection frameworks. In 2019, the EU agreed on the first European platform regulation.

    Presently in the 2020s, EGDF has been stronger than ever. With the push from EGDF, many support schemes for game development have been established and defended in the EU and EU member states. Games are officially recognised as an important cultural medium with a high innovation potential. Furthermore, EGDF played a crucial role in uniting the European industry to face the global pandemic and the war in Ukraine at the beginning of this decade.

    FNE: Which FNE countries do you cooperate with and how would you assess the situation in the region in terms of the games industry?

    Jari-Pekka Kaleva: Hendrik Lesser started as the president of the EGDF in 2015. Under his leadership, EGDF actively began working on getting Eastern and Southeast European games industry associations to join the EGDF. EGDF doubled its membership base in less than a decade, from 10 to more than 20 associations. Almost all new members are from FNE countries.

    In terms of industry talent, Poland and Romania are among Europe's key games industry hubs. Interestingly, Lithuania and Serbia are, at the moment, among the quickest-growing games industry hot spots in the continent. Serbia is, moreover, the forerunner of industry diversity, as 30% of its employees are females. Although the Czech games industry is still waiting for its first big boom, it is one of the oldest in Europe, with a strong and established talent base. There are well-established industry hubs also in other FNE countries. 

    FNE: Film and games convergence is a hot topic now. What can you tell us about the relationship between the games industry and the film in your experience? Do you have any experience using VFX in terms of games?

    Jari-Pekka Kaleva: The games industry paves the way for other cultural sectors when it comes to modern digital tools and business models. It is essential to keep in mind that these tools go far beyond VFX. The games industry has been the pioneer in experimenting with big data, machine learning and AI, user-generated content and community-driven content creation, cryptocurrencies and NFTs and, as you mentioned, the use of digital special effects.

    The leading game engines, like Unreal and Unity, are increasingly used in the film industry for creating special effects. Presently, some game industry actors are experimenting with in-camera visual effects studios for the needs of both the film and games industries. It is possible one day assets created in the same pipeline will be widely used in games and films based on the same IP. As a forerunner of the digital society, games industry is constantly going through digital disruptions, and the games industry is bringing those disruptions to other cultural and creative sectors.

    FNE: What can you tell us about the European Video Games Industry EU funding calls for 2023?

    Jari-Pekka Kaleva: There are more opportunities than ever for game developers on the EU level. The Creative Europe programme has a dedicated funding instrument for video game development and VR for game developer studios. This year Horizon Europe programme is especially investing in research on video game innovation ecosystems as well as extended reality applications. The Erasmus+ programme plays a crucial role in enabling cooperation between game education institutions. The MediaInvest fund supports venture capital investors interested in investing in the European games industry.

    The funding is there. The main challenge for EGDF and its members is to ensure that the funding reaches the most innovative and forward-looking actors in the industry community.

    FNE: What do you consider to be some of the most important games events or conferences coming up in 2023?

    Jari-Pekka Kaleva: There are several exciting games industry events in the FNE region: GIC in Poland, Dev.Play in Romania, For the Win in Serbia, GDS in the Czech Republic, and Game Days in Slovakia, just to name a few.

    But if I had to name three key European events, they would be Gamescom in Germany, Dice Summit in Spain, and Reboot in Croatia. Gamescom is the leading games industry trade fair on this planet, and it is a huge advantage for the European games industry to have it on our continent. Dice Summit is one the most important gatherings of games industry executives. Reboot is less business-focused and, therefore, a great event for meeting new industry experts and getting new ideas.

    FNE: Are there any films from Slovakia, Czech Republic or other FNE countries that are being turned into games or games that are being turned into films or TV series?

    Jari-Pekka Kaleva: One of the oldest Czech games is Indiana Jones a Chrám zkázy, published in 1985, a parody of Indiana Jones films. The famous Mafia game series, initially developed in the Czech Republic, was heavily inspired by classic organised crime films such as The Godfather. Some parts of the Assassin’s Greed series are developed in Romania, and at some point, they also made a film based on games. Polish Witcher was originally a book series, but the games based on the book series highly influenced the current Netflix series. 

    FNE: How much is the turnover and how much the percentage of expected growth in the region?

    Jari-Pekka Kaleva: We don’t have data for all FNE countries, but I would estimate the combined industry turnover of FNE countries to be around 2 billion EUR. The combined turnover of the whole EU games industry is 16.6 billion EUR.

    In general, European game developer studios are optimistic. The global pandemic was a massive boost for game sales, and although global and European game markets are now facing a short downturn as people are again using their time and money on other things, they will continue to play games. It remains to be seen how significant the downturn is, but many expect the industry to soon return to the pre-pandemic growth rates.

    FNE: How do you see the development of the relationship between the film and games industries?

    Jari-Pekka Kaleva: Year by year, the games and film industries are more interconnected. Game developers will continue to produce games based on film IPs, and filmmakers will make even more films based on game IPs. Game technologies and business models will be used even more in the film industry, and some game industry actors will also be investing in films. The borders between the sectors are blurring, and convergence is happening.

    Simultaneously, it is crucial to keep in mind that the most significant impact of the games industry is likely to be seen on the new frontiers of filmmaking like VR and XR, where the joint future of film and game industries might be developed.

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