Why is the console games development in Germany relatively weak?

During the last days I was thinking about why in Germany the console games development is relatively week compared with other European countries. May it be a reflection of the Germany’s sub-strength (given its population size) retail console games market? Why are Germans relatively fond of PC games in comparison to console games.

To be honest I did not reach a conclusive answer on that. Below are couple of thoughts about it but the main idea of this post is to hopefully get some better ideas on the matter from you guys.

Generally I see two underlying factors:

1. Many Germans grew up not paying for games
The the PC scene has been pretty strong in Germany since the C64, Atari ST and Amiga days. It was very easy on these platforms to copy games. So many people from my age group (around 30) grew up without paying much for games. And I think these people mostly moved to the PC as it is also pretty easy on the PC to copy the games (again games for free), while it is more complicated on the console (especially as you basically also need a PC for that).
Therefore you have more people on PCs and less on consoles which could also explain why Germany is (from what I know) very strong in the open source or demo scene areas (both work without payment) as well as in the browser (mog) business.

2. Violence in games is seen more critical in Germany
Another factor could be, that in Germany negative effects of PC and Console Games (especially violence) are emphasised more strongly than in other countries (more on that in an WIRED article connecting this to the pacifistic ’never again‘ education style in Germany).
So on a individual level on average it is (or was) probably harder to get some money for a ‚only games‘ console games console from your parents than for a PC which can also be used for working.
On a company level the German state was pretty reluctant to sponsor PC games as well as console games development, probably again because of the relatively negative image of games being violent or addictive. Ego shooters are often called „Killerspiele (Killergames)“ in the media and some politicians not only want to ban the sale but also the production of these games. You probably heard that Crytec (Crysis) was openly stating in 2007 that they are thinking to relocate to another country (more). So some investors were probably scared away from founding AAA studios in Germany which often focus on console market. This may also explain why Germany is strong in the browser (mog) games marked as more clever coders tried to go in this direction as you don’t need much initial funding for developing these.

But times are changing
In recent times the discussion on violent computer games has died down a bit and currently the media is discussing games in a much friendlier light. And this development is not limited to casual games. For example also GTA4 was discussed repeatedly in German main stream (not video games) media as being a culturally interesting game for adults. Also December 2007 the German minister for culture announced that computer games are now considered to be a ‚Kulturgut‘ – a ‚cultural asset‘ – which can and should be sponsored by the state. The G.A.M.E. association (pretty much the same as the British TIGA) was lobbying for that since couple of years.
It is also interesting that Germany hosts the biggest European convention on console and pc games.

So it seems there is a lot of potential for catching up („Hello investors“).

Diploma thesis completed

I completed my diploma thesis and are waiting for my result. Right now I am preparing for my final exams. I will have completed my studies in March 2009. I will prepare a summary of my findings then.

In short: There were huge differences in demography and play style between the Hardcore Game Player and Casual Game Player audiences. There is not just ONE computer games culture. Gamers associate different functions and meanings with gaming. Generally restrictions (like income, time, experience with input devices and games) are less relevant when choosing which games to play than preferences (like attitude towards violence in games).

Edit: I was awarded the mark „very good“ on the thesis.

Play FETT!

While working on my diploma thesis I am also doing some consulting. One of my clients www.fettspielen.de, a German online gaming website, went live April 2008. I was involved with the project since November 2007 while the strategic direction of the website was not yet decided.
I really like the graphical style of the website as well as how quickly you can browse through the different games. Using the site is very easy. For example every registered user automatically has a personal profile-site (check out mine). Please write me if you have any comments on the website. David An, the founder of Fettspielen, has many nice ideas for the future development of the site. And he got backing from Holtzbrinck, who also own StudiVZ the German Facebook. So Fettspielen is a name to remember.

Fett is German slang for cool, spielen means to play.

Fishing in Lake Sagar

As I wrote in another post we sold neodelight.com and all our sources to 7Seas Technologies.

In January 2008 the Neodelight staff was in Hyderabad/India to train the 7Seas team on our sources. We wanted them to learn on the job and therefore created a nice little game with them which even has some serious thoughts to it:

When we were sight seeing in Hyderabad, we visited Lake Sagar, a picturesque but heavily polluted lake (to keep us from doing foolish things a man told us „When you swim here – you die!„).
Around the lake we saw many „not littering“ signs which hopefully will have an effect soon.

We crossed the need to train the team with the problem of the polluted lake and got as a result the game „Clean Sagar“ in which you have to fish out garbage from the lake so it can recover.
Three days after the idea the completed game was released on the official press conference and the game became a big hit in the press as well as with Indian gamers.

The other game which was released on the press conference was Mouse Maze. This very nice mouse avoider which we created in 2007 even won the FICCI FRAMES Best of Animation Frames Award for the online gaming category. By the way, Halo 3 won best console game and Gears of War best PC game awards.

So everybody was very happy with the press conference. Especially the fish in Lake Sagar.

Do Casual Gamer become Hardcore Gamer over time?

End of last year I conducted a survey on a casual games website (the German part of Zylom.com) and two Hardcore Games websites (Gamestar.de, Ingame.de).
In this blog I call the players from the casual games website casual gamers and the gamers from the hardcore games websites hardcore gamers.

I was very busy selling my own casual games company since the survey was online. Therefore I was only able to take a very brief look in a not statistically significant part of the data yet.
But this brief look already changed my view on the „most Casual Gamer will slowly become Hardcore Gamer“ topic.
The typical argumentation line is the following:
Casual games are way easier to pick up than hardcore games and are therefore the natural starting point for most non gamers.
Through playing casual games these gamers will over time become more experienced with computer games (becoming computer game literate) and will then slowly migrate to the more sophisticated hardcore games.

But my data does not support this as the Casual Gamers are already playing since 16 years while the HC Gamers only play since 10.

Therefore if you only look at the years of experience with computer games, the Casual Games are ahead.
This speaks against a general trend of casual gamers migrating to become hardcore gamers the longer they play.

In my survey the hardcore gamers have an average age of roughly 20, while the average age of the casual gamers is a bit below 40.
Youngsters are considered to have much more time to play games than older people.
And you generally need more time to play hardcore games than casual games. So how about hardcore gamers becoming casual gamers when they get older?
I did not ask about it, so this one is pretty much open for speculation. But what do you think judging your friends and family?

To sum it up I don’t think the years of experience are very important, but the age someone did play computer for the first time.
I think older persons are not as playful with new things like computers as kids are and therefore more easily frustrated and turning to the simple to learn casual games.
I my survey the hardcore gamers started playing with 10, the casual gamers with 20.

What is next?

I am writing this in Hyderabad/India. Last week my two partners and me transferred our casual games assets to the Indian company 7Seas Technologies (press release, news coverage). Together with the brand „Neodelight“ we sold our portal (www.neodelight.com), games as well as engine technology. Training the 7Seas team on our technology as well as business model was a very demanding and interesting task. I am really interested in how they will do with the combined potential of our technology and their man power.

During the last six months I was asked several times why we are selling Neodelight.
We started Neodelight 5,5 years ago. We created some games, they became popular. We created more games and the www.neodelight.com portal and both prospered together. For this whole time Neodelight was just a part time job my business partners Florian Metzger and me. Florian was studying Art and later concentrated on his band Haferflocken Swingers. I was studying Sociology, Political Science and Psychology. Robert Wenrich (who joined 2005) was busy with studying Chinese and writing TV screenplays. We had an early start and and a very good position in the market but over the years the online games business became more and more professional. We knew that at some point we would need to invest more time and money in Neodelight or see the project being outstripped by more business oriented ones. We finally decided that we wanted to find a company who could use and continue what we started. We are happy that we found 7Seas Technologies.
After the buyout will be completed I will now focus on my research and complete my diploma.

And what will happen next? More research? Creating a new or joining an existing company? Some consulting perhaps? Or something completely different? Stay tuned…

794 hours and the next 7 months.

I conducted a qualitative online survey about computer playing habits for my diploma thesis in sociology. Several thousand gamers answered the survey on de.zylom.com, www.gamestar.de, www.ingame.de and couple of smaller sites.
I thank all the participating sites. But I especially want to thank all the people who took the time to answer the survey, 794 hours in sum to be exact. January I will be in India, first for business and then for some traveling. February 6-8th I will be in Amsterdam for the Casual Connect (my third time). Contact me if you want to chat there: u@ulrichtausend.com. The diploma thesis will be completed 1st of August 2008. I will keep you posted about what I find out.