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Game development moves up a level in Romania

The big international game developers are stepping up their operations in Romania — the top emerging Europe location for game development after Poland — where they sit alongside local indie firms that have already scored some solid successes. 

In Romania, the industry’s turnover has been steadily growing. It exceeded $200mn for the first time in 2019, up by a healthy 14.7% from the previous year, according to Romanian Game Developers Association (RGDA) data. The figures for 2020, while not out yet, are likely to be even stronger as gaming was one of the industries that flourished during the pandemic, providing a way for people suddenly cut off from their friends and normal pursuits to entertain themselves and connect with others. 

“A lot of people who stayed at home and needed entertainment turned to games, so that means a lot of games were bought … a lot of records have been set for the number of people playing online, game downloads and so on,” Andreea Medvedovici Per, executive director of the RGDA, tells bne IntelliNews

A report from the Interactive Software Federation of Europe (IFSE) shows that time spent playing games increased by 1.5 hours a week during the initial lockdowns in spring 2020, though dropped back to pre-pandemic levels as lockdowns eased. 30% of players surveyed said video games helped them feel happier, less anxious and less isolated. 

A Deloitte report comes to a similar conclusion, showing that the lockdowns increased the number of hours spent in front of screens, and inspired people to try new digital activities including gaming. “With school and office closures, work furloughs and canceled travel plans, more people are playing video games — and more are upgrading their gaming relationships from casual to committed,” said the report. Even before the pandemic, the sector was growing strongly with revenues of the global gaming industry exceeding $152.1bn in 2019, up by 9.6% on the year. Globally there are more than 2.5bn gamers, with steady growing average revenue per user (ARPU).

This is borne out by the big international companies that have operations in Romania. Cristian Pana, managing director for Ubisoft Romania and Serbia, reports an increase in player engagement, but adds: “it is too early for us to say how this will impact the future of our industry”.

"We have seen an increased usage of games and associated services globally, which ultimately means that there has been an increased level of social engagement from our players,” Andrei Lazarescu, senior producer, EA Romania, tells bne IntelliNews. Lazarescu also stresses the social impact of video games during the pandemic, for example in raising awareness. When the coronavirus was spreading around the world in March 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and video game companies launched #PlayApartTogether to encourage physical distancing. 

Growth in strange times 

The biggest local player, Bucharest-based game development agency  Amber Studio, is one company that has grown strongly since the start of the pandemic. Since bne IntelliNewsfeature on the Romanian game development industry in 2018, Amber’s headcount has almost tripled to just over 700 people and it now has six offices in four countries: Bucharest and Botosani in Romania, New York and San Francisco in the US, Guadalajara in Mexico and Montreal in Canada. Amber’s annual revenue has risen steadily from $7.5mn in 2018 to $13.6mn in 2019 and $20.8mn in 2020. 

Amber’s head of operations Tudor Postolache tells bne IntelliNews that 2020 was a “very special year” for the company. “When so many industries and businesses were severely hit, we continued our growth and put the throttle on international expansion. I’m happy to say the gaming industry has been very resilient, actually thriving over the last year, and I’m convinced this tendency will carry on both for the industry and for us,” he says. “Over the last year we have seen more appetite from studios and publishers to invest more.”

Botosani, a small city in northern Romania close to the borders with Moldova and Ukraine, is not on many investors’ maps. It’s better known for manufacturing than for the high tech industries that have taken root in Bucharest, Cluj, Iasi and bigger university towns. Amber is the only gaming company there. Explaining the move, Postolache says: “We wanted to try it out and see how we were received by the talent pool. The success has been absolutely fantastic. We were hoping to get around 30 to 40 people by the end of 2020; we finished up the year very close to 70 and now we are working to fit out a new office space because we want to add another 100 people.” The team started out doing quality assurance (QA), but Amber is looking to add artists and programmers in future. 

Source: BNE Intellinews

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