Computer games have become an integral part of our society and with around 200 games companies, central associations, institutions, special training centres and numerous games events, Berlin offers the densest and most diverse industry in Germany. But in addition to globally successful AAA studios such as Ubisoft, King and Yager, the diverse Indies are also an indispensable part of Berlin's ecosystem.
One who knows the lively indie games scene like the back of his hand is André Bernhardt. At Projekt Zukunft, the Berliner, who with his company Indie Advisor advises small developer studios, talks about the games metropolis Berlin, the games funding in Germany and the EGX in Berlin, where he curates and supervises the Indie Games division.
At EGX Berlin you will be curating the Indie Games section. In an application procedure, indie projects could apply for a total of 50 places. What can indie fans look forward to at EGX? Which games will make the headlines?
Even if it may sound presumptuous, ask a family man about his favourite child. He won't tell you either, that's clearly Peter. Personally, I am delighted that we are depicting the entire diversity of the "indie world", both in terms of internationality - we have 50% national and 50% international indie developers on the ground - and also in terms of genre and setting. Because we cover just about everything imaginable and unimaginable: be it tentacle simulators in VR, cat role-playing games, hand-drawn turn-based strategies on medieval parchment or golf games that don't want to be golf games. You can be very curious!
EGX will be in Berlin for the second time in 2019 and celebrated a remarkable debut last year with 15,000 visitors. Can you briefly describe the EGX concept and what it has to offer in addition to the indie sector?
EGX is all about games. Not just about the games themselves, but everything related to them. This year we have over 60 speakers and more than 40 lectures and panel discussions - not for trade visitors, but for the gamers themselves. For our visitors, gaming is an important part of their lifestyle. They like to talk about it, discuss it with like-minded people, sometimes they also argue, but they are always looking for new information and impulses. But it's not just about learning more, it's about experiencing more. There is a lot to be played. Whether Indies or the so-called blockbusters. But eSports, for example, also takes place in an active form, where visitors can be coached by professionals, like in a driving school. During the lectures we also encourage dialogue at the end of each session, for exactly the same reason. All this makes EGX a very mature event that deals with the topic of video games in a serious but entertaining way.
You know the scene very well. What does the daily work of a consultant for indie games look like and how did it come to Indie Advisor & Company being founded?
I had worked for a long time in business development for various German publishers. Most recently with a Munich browser games developer who grew from 100 to 250 employees in just three years and found that I prefer working with small, more agile teams rather than in large structures. As a result, I concentrated on my core competencies and decided to run external business development for small, independent development studios. In everyday life, I travel a lot and visit events, conferences and trade fairs, write numerous emails and make phone calls.
In the past, indie games were more of an existence in the shadow of global developers with AAA titles. How do you see their perception today?
Indie titles cannot compete with AAA titles on many levels, but they are unbeatable when it comes to being more creative, more innovative or dealing with niche issues, even critical ones. Nowadays, many players are interested not only in playing the same mush in the seventh infusion, but also in consciously orienting themselves towards creative indie titles. There's nothing against playing a game of football in Fifa or using a rifle or two in Call of Duty, but for some - including myself - it's a more exciting experience to play tricks on people once as a goose (Honk honk - it's about "Untitled Goose Game" for those who want to experience it for themselves).
How easy is it for developers to get an indie game up and running today?
The barriers to market entry are lower than ever before. Digital distribution, inexpensive graphics engines and a wealth of knowledge in the form of tutorials, etc. make it easier than ever to develop games. The real challenge today is to market and monetise the game. Nowadays you can no longer be just a good developer, but should at least think entrepreneurially in terms of the sustainability of your own commitment in the games industry - if you don't want to be purely artistically active.
Federal Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer stressed the importance of the industry at Gamescom. How do you assess the status quo of games funding and what do Germany and Berlin need to do to remain competitive and attractive as a location?
Germany is a large market for international video games. However, the share of German productions in the turnover achieved is very low and is continuously decreasing. You can accept that or you can take countermeasures.
I am very pleased that the government has decided to set up a nationwide subsidy to change this situation (as many other countries do or have done successfully, such as Finland or Canada). I sincerely hope that the funding will be available again in 2020 and not just once.
What trends do you see in the German scene in general and in Berlin in particular?
One can see that German indie developers no longer necessarily end up with German publishers, but also attract international attention and are drawn. That makes me very happy. Furthermore, it's nice to see that small developers are increasingly joining forces and working together in offices or coworking spaces. Be it Happy Tuesday, Mad about Pandas or the developer collective Saftladen. Together with the numerous local events in Berlin and Kreuzberg in particular, one can speak of a very lively indie scene. I would still be delighted if the trend continued and more and more international developers came to Berlin.
Can you finish the sentence: "Berlin is..."
...international! In my view Berlin is the most international city in Germany in terms of game development. It is still a pleasure for me to be able to live and work here for seven years.
The interview with André Bernhardt was first published on Projekt Zukunft and can be found here.