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Gaming wants European politicians to start playing

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COLOGNE, Germany — Hooded medieval assassins with red coattails are rushing through the hallways of a sleek grey building in Cologne. Brawl Stars’ bright-colored cartoon characters are about to start battling to cheers from hundreds of people.

Gaming attracts enthusiastic fans like few other industries. Gaming companies just wish some of those fans were European policymakers who would devote themselves to what they say is an important part of European culture that provides almost 100,000 jobs and pulls in revenues of €23.3 billion in Europe alone.

Over 265,000 people flocked to GamesCom, the world’s biggest gaming convention, in August, to immerse themselves in parallel universes to sail across the Indian Ocean as pirates, fend off zombie attacks or meet their stars, people who film themselves gaming on platforms like YouTube and Twitch.

The assassins were among hundreds of people dressing up as their favorite gaming characters. The “Assassin’s Creed” game from France’s Ubisoft is one of Europe’s biggest gaming successes. It’s not alone: Poland’s CD Projekt had an international blockbuster with “The Witcher” — gifted to former U.S. President Barack Obama on a trip to Europe. But several other European games-makers, like Finland’s Supercell or Sweden’s Candy Crush creator King, have been snatched up by bigger American or Asian rivals like Activision Blizzard and Tencent.

“Video games are a huge cultural asset and it’s important not just to import but to create our own and export it to the world, generating revenues and developing new technologies,” said Felix Falk, the head of Game, a group that represents more the German gaming industry.

Gaming is now the biggest entertainment market with filmmakers and publishers keen to make tie-ins. More than half of Europeans now play some kind of games on phones, TVs and computers.

“Before, you had a film after the book now you have the game after the book,” said Falk.

German Economy and Climate Action Minister Robert Habeck wants to see the country making more games and he’s seeing a “dramatic” increase in requests for support and grants | Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Germany has a national strategy since last year to boost gaming. Germany’s powerful vice chancellor, Robert Habeck, told the convention that the government wants to see the country making more games and he’s seeing a “dramatic” increase in requests for support and grants.

He failed to make an appearance in person, sending a video message to an opening event.

While a few European lawmakers, advisers and Commission officials visited the annual gaming festival, the international event lacked a high-level, real-world political presence. 

Brussels is still attempting to figure out a plan. The European Commission has ordered a study to identify how to help European gaming. The European Parliament’s culture committee is hoping to nudge the European Union executive into action with a set of non-binding recommendations planned for the fall.

For now, the industry is frustrated and worried that it could lose ground to strong foreign competitors.

Europe needs to improve access to funding, according to Jari-Pekka Kaleva, the managing director at European Games Developer Federation (EGDF), a European group gathering 23 trade national associations. One irritation is that, unlike films, public funding for video games needs EU state aid approval which is slow and cumbersome, he said.

“If we don’t produce the single most important cultural content of the 21st century, it will happen somewhere else, in the United States or in China,” said Kaleva.

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