game Saarland is the regional office of the games industry in the federal state of Saarland.
Digitalisation is a key issue for the future of Saarland; the process of digitalisation is continuously progressing, affecting every aspect of our lives, from our workplaces to our homes. Saarland is ideally positioned to play a leading role in shaping digital change. The research landscape in the fields of artificial intelligence and cybersecurity is among the best in the world, and the SME sector in Saarland is highly tech-savvy and at the forefront of digital change.
The games industry supports this trend with its creative, innovative content and technological developments. Games are the most progressive medium of our age, inherently digital since their inception. They are cultural assets, economic commodities and drivers of innovation in all sectors in equal measure, and consequently, they should be included in Saarland’s digitalisation strategy as soon as possible. The technologies and mechanisms used in game development also have applications that extend far beyond the cultural and entertainment sector. A strong regional games industry is therefore an important factor in the future viability of the local economy.
The games industry in Saarland has thus far been unable to fully tap this potential, however. For this reason, we are working alongside regional stakeholders to comprehensively improve conditions for the games industry in Saarland. Our three most important demands are as follows:
- Since 2018, Saarland Medien has been deeply committed to promoting computer games in Saarland under the umbrella brand ‘Game Base Saar’. Its motto is ‘promote, educate, network’, and since its inception, Game Base Saar has focused on a concept that consists of the Game Award Saar and various training and networking measures. Games are awarded sponsorship prizes (10,000 euros per category) at the annual Game Award Saar ceremony. This award presented to computer games from Saarland is an important acknowledgement of regional achievements, and significantly raises the profile of the games industry in Saarland thanks to the support of Saarland Medien. This annual flagship event with Germany-wide prominence must be maintained and expanded.
Nevertheless, this type of funding only marginally supports the production of new project plans in terms of amount. However, since the monetary project funding of new games projects creates the basis for existing companies and the settlement of start-ups, the further development of games funding into a permanent institution with relevant funds has the highest priority, because it allows the regional industry to grow sustainably. The total budget and the individual funding amounts should be significantly increased, because in comparison to other federal states, these fall significantly behind in terms of amount. In order to support small and medium-sized developer studios, it is necessary that funding be provided by grant and that it be made possible with a funding rate of up to 80 percent. In the long term, the games subsidies of Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia should be oriented, including an EU notification, not least to ensure the future and connectivity to the games subsidies at the federal level.
Existing support programs of the savings banks and state banks (for example, the Saarland Investment Credit Bank) are hardly applicable for game developers. These need to be adapted – especially in the area of equity strengthening. The “Digital Creativity” program of Investitionsbank Sachsen-Anhalt could serve as a model.
- And yet, on the whole, most new projects do not benefit significantly from this type of funding, despite the fact that monetary support for new games projects is the foundation of existing companies and also attracts start-ups. Consequently, expanding games funding into a lasting institution with commensurate resources is a top priority, as it will promote the growth of the regional industry over the long term. The total budget and the individual funding amounts must be significantly increased, as Saarland lags far behind other federal states in this area. Supporting small and medium-sized developer studios will require funding to be provided in the form of grants, and projects must be permitted to receive up to 80 per cent of their funding in the form of subsidies. Over the long term, games funding in Saarland should be modelled on the approach of Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia, including EU notification, not least to ensure the future viability of state games funding and its compatibility with federal funding programmes.
- Existing funding programmes from savings banks and regional state banks (such as Saarländische Investitionskreditbank) are of little use for game developers. These programmes must be adapted, particularly as regards bolstering equity. The Digital Creativity programme from Investitionsbank Sachsen-Anhalt could serve as a model here.
- The games industry is the fastest-growing segment of the media and creative industry. There is a great deal of potential for start-ups and for attracting new branches of existing games companies. In order to leverage this potential, highly skilled professionals that can also be educated in the region are urgently required. Saarland has an excellent system of colleges and universities with many programmes of study that are relevant to the games industry, such as computer science (Saarland University, htw saar), humanities and business studies (Saarland University) and artistic disciplines (University of Music Saar, HBKsaar). However, none of the colleges and universities offer clearly designated programmes of study specifically for games. Additionally, there is a lack of vocational training and further training options.
- If local talent is to be educated in the region, local colleges and universities must raise awareness of the game development content within their existing curriculum, and a dedicated programme of study for game development must be introduced. The necessary infrastructure is already in place. The label ‘games’ would increase visibility, make existing programmes of study with games industry relevance easier for potential students to find and significantly raise Saarland’s profile. All relevant colleges and universities should hold round tables to launch cross-university partnerships, projects and courses in the field of games (such as bringing together computer science students with students of artistic and business studies programmes). In order to keep these skilled professionals in the region after they complete their degree programmes, educational establishments must cooperate closely with games companies. Funding should be provided for an annual event that brings together companies and educational establishments to exchange ideas. The objective of this event is twofold: to broker internship positions, thesis projects, partnerships and jobs for students and companies, and to provide interested local school students with information about the opportunities for education, training and careers in the region. Additionally, potential entrepreneurs should be able to learn about Saarland’s existing funding opportunities at this event.
In order to be able to train the next generation of regional talent locally, the level of awareness of game development courses within the existing courses at universities and colleges must be increased and a dedicated course of study for game development introduced. The necessary infrastructure for this already exists. The label “Games” would provide visibility, make existing games-related courses of study easier to find for prospective students, and offer a strong flagship for the Saarland. A round table for all relevant universities and colleges must be set up so that cross-university cooperation, project work and courses in the field of games (for example, bringing together computer science students with those from art and economics courses) can be initiated. In order to keep these qualified professionals on site after graduation, there needs to be close interaction with games companies. An annual event should be promoted at which companies and educational institutions are brought together to ensure their exchange. On the one hand, this should aim at arranging internships, theses, cooperations and jobs for students and companies, on the other hand, it should offer a transfer of information for interested students about regional (education) opportunities and career perspectives. In addition, those interested in founding a company should be informed about the existing funding opportunities in the Saarland.
- The ecosystem of the Saarland games industry consists of small and medium-sized enterprises as well as educational institutions and eSports players. For two years now, the monthly “Game-Dev-Saar” meeting has been held on a private initiative.
The need for a strong network within the Saarland, but also national as well as international games industry and the exchange with other business sectors is particularly important to benefit from each other on all levels and to grow successfully as a games ecosystem. We therefore call for the establishment of a dedicated network for the Saarland games industry, which could be within the remit of Saarland Medien, in order to decisively drive forward networking work, the support of corresponding events and participation in studies on the regional games industry in particular.
The support of different event formats, on which the industry can network regionally, nationally and internationally, is elementary. Possible formats would be regular meetings of the industry, cooperation with the eSports players of the Saarland as well as game jams. The existing formats, at which games and their creators from the region are presented, should be expanded. Further events should take advantage of the geographical proximity to neighboring (federal) countries and strengthen cooperation with France and Luxembourg as well as with Rhineland-Palatinate.
In order to sustainably support the professionalization and international competitiveness of the regional developer landscape, master classes, workshops, lectures and participation in relevant trade fairs and conferences should be significantly expanded, such as through a joint booth at gamescom.
Publicly subsidized co-working spaces would provide favorable conditions for close exchange within the industry, ideally in conjunction with start-up scholarships aimed not only at graduates of state colleges and universities, but also at graduates of private institutions or career changers.
In order for all demands to be realized, we need a permanent contact person who is dedicated to the games industry, knows its potential and can provide professional support for the further development of all measures. The establishment and independent financing of a full-time staff position is urgently needed for network management, advising founders, communication and, if necessary, the concrete implementation of funding.