Games funding at the federal level has been in place in Germany since 2019, when the pilot phase of the scheme began. Despite the limited funding amounts, which were capped at 200,000 euros per company, interest in the scheme was enormous, with 380 funding applications submitted. The major funding scheme ratified by the EU Commission that offers funding amounts over 200,000 euros subsequently launched in late 2020. The conditions for the games industry in Germany have improved significantly, and many games companies are taking the opportunity to develop new projects. However, as the development of such projects generally takes several years, Germany still has a long way to go before it becomes a top international location for game development. Growing numbers of companies and employees in the German games industry are an early indicator that the games industry funding scheme is having an impact, but the gap between Germany and top global games industry locations such as Canada, France and the United Kingdom is still large. The reason is that many countries introduced targeted funding schemes for their domestic games industries years ago. The resulting advantages in those locations led to numerous companies opening branches there, creating extremely vibrant games ecosystems. At the same time, the cost of producing games in Germany was up to 30 per cent higher. Politicians finally took notice of these disadvantages, which had arisen over the course of years, and they introduced the games funding scheme as a result.
Other improvements for the games industry have been implemented in addition to the funding scheme. For example, in early 2021, the federal government began working on its first games strategy. It coordinated closely with the games industry as well – the publication of a position paper as a basis for discussion was followed by a workshop. The end result of the process was the first German federal games strategy – a brilliant premiere! The strategy includes many further steps that will be required to make Germany into a globally competitive location for the games industry. The subjects covered range from establishing a structured approach to marketing Germany as a games location, updating the German Computer Games Awards and training industry employees in game development to making better use of serious games and supporting esports. As 2021 went on, it became clear who would handle the implementation of the strategy: a specially convened games department in the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure. This was the first time that clear responsibility for games had been assigned to a government body at the federal level. With the games funding scheme, games strategy and games department, there are now three central components intended to strengthen Germany’s position as a location for the games industry.
The German parliamentary elections in September 2021 not only resulted in the formation of the first federal governing coalition between the political parties SPD, Bündnis 90/Die Grünen and FDP with Olaf Scholz as the new German chancellor; they also resulted in the responsibility for games being reassigned within the new government. Instead of the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action took on responsibility for games in late 2021. Consequently, the games department is now under the auspices of Vice Chancellor and Federal Minister for Economic Affairs Robert Habeck. In their coalition agreement, the three governing parties stated their aim to further bolster Germany as a location for the games industry. This also includes a continuation of games funding anchored in the agreement. The government agenda additionally provides official recognition of the non-profit status of esports associations. In that sense, from a games industry perspective the coalition agreement lays a strong foundation for successful games policies going forward. Assigning responsibility for games to another ministry was also a positive step from an industry perspective. Robert Habeck’s decision to take charge of games was welcomed as a vote of confidence, and the industry was pleased that the Minister for Economic Affairs shares its ambition to continue strengthening Germany as a games location.
But the new federal policies regarding games were not the only good news in 2021 – the positive developments of recent years continued at the state level as well. Growing numbers of German states began providing support for their local games companies, for example through funding schemes, helping them build networks and other support measures. Hamburg relaunched its funding scheme back in 2020; this scheme also covers the development of prototypes. The northern German city-state makes 520,000 euros available for this purpose annually. Federal states such as Berlin and Brandenburg, Baden-Württemberg, Lower Saxony and Saarland also increased their funding in 2020. Rhineland-Palatinate launched its first regional media and games funding scheme in October 2021, providing project funding and a scholarship programme totalling 250,000 euros annually. Late 2021 also brought good news for local games companies in northern Germany. The new state government of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern – a coalition of the political parties SPD and Die Linke – took games into account in its coalition agreement for the first time ever. Additionally, the new governing coalition in Schleswig-Holstein laid the groundwork for launching its own regional games funding scheme.
The funding programme ‘Kreativ-Transfer’ (Creative transfer), which helps German games studios with international networking and improved visibility, was continued throughout the second year of the Covid-19 pandemic. A total of 24 games studio projects were considered during the current funding period (since June 2021). As many of the games industry’s most important events were still either cancelled or took place entirely online due to the pandemic, companies were also granted support – in addition to the funding originally intended to cover travel expenses – to help them optimise their online presence, purchase streaming equipment and participate in fee-based online events, among other things.