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5 things we learned about Croatia's games industry at Reboot Develop 2015

Matt Suckley our man on the ground
5 things we learned about Croatia's games industry at Reboot Develop 2015

Last week saw Reboot Develop, the biggest game developers’ conference in southeast Europe, return for its second year.

This time the location was in the magnificent surroundings of Dubrovnik, Croatia’s historic walled city and a frequent Game of Thrones filming site.

Mobile gaming was well represented at the conference, with speakers representing 22 Cans, Wargaming, TabTale, Eipix Entertainment, and many more across the event’s 3-day duration.

We were in attendance to soak it all in, and these are our key takeaways from the event.

Croatia has ambition

Croatia has ambition

After three days spent in the company of those who have a vested interest in the Croatian games sector maturing - developers, educators, and specialist media - their frustration at how things are being handled is evident.

Lovro Nola of the game development academy Machina told us that the fledgling Croatian industry has “got the people working but they don't really know each other, they don't really know what's available out there, they don't know what they can make use of."

What unites the people continuing to push for advancement in this environment, then, is a burning passion for games and an unwavering belief in the potential of Croatia - a feeling that change is just around the corner.

People in the Croatian industry are encouraged to support one another - with Nola even cajoling established firms in the region to invest in local start-ups - and the negativity or indifference surrounding them has made them stronger.

PC remains king, but mobile is growing

PC remains king, but mobile is growing

“Most Croatian developers started out before the smartphone era, so for them PC was always the main marketplace,” Machina’s Lovro Nola told me.

“We’ve only seen two companies arise that focus exclusively on mobile. Most developers have their in-house engines, and they don’t really want to be switching to Unity or Unreal.”

“However, all the new devs coming up are working with Unity or Unreal, etc. So what’s happening is we have these older developers, who want to expand their brands to mobile, but they don’t have the capacity in-house, so a lot of them are reaching out to the younger devs.”

Furthermore, Nola encourages his students to work within these existing engines, and to make their games multiplatform - meaning that Croatia's new wave will be better equipped than ever to publish on mobile platforms.

Console and mobile converge

Console and mobile converge

When Sony’s Shahid Ahmad (pictured) talked about the changes that have occurred in console game publishing - the death of the middle tier leading to a choice of either publisher-backed triple-A or self-published indie - his message was strikingly similar to that of speakers in the mobile space.

Indeed, both Eipix Entertainment and TabTale were keen to advise young studios in attendance that their best hope of success in the mobile space would be to pursue a deal with a publisher.

Eipix CEO Mirko Topalski’s talk was a particularly strong advertisement for working with a publisher, as the Serbia-based firm was massively downsized and effectively on the brink of closure before a deal with Big Fish Games allowed it to thrive and expand.

Furthermore, with Ahmad waxing lyrical about the ease of access to PlayStation publishing for indies, the unlikely truth may now be that consoles are beginning to feel more approachable than mobile.

A case of art versus profit

A case of art versus profit

When Eipix started out, its first project was the Wipeout-esque Pyroblazer - a complex, lengthy, and ultimately unprofitable development experience that came from a place of enthusiasm rather than playing to marketable trends.

Since, the company has made the switch from hardcore PC games to casual and mobile development. And while this move has brought success, it's also seemingly brought about a change in mentality.

When CEO Mirko Topalski talks about the hidden object games his company produces for Big Fish Games, he speaks of how easy they are to develop and release quickly above anything else.

He's also frank when discussing the development of Free the Witch, Eipix's first F2P game, making the financial incentive quite clear.

For a nation like Croatia, which has an underdeveloped games sector but no shortage of enthusiastic individuals hoping to catch a break, that opposition between art and profit seems likely to rear its head sooner rather than later.

“The couple of Croatian companies that sprung up as purely financially driven investments have all gone down the mobile route,” said Lovro Nola.

“Most investors and developers who aren't gamers, who aren't in love with their own ideas and products, will pick the mobile route.”

Pulling together

Pulling together

There was a general consensus that those working on game development in Croatia are too fragmented and uncommunicative, with little networking infrastructure in place.

There's certainly a unity of desire, with many pushing toward one goal, but often the push itself isn't as organised as it could be.

It's one of the things that would need to change if the country's games industry were to experience a boom, one would imagine, so the impact of events like this one can't be underestimated.

Reboot Develop ensures that everyone's on the same page, for a few days a year at least, and reassures people that they're not alone out there.

As such, people feel encouraged to pursue more social activity, because they see that it's possible - we heard talk of people organising meets and game jams, which is always a good sign.