In order to paint a picture of the European sector of game development right before GDC Europe, the Game Developers Conference has surveyed over 300 European games industry professionals who have attended GDC shows, read Gamasutra.com, or plan to attend GDC Europe 2013 in August.
Along the way, the respondents have revealed several fascinating trends about tax incentives, regional development centers, and top European game-making countries of the past, present and future.
Organized by the UBM Tech Game Network, GDC Europe will take place August 19-21, 2013, at the Congress-Centrum Ost Koelnmesse in Cologne, Germany, co-located with the major Gamescom game business/consumer event.
Tax incentives best in UK and France -- but few devs are satisfied
Only 10% of survey respondents reported being satisfied with their country's domestic game development tax incentives, compared to 35% feeling unhappy and 55% feeling neutral on the subject.
Asking for Europe-wide views, showcasing the general lack of choice, 32% of all respondents thought that the UK offered the best tax incentives - despite the fact that their much-vaunted tax breaks are delayed for European Union approvals - compared to 19% for France, 12% for Germany, 12% for Finland, and the Netherlands at 9%.
Many respondents cited Canada's significant tax breaks as a comparison point. "Not competitive with Canada," one respondent said. "We need more, otherwise Montreal wins," said another. Yet another dev spoke to broader governmental problems: "Most governments don't understand the industry at all," the dev wrote, "In France, game development is an administrative and tax nightmare."
Other respondents were inclined to point out that tax breaks weren't necessarily a cure-all for European devs' woes: "If we need them, our industry has already screwed up." "Tax is less a problem; politics itself is the main showstopper." Another respondent commented on how devs in Nordic countries with fewer tax breaks were still succeeding: "Without many tax breaks, the Nordic countries are thriving, while developers in France or the UK spend too much time looking for actual tax breaks."
Content rating systems failing to gain traction
The survey also found that 71% of responding developers don't even submit their video games to content rating boards. Of the developers that did regularly submit to rating boards, most submitted to PEGI, USK, and the ESRB.
Many respondents cited Germany's separate rating system, the USK, as an inconvenience compared to the pan-European PEGI system. "The sooner Germany normalizes with PEGI, the better for everyone," wrote one respondent. "It's annoying that Germany has its own rating system," wrote another.
Also, some respondents commented on how content ratings weren't useful for digital-only games, showcasing the relative decrease importance of game age ratings: "Standardized systems only work for boxed games."; "We do browser games; that doesn't concern us."
The UK is losing its identity as a hub for European game development
One particularly striking question showcased that the United Kingdom's central role in European game development has eroded over the past ten years, according to those who replied.
Overall, 59% of surveyed devs reported that the UK made the best games in Europe ten years ago, compared to 15% for Germany, 11% for France, and 6% for Sweden.
But when evaluating the current state of European game development, the UK fell to 20%, compared to 19% for Finland (home of titles like Angry Birds and Clash Of Clans), 19% for Sweden (Battlefield and Hotline Miami), and 15% for Germany (Crysis and The Settlers franchise).
When asked to assess which country would make the best games five years from now, the survey showed that Germany edged ahead at 22%, the UK fell to 19%, Finland received 12%, and Sweden received 11%.
(GDC organizers intend to field a similar survey next year in the spring before the show. For this year's survey, 31% of survey respondents were from Germany, 21% from the UK, 11% from the Netherlands, 6% from Finland, and 6% from France.)