A Roundtable Discussion about The Czech Video Game Industry

What are the features of Czech games and characteristics of Czech players? What would be the benefits of public support for local video game production? What is the role of Czech video game journalism in the age of influencers and streamers? These and other questions were discussed by game scholar Jaroslav Švelch, chairman of the Czech Game Developers Association (GDACZ) Pavel Barák, chairwoman of The Czech Film Fund council Helena Bendová, game developer and game design lecturer Michal Berlinger (Amanita Design), and game journalist Šárka Tmějová (Games.cz, Radio Wave) on January 27, 2022. The roundtable was broadcast live on Zoom and Facebook.

To start off the first-ever discussion about computer games at the Roundtable Series on Czech Media and to put the theme into broader international context, Pavel Barák spoke about the position of the Czech video game industry within the European and Central European context. Regarding the former, in 2020, the total revenue of the Czech video game industry was approximately ten times smaller than that of the Finnish video game industry, one of the European leaders in video game production. Regarding the latter, however, the Czech video game industry ranks second behind Poland. But importantly, total revenues of local video game production grow every year despite the pandemic challenges.

Public Support for Local Video Games

Helena Bendová addressed three main benefits of the planned public support for the Czech video game industry. First, the state can support artistic games, which may struggle to be profitable based on sales alone. Second, new developers and experimental and innovative game projects might benefit from additional financial support. And third, video game production is a high risk sector – public funding could thus help stabilize the local video game production ecosystem.

According to Bendová, the planned Audiovisual Fund should financially support video games of an artistic or cultural value. This includes originality, innovativeness, or social and cultural impact. On top of these parameters, supported games should be diverse in terms of their genre. Bendová also mentioned that the fund could also finance games focusing on local themes and representation of the Czech history, such as Kingdom Come: Deliverance. Michal Berlinger then elaborated on the Czech titles he would see as eligible – Someday You’ll Return from CBE Software or Svoboda 1945: Liberation from Charles Games.

The Specificities of the Czech Video Game Industry and Journalism

Michal Berlinger also spoke about the specificities of the Czech video game industry. In Berlinger’s words, the competitive advantage of working in Czechia are low living costs compared to Western centers of the video game industry. At the same time, the local pool of developers is limited and Berlinger could imagine Czech companies having to look for employees abroad or partially relocating there, too.

Šárka Tmějová reflected on mainstream media reporting about video game production. Speaking about the selective coverage of the recent acquisition of Activision Blizzard by Microsoft, she argued that Czech mainstream media lack a systematic understanding of economic aspects of video game production. Although streamers and influencers are in the public discourse often portrayed as heralds of the end of the traditional video game journalism, Tmějová believes they can coexist along the specialized press in Czechia.

The Pressing Issues of Video Game Production and Journalism in Czechia

The next segment of the roundtable was related to the obstacles that hinder the growth of the Czech video game industry. Pavel Barák reiterated one of the most pressing issue for local video game production – the lack of skilled workforce, which is mainly caused by underdeveloped educational programs in Czechia. Companies therefore often need to look for employees abroad, although the influx of foreign workers has reportedly slowed down.

Jaroslav Švelch then asked Šárka Tmějová whether Czech video game media cover problematic working conditions, referencing the frequent reports from Western game media. Tmějová views the situation in the U.S. as different from the Czech video game development context, for example concerning the prevalent independent contracting work. Tmějová, however, added that issues such as crunch (extended periods of overtime work) might not appear in the Czech specialized press simply because local journalists might not want to cover them. In relation to that, Švelch talked about the career fluctuation between the sectors of video game production and journalism, asking if it impacts how Czech video game journalism reports on the industry in general. Tmějová considered this to be a serious ethical problem and stated that the boundaries between PR and journalism in the Czech specialized press can be quite thin.

The Czech Video Game Industry during the Pandemic

In response to an audience question about foreign workers, Pavel Barák emphasised that while being digital and highly globalized video game production also depends on interpersonal contact, especially in bigger Czech studios. That said, small or middle-sized businesses have been introducing remote work, including foreigners, more frequently. Generally, one third of Czech game development workforce are foreigners with an almost even proportion of EU and non-EU nationals.  

Regarding other impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, most of the representatives from the bigger Czech companies included in the GDACZ survey from 2021 stated that it prolonged their game production timelines. Overall, the pandemic has also complicated hiring and the process of finding investors, since most of the physical events (where investor contracts can be arranged) had been cancelled or switched to an online format.

The Patriotism of Czech Players

The closing segment focused on the demographics and preferences of Czech players. Tmějová described them as mostly male, historically favoring playing on PC and being local game production patriots by devoting their time to Czech video games such as Mafia or Bulánci. Berlinger and Barák added that this patriotism is also manifested in sales of Czech video games. For example, Kingdom Come: Deliverance reportedly sold 3% of all its units in Czechia, which is a significant number considering the small size of the Czech gaming market in the global context.

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