German game developing a cultural affair

The German videogame developer is a young, native sport. It benefits from this youth; a natural knee-up on uniqueness, sophisticated technological prowess and a better understanding of their relative audience than a lot of larger export states. Culture comes to mind first to most westerners when it comes to Germany, and not for all its tortured past. Rather, we contend Germany will be a healthy contender in the future of gaming; so with a critical look, we focus on the cultural components alone. In a series of questions to four Heads of German videogame development companies, we found different, deafening, mute, and downright comical responses. It gave all of us here a chance to look at the heart of the development core of a country that has become a seasoned vet overnight. The answers given by each of the four explore German gaming development as a cultural affair.

The four German game developers who took time to share their thoughts are unique and prestigious in their niche. DECK13 is well-known for their PC/Xbox 360 RPG 2009 E3 pleaser Venetica, and EGOSOFT is known for a successful series of space/flight sims, the X series. RadonLabs is known for their upcoming 2010 strategy PC title Future Wars, as well as a graphically stunning dtp published RPG, Drakensang. Shin’en Multimedia has developed a slew of novelty DS games, from Garfield to the Nanostray series, and games like Pet Alien. The German videogame developers questioned were a strong and eclectic bunch, enriching the world of gaming with their art and candour.

But first we must view what’s behind it. So Luke developed some very cultural centric questions, and we went at it. All the company Heads were gracious, and gave very thoughtful answers.

As one of the Reps revealed: “There is a special German market and a German taste that asks for specific things.” Let’s do this.

Note, the first response introduces the interviewees names, positions and company names; all following questions by company name only.

Critical Gamer – How and do German developers differ in their work and philosophy from those of other countries?

Jan Klose, Creative Director, DECK13 Interactive GmbH

“Game development is still a rather young profession in Germany. There you don’t see that many veterans but instead lots of young newcomers in the business. The positive side is the that you can feel a lot of creativity and fresh ideas being pursued by the studios. On the other hand, German companies are keen to catch up with the international competition and therefore feel the pressure to produce full-fledged AAA titles with comparably fewer experience and budget.”

Bernd Lehahn, Managing Director, EGOSOFT GmbH

“As for typical German philosophy behind game development: certainly not deliberately. But if you observe your own doings you find that indeed most German games tend to be engineering centric.”

Bernd Beyreuther, Creative Director, RandonLabs GmbH

“Videogames are so far a global phenomena, so tools, structures and development mechanisms in Germany do not differ from those in other countries. There is one flaw – coming from Germany. Which means: we have to fly over to US or UK to drink beer with an international publisher – which is – from the philosophical point of view – by far more difficult than stepping by.

Instead we do have some local publishers, addressing local niches – so outside Germany, German developers are probably known for those niche products: complex soccer managers and stuff like this.”

Manfred Linzner, Managing Director, Shin’en Multimedia GmbH

“Well of course I can only talk for our company. We don’t feel like we differ very much to developers from other countries as we all work for a global market.”

PhotobucketCritical Gamer – Does Germany’s strict videogame censorship impact on creativity?

DECK13 – The videogame market is strongly oriented on worldwide sales which makes it possible to even produce games that contain strong realistic violence, like FarCry, in Germany (which sold very well in Germany, by the way). Besides, the censorship only applies to extremely realistic  violent content. Concerning sex, for example, the rules are less strict than in the US. Still, Developers haven’t produced games full of sexual content though, so I think the governmental regulations show limited impact on shaping the content of German games.”

EGOSOFT“As you may know we (Egosoft) are in the business of developing space sims and fortunately therefore do not collide with the strict German laws protecting youngsters from violent games.  As developers we are not affected much but as consumers we are often times ordering our games from the UK; which is a lot cheaper at the moment anyway.”

RadonLabs – “No.  Why should it?”

Shin’en Multimedia – “We never felt like that as our company isn’t into developing adult only games. I think when you develop an adult only game then its just normal that this game can only be sold to adults, and therefore Germany has the USK ratings like many other countries use similar ratings. As far as I know the only kind of censorship is done on the use of forbidden symbols from unconstitutional parties.”

Critical Gamer – Do German developers feel a pressure to make games for a global audience rather than bearing their own culture and experiences in mind?  If so why, or why not?

DECK13 – “There’s no clear yes or no to that. In fact, many companies focus on the production of adventure games, a nice market that is pretty strong in Germany. Others create strategy titles like the Settlers and the Anno series style which are mainly targeted at the German market. On the other hand, companies like Crytek, and Deck13 too, aim for the international market.  At Deck13 we simply feel that our ideas of entertainment are globally valid.  The stories and gameplay that we find interesting aren’t particularly German.”

EGOSOFT – “Oftentimes they [game development] contain too much micromanagement. Of course we aim to sell our games on an International market. To us this is often about finding a compromise.”

RadonLabs – “Yes. There is pressure to make games that attract to an International audience. There are German games that are very very successful within Germany, with a somewhat limited success in U.S. an UK. There is a special German market and a German taste that asks for specific things. But if you only stick to that special taste, budgets will stay limited to a regional size. Because you reached a 1/10th of the market you would reach with an international game. The problem exists in Germany for 25 years – and there are very few companies that could deal successful with the issue.”

Shin’en Multimedia – “We always develop our games for a global audience. We are one of the very few indie companies that released games in Japan for instance. For our kind of games the German market is around 25 percent of the global market. Also the UK and the French market are quite important, though the U.S. Market is still the most important one. So we make of course sure all people will like and understand our games.”

PhotobucketCritical Gamer – Why must videogames featuring Nazi imagery be banned or censored, while movies featuring Nazi imagery are not?

DECK13“Because German law allows the use of Nazi imagery for educational purposes, science, historical coverage, and…art. And obviously, computer games are far from really being considered art, yet. The new European law issued this summer might change things, though.”

EGOSOFT – “The Nazi heritage does not affect our games in particular (didn’t consider Space Nazis so far), but I understand that games are typically seen as purely entertainment whereas movies at least claim to be educative to a degree. My understanding is also that a game could use Nazi imagery if they would truly aim to historical correct. That probably rules out the option of having super Space Nazis in the next X game.”

RadonLabs – “So is the law.”

Shin’en Multimedia “That’s an often discussed topic for gamers in Germany. §86 of the German law forbids symbols of unconstitutional parties, but it’s allowed to used them in an art context. I guess the legislative body is seeing movies as art but games as something in between art and entertainment. Of course that just my personal opinion.”

Critical Gamer – Does the German games industry feel valued by their Government?

DECK13 – “Not at all. But things are slightly changing recently.”

EGOSOFT – No Response

RadonLabs –“Yes. We do. Germany government during the last 10 years very improved the support of the videogame industry. Few examples, our award-winning Drakensang RPG (2008) was co-financed by public money (MDM Mitteldeutsche Medienfőrderung) and we won the Germany Developer Award 2009 for Drakensangd, which is governmental price of approximately 200,000 EUR.”

Shin’en Multimedia – “Good question. Never thought about that. I can’t remember any kind of benefits we had for just being a game company. Should there really be benefits? In the end, I think any legal business in Germany is seen as valued by the government.”

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Written by Les T

One comment

  1. This was really interesting. Thanks.

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