Simonas Stūrys from Nordcurrent: Vilnius is visible in the global game market, we are on the right path to earn the title of an industry hub
Vilnius needs no further introduction in the global game development industry. The capital city of Lithuania is home to a number of companies that develop and sell games to players around the world. The progress of the ecosystem over the years has not only attracted many talents from Western European countries, but also solid investment.
The extremely rapid growth of this industry in the city of Vilnius is also shown by the data collected by Vilnius TechFusion: the number of game development companies, comparing the years 2020 and 2022, increased by 11%, the number of employees in the ecosystem increased by 98% during the same period, and the average salary last year, compared to 2021, grew by 20%.
One of the most prominent game development companies in Vilnius is Nordcurrent, operating for 21 years already. The company has a turnover of EUR 89 million and their games are captivating people all over the world. Their game Cooking Fever was one of the pioneers of restaurant simulation games in 2014 and has been played at least once by more than 400 million players so far. According to the company, 7 other their games have reached the symbolic threshold of 5 million users.
In this interview, Simonas Stūrys, Marketing Manager at Nordcurrent, talks about the situation of game developers in Vilnius and the shortage of professionals, and shares his experience on how to achieve amazing results when developing games in the capital of Lithuania.
The games industry in Lithuania is growing every year and an increasing number of foreign talents is being attracted to the country. How did Lithuania become such a hub for the game development industry?
The Lithuanian games industry is promising and growing rapidly. We see both an organic growth of existing game studios here and the relocation of Belarusian studios to Lithuania for political reasons. The latter has been the biggest driver, as a lot of game developers have come to Lithuania and have chosen Vilnius as a safe place to work from. This has resulted in the game development ecosystem in Lithuania that is now double or even triple the size of those in Latvia and Estonia combined. Vilnius is visible in the global games market, and while we cannot yet confidently call the city a hub for the industry, we are well on our way to becoming one. This is the result of the growth of both relocated and local game studios.
How does this close games community affect the results? How do you see the specific features of its activity in Lithuania?
The game development community in Lithuania is extremely warm and welcoming. The Lithuanian Game Developers Association organises various events and initiatives, thus creating favourable conditions for communication or cooperation. We are happy to approach one another for help and to share experiences when needed. Another important detail of the community is that we do not practice headhunting from other game studios. We let people decide for themselves where and on which project they would like to pursue their career.
Vilnius is home to 82 companies developing games for the world. What is important in order to access global markets?
The world games market is global and borderless, so it is not difficult to reach users in any part of the world. However, the games industry is unique in that there are no markets without fierce competition. The first step in publishing mobile games is to get on Google Play and App Store, but to be financially successful requires a significant investment in advertising on different channels. In addition to the usual digital advertising channels, we work with influencers in different countries and develop gamer communities on social networks. To minimise investment risks, games and their advertisements are tested in selected smaller markets and only when they perform well is a global release campaign launched.
The games industry needs developers. Are you facing a shortage of professionals in this field?
Indeed, there is no such institution or study programme in Lithuania that trains people specifically for the games industry, but practice shows that it is not necessary. When looking for employees, we focus on young, challenge-seeking and creative people with a strong interest in the games industry. We want the prospective employee to have some understanding of game development; however, all skills are acquired through practice. We know many young people who, before they leave school, have a strong focus on game development and it is their everyday life. They may not necessarily come to work for us, but they will grow as individual developers and contribute to the overall potential of the country.
Many professions contribute to game development. Which are the most important?
First of all, we need to point out one important thing – people who are interested in games can try their hand in the industry. There are usually three positions in every company: game designer, programmer and artist. The first is the author of the game ecosystem or part of it. This position could be compared to a film producer, as such employees must have a very broad background. They create the general idea of the game, the difficulty of the levels, the economic and other aspects of the product. Programmers make another important piece of the puzzle, by coding the game and making it work. Here we compete with all the high-tech companies: banks, developers of business software or conventional applications. For this reason, it is very important to make it clear to the candidates what kind of project they will be working on and what their role will be. The third piece of the puzzle is the artists. We have noticed that this profession has the smallest number of representatives in Lithuania, and that few higher schools train them. Not every artist would be able and willing to work in a video game studio, as it requires some specific art skills, as well as a willingness to work in a team and the ability to adapt. And the most important thing is the desire to enjoy the process even more than the result. The lack of this position is compensated by our teams in Ukraine and artists coming from other countries, in particular southern Europe. We would like to see this shortage taken into account more when planning study programmes and students being encouraged to take a greater interest in career opportunities in the games industry.
Each game has a large team working on it and can take years to be developed. Are there any games that never see the light of day even after years of development?
Nordcurrent’s years of experience allow us to use both data and stories from experiments to better assess which games will attract and keep players’ attention and which will not. In addition, we have a streamlined testing, release and development process that allows us to assess the potential of the game at a relatively early stage. History shows that almost every second game is discontinued before it is released on the global market. This indicator improves with the usage of data and accumulation of experience.
Looking at the market, what kind of state aid would be needed to expand the games sector in the capital?
We are not in favour of excessive funding for a specific industry, because this investment does not necessarily pay off for the state, especially if it distorts the developers’ goals when they develop for the mere sake of justifying funding rather than to create a game that millions of people want to play. The game development industry in Lithuania would benefit most from investment in education, children’s creativity and artistic potential. We also work a lot with schools to get more children to consider a career as a game developer, and we understand that this cannot be achieved in one day. I believe that the attitude of children and in particular their parents towards games and game development will change over time and the Lithuanian games industry will continue to grow successfully.