The Lithuanian games industry grows at an impressive pace: its value is expected to reach EUR 1 billion in 2030
The global games industry is valued at USD 159.3 billion, which is more than double the value of the film and music industries, according to the figures of 2023. As the average age of the global gamer rises to 35, an increasing number of Lithuanian developers and IT professionals have been taking this career direction. According to Vilnius TechFusion, an ecosystem of high-tech companies and talents, the number of employees in the games industry in Vilnius has grown by 98% comparing the years 2020 and 2022 and the Lithuanian Game Developers Association claims that the total value of the Lithuanian ecosystem has reached EUR 250 million. Game developers expect the value of the entire industry to hit around EUR 1 billion by 2030.
Wages in the game development sector have grown by 20%
A growing high-tech ecosystem is one of the key indicators of the economic development of a city. Together with other Vilnius TechFusion industries, the growing games industry already boasts exceptional indicators: 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% percent during the same period, and the average salary last year, compared to 2021, grew by 20% – employee in the game development industry earned EUR 3 621 before taxes.
According to Inga Romanovskienė, Head of Vilnius Tourism and Business Development Agency Go Vilnius, this growth should not be surprising when looking at the overall progress of the game development ecosystem.
“We are currently experiencing a kind of boom in the games ecosystem in Vilnius. We are seeing more and more companies from this ecosystem gaining foothold on global markets and launching their products there. The data collected by Vilnius TechFusion shows the expansion of both local companies and foreign businesses that have relocated to Vilnius. By responding to companies’ wishes, we raise their profile in priority foreign markets, thus helping to attract investors and employees to the games ecosystem in the city,” says Ms Romanovskienė.
Aiming for sector prioritisation
The representatives of the ecosystem have also noticed the growing market for game developers in Vilnius. According to them, the rapid growth has been recorded for several years in a row. Gediminas Tarasevičius, Head of the Lithuanian Game Developers Association, thinks this is due to complex reasons.
“The most important recent event was the relocation of Belarusian companies to Vilnius, which was caused by Russia’s war against Ukraine. In a very short period of time, more than 1 000 game developers moved to the capital, so the number of people working in the games industry in Lithuania doubled. At the same time, we are seeing a growing interest in this sector, with many more people attending themed industry events, new game development studios setting up, and the segment of board game developers strengthening noticeably,” says Mr Tarasevičius.
As the game development sector grows, entrepreneurs note that while the state is trying to give the sector every opportunity, there are still a few details missing. Although Vilnius has the largest games ecosystem in the Baltic States, it is still not a priority for the country and realising its full potential requires an increased number of flights to the capital city.
“We would like to see a commitment from the state to prioritise this industry and to create the most favourable investment environment for this sector. By all means, we should strive to ensure that Vilnius has direct flights and connections to major European and global game hubs. This would help us to encourage the exchange of talent and attract experienced professionals to Lithuania to take game development companies to the next level. We also see some shortcomings in the tax system, which means that some foreign talent works remotely and never joins the Lithuanian game development community,” points out the Head of the Lithuanian Game Developers Association.
Working with foreign markets is important before a game is released
Nordcurrent, one of Europe’s top 20 mobile game development studios, is now 21 years old. The company based in Vilnius 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 by more than 400 million players so far. Nordcurrent has now developed 7 games with over 5 million downloads, such as Happy Clinic, Pocket Styler and Airplane Chefs. Simonas Stūrys, Marketing Manager at Nordcurrent, says that it is possible to develop video games in Lithuania, but experience and data play an important role here.
“The games market is global and borderless, it is easy to reach any market, but 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 a global launch campaign commences,” notes the Marketing Manager of Nordcurrent.
Every second game never sees the light of day
A good story or appealing visuals are not enough to make a successful game. According to Mr Stūrys, it is important to collect and analyse data on players and their behaviour in games, which allows balancing the gameplay so that players are engaged and stay engaged for as long as possible.
“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,” says Simonas Stūrys, Marketing Manager at Nordcurrent.
Lack of experienced professionals
Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit, developed by Tag of Joy and recognised as the best game for PC and consoles at the Lithuanian Game Awards, tells the story of Milda who grew up in Chicago and who unexpectedly inherits her deceased grandfather’s house in Vilnius. It shows the history and facts of Lithuania, and part of the game story is also set in the capital city. Although such depictions of the country’s history are rare on computer or phone screens, as the Lithuanian game development community grows, we may see similar stories in the future. According to Šarūnas Ledas, Head of the Tag of Joy game studio, the events taking place here have also significantly contributed to the growth of the community.
“It’s great to see how the Lithuanian game development industry has been growing rapidly over the last 20 years. There are growth spurts every five years or so, but overall the industry has been growing steadily and stably. This shows that there is still unused potential, and at the same time we are becoming more and more visible not only in Lithuania, but also globally. One of the most distinctive features is the closeness of the community – many people in the industry have been taking active part in events, and new professionals are also involved. I think this is a consequence of the Game Jam events that started in Lithuania 21 years ago, which outnumbered any other hackathons ever held in the Baltic States. It’s a great place to socialise and test your game development skills,” notes Šarūnas Ledas.
According to the head of the game studio, the domestic games sector is most in need of experienced professionals who take time to grow up.
“Lithuanian universities produce strong programmers who, although lacking specific game development knowledge, do not find it difficult to make the transition. We have a similar situation with artists, since our higher schools provide a good foundation that can be applied to game development. Of course, in that case, you need to have an additional interest in game development in your spare time, whereas it would be a little easier if studies provided more directly applicable skills. It is true that no game designers are trained in Lithuania. In terms of the need and the number of professionals, currently we feel the biggest shortage of experienced professionals who can lead projects and help young people grow. But experience does not come naturally – we just have to wait 5 or 10 years for young professionals to grow up,” believes the head of Tag of Joy.