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Gamescom enters new political territory

Gamers are voters, too. At least the ones over 18. Now shortly before a general election, top policymakers in Germany have discovered the digital gaming community and are sitting up and taking notice.

The motto of this year's Gamescom fair in Cologne is "just play together."  But the world's largest trade fair for the industry is more than just a meeting place for the gaming community. With a huge annual turnover - more than 1 billion euros ($1.17 billion) in the first half of 2017 alone - politicians have also discovered the digital gaming world.

As a consequence, German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be at the opening for the first time this year and the heads of all the other parties also want to be seen there. They want to present themselves and their political messages to as many Gamescom visitors as possible at different events, some moderated by web bigwigs such as YouTuber LeFloyd.

US President Obama Chancelor Angela Merkel (Getty Images/AFP/A. Körner)

First steps in virtual reality: Angela Merkel with former US President Barack Obama at the Hanover Fair, April 2016. Virtual reality glasses were a major focus at Gamescom in 2016. Exhibitors promise that those glasses are now much cheaper

Felix Falk is pleased about the interest being shown by politicians, and the managing director of the German Games Industry Association (BIU) has concrete ideas about what can be done in Germany to ensure that the industry grows dynamically in the future.

"The visit of the chancellor and many other politicians is a very important signal and makes clear the importance of gaming as a cultural and economic asset. It also shows the importance of the game industry as an innovation factor," said Falk in an interview with DW.

'More producers instead of just consumers'

At the same time, however, German policymakers are not yet doing enough for the industry according to Falk: "We are happy that we have the world's most important event here in Germany, but as a place for developers, we are just not that good."

Countries like Canada, France, England, Italy or Poland are far ahead of Germany in this respect. And nearly all major sites for developers abroad receive some sort of state subsidy. "At the federal level, not one single euro has been invested in the promotion of development in Germany," criticizes Falk.

Angela Merkel with YouTube stars (picture-alliance/dpa/W. Kumm)

Angela Merkel with German YouTubers before a series of interviews in August

Favorable conditions are not only important for the industry and the German economy in general, but they also make good business sense. "For every subsidy euro, the finance minister receives additional tax revenue and investments, so for the state it makes sense."

The negative effects of a lack of funding are now clearly visible, according to the BIU and another gaming industry association, Game.

Germany is still one of the largest sales outlets in the world, but as a production site it is "losing the connection." Recently in Germany, sales of German-developed games fell to 6 percent of the total.

If Falk had his wish, a new course would be set as soon as possible so that Germany can really get more involved in the gaming industry - not just in consumption, but more importantly, in creation.

Additionally, the gamers are not the only ones to profit from the creativity of the developers. The entire economy has benefited from new standards such as 4K in graphics or the development of more powerful processors and virtual reality imaging - for example, in autonomous driving. Which means that digital entertainment is no longer a marginal issue for top politicians.

eSports (dotabuff.com)

"The International" is an eSport competition in the US with more than $20 million in prize money

eSports the new biggest thing

One of the biggest trends this year is eSports. These events have filled arenas worldwide - often with more than 10,000 spectators and huge amounts of prize money.

Teams of gamers play live against each other and spread frenzy throughout auditoriums. Major eSports events are even streamed live online and more and more eSports clubs are emerging.

"Companies such as Audi and Vodafone are really engaged in digital sports, especially in their efforts to reach this young, digital-savvy target group, which is hard to approach via classic advertising," enthuses Gerald Böse, the boss of Cologne fairgrounds, where Gamescom is taking place.

Overall organizers are expecting more than 300,000 visitors again this year. In total, more than half a million people are expected at the show and the various sideline developer conferences, congresses and events throughout the city.

The fact that many of the 910 Gamescom exhibitors come from abroad speaks for the global importance of the event. But for industry lobbyists this makes it clear that more governmental backing is needed in Germany; perhaps they can convince some of their political visitors.

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