Political checkmate for Turkey′s game developers | Digital Culture | DW | 19.08.2016
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Digital Culture

Political checkmate for Turkey's game developers

When Turkey was selected as the partner country for Gamescom 2016, no one knew the country would be embroiled in political turmoil. The Turkish gaming market is growing fast, but its developers face many hurdles.

Turkey's gaming market is one of the most interesting in the world. The country is home to nearly 80 million people, and the average age is under 30. Around 60 percent of the population is online and 30 million Turks regularly play video games. Mobile games are particularly popular.

"In Turkey, the interest in computer games is strong," said Armagan Yavuz of the game developer TaleWorlds. "The market is developing quickly and there is a lot of enthusiasm for technology."

Game developer Armagan Yavuz, Copyright: Philip Kretschmer

Yavuz developed the action role-playing game 'Mount & Blade'

The developer is known for the "Mount & Blade" series, which has sold several million copies. Even though the medieval action role-playing game has mainly sold outside of Turkey, Yavuz sees a great deal of potential within the country - and he's not the only one at Gamescom who's optimistic about the Turkish market.

All of the Turkish developers at the fair, which runs through Sunday in the western German city of Cologne, rave about Turkey's young, gaming-oriented population. However, opinions are divided when it comes to the developer scene in Turkey.

"The Turkish market has incredible potential, but only for the players," said Ismail Kemal Ciftcioglu. "For game developers, it's hell."

Virtual reality potential

Ciftcioglu, the founder of a young independent studio named RealityArts, is familiar with the challenges faced by smaller firms when they want to release a new game. When it comes to money, they're usually entirely dependent on foreign investors, which is why there are hardly any AAA games (a classification based on budget size) coming out of Turkey.

RealityArts plans to release its first product in just a few weeks. "Voidrunner" is a space shooter game that has also been developed for virtual reality.

The virtual reality trend has also caught on in Turkey. Numerous universities have virtual reality labs where young developers can be trained, which Ciftcioglu sees as an opportunity. "Turkey missed the boat on the big computer games, but at the moment it looks like that won't happen with virtual reality," he said.

Public funding

To improve conditions for Turkish developers, the Game Developers Association of Turkey (TOGED) was founded in 2014. TOGED is tasked with representing developers, both on the international market and with the Turkish government. Although developers receive state funding, there's still room for improvement.

"That's why we founded TOGED," said Ufuk Sahin, the association's vice chairman. "So that we can explain to the government what we're doing and how they can support us."

Turkish developers don't seem to be concerned about the government having an influence on the scene in exchange for cash.

"You can do whatever you want," said Sahin. "You can even get funding for games with sexual elements or gambling."

Turkey's stand at Gamescom 2016, Copyright: Philip Kretschmer

Turkey's gaming scene has a chance to present itself at Gamescom 2016

He's also not concerned about the fact that the government occasionally blocks social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube. "Sometimes the government blocks a site, but then everyone just logs on via a VPN tunnel and no one is bothered."

Price of political turmoil

Nevertheless, July's failed coup attempt in Turkey and the current political tension have also posed additional challenges for developers. Even though they say the government doesn't have a direct influence on their work, there is clearly an indirect impact.

On the one hand, foreign investors are pulling out of Turkey due to the uncertain political situation. On the other hand, it's getting more difficult to attract talent from abroad, which is a big disadvantage in a scene that is so international.

Ciftcioglu, of the indie studio RealityArts, told DW that he had to work hard to convince his chief developer to come over from the US. He wanted him on-site during the final development phase of "Voidrunners," but just prior to his arrival, jihadis launched a deadly attack at Istanbul's Ataturk airport, killing at least 41 people.

The developer initially remained in the US, but was later talked into traveling to Turkey. On his first day at work, fighter jets zoomed over his office. It was July 15, the day of the attempted military coup. "The political situation is really bad for business," said Ciftcioglu.

Virtual reality at Gamescom 2016, Copyright: Getty Images/S. Schuermann

Virtual reality is the highlight at Gamescom 2016

Pokemon takes Turkey

Mobile game developers, however, are less affected. In Turkey, as in the rest of the world, interest in smartphone gaming is growing rapidly. The beneficiaries are Turkish companies like Gram Games, whose puzzles such as "1010!" and "Merged!" have already been downloaded over 85 million times.

Peak Games is also tackling the mobile market, particularly with digital versions of board games like "Okey," which is very popular in Turkey and Arab countries. But what's the most popular game right now in Turkey? TOGED vice chairman Sahin just laughs. "Right now? Pokemon!"

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