What’s it like to make games in Europe’s biggest non-capital city in Europe’s largest games market? Richie Shoemaker quizzed three local studios in the hope of finding out.
According to Gamecity Hamburg, there are 180 gaming companies thriving across Germany’s second city, between them employing around 2,500 people. To put that in context for our UK readership, there isn’t any single metropolitan location outside of London that comes close to those kinds of numbers. You could gleefully smoosh the whole of Guildford and Brighton together and even if Creative Assembly’s Sussex HQ got sucked into the maelstrom, you’d still come up short. Mind you, Hamburg does have the population of four Manchesters and is Europe’s largest noncapital city. Even so, when Gamecity boasts that Hamburg is one of Europe’s gaming hotspots, it almost comes across as an understatement.
To give you some idea of how hot a spot Hamburg is, you only have to look at the international companies with significant outposts there, including Facebook and Google, as well as Capcom, Valve, Square, Niantic, Razer and WB Games. It helps of course that, according to Newzoo, Germany’s is the largest gaming market in Europe, with 10m more gamers and earning $1 billion more in revenue last year than the UK. Ergo: hot.
TIME TO CELEBRATE
Much like another regional advocacy group featured in MCV in recent months, Gamecity Hamburg is marking its 20th anniversary this year with a series of celebrations. The party was kicked off back in March with the Hamburg Games Conference: Two days of panel discussions, presentations and talks, with 50 speakers holding court to more than 500 attendees from across Germany and beyond.
Among the highlights was a post-mortem of the indie strategy hit Battle Brothers from Hamburg studio Overhype, which is estimated to have pulled in $10 million in revenue on PC alone (releasing for Switch in 2021 and PlayStation and Xbox last year). A more extensive retrospective was held in April, at Hamburg’s historic City Hall, where 200 guests were invited to celebrate 20 years of Gamecity Hamburg’s advocacy. Closing the evening was a lively panel discussion featuring, among other Hamburg games industry luminaries, the founder and CEO of Rockfish Games Michael Schade, who you may notice elsewhere in this issue.
Then in May, something of a more traditional celebration at Hamburg’s rather iconic creative hub, Jupiter, where more than 250 industry professionals gathered for what appears to have been something akin to our very own IRL event – although perhaps with rather a nicer view of the surrounding area than Waterloo’s Leake Street allows.
Next up for Hamburg’s game development community is of course gamescom, where the brightest and best games will be showcased as part of Gamecity’s Indie Arena booth. As in previous years, five studios will have the opportunity to showcase their efforts for free as part of its ‘Road to gamescom’ program, which this year includes such promising titles as Misgiven from Symmetry Break Studio and Light of Atlantis from DrownTown, a team made of former students of Hamburg University and winners of the “Best Prototype” newcomer award at this year’s German Computer Games Awards.
Many of this year’s Road to gamescom recipients have benefited from Gamecity Hamburg’s Games Lift Incubator, which this year has been awarded to five debut teams. Each team will receive a full year of support, including workshops and a mentoring program with renowned international experts, as well as access to a shared studio space with the other participating teams. There’s 15,000 euros in financial funding and priceless access to more than 30 experts in game design, product development, pitching, business development, press relations and marketing from the Games Lift Network. Not a bad deal.
But enough about Gamecity, what about Hamburg itself? Is it the epicentre of German game development the numbers working there would suggest? How integrated is business, development and education? What’s the infrastructure like? Hell, is it a nice city to live in? To help us answer some of these questions we turned to three local studios: Bigpoint, best known for its browser-based MMOs, Bytro Labs for its PC and mobile strategy games, and to InnoGames, which has a broad range of free-to-play titles across mobile and online. Here’s what they had to say about their home…
Where in the Hamburg area are you established and what’s it like there?
Marvin Eschenauer (Bytro): Bytro’s HQ is located in Hamburg, right in the heart of the vibrant district of St Pauli. But it did not start there. Its first game, Supremacy 1914, was developed back in 2009 in a university dorm in Freiburg im Breisgau. It was a few years later that the team moved to Hamburg in order to be closer to the gaming industry.
Marc Morian (InnoGames): Our very first office was established in 2006 in Stade, a small town in the Hamburg Metropolitan Region, which is also the hometown of our founders. In 2007 (the year of InnoGames’ founding), we moved to Harburg, one of the southernmost districts of Hamburg. Seven years later, we rented a six-story office building in Hamburg-Hammerbrook, an area located on the southern tip of Hamburg’s city centre, because we were running out of space. We have stayed there ever since, as it combines a comparatively reasonable cost with great logistics for colleagues both living in Hamburg and in the Metropolitan Region.
Michelle Zou (Bigpoint): We are currently located in Hammerbrook, where we recently moved at the beginning of this year. Hammerbrook is a very central location, only one station away from the main station, which is the biggest public transportation hub in Hamburg. We chose this area because, after implementing our full-remote working policy, our previous office building became too large since many of our colleagues opted to work from home. We believe Hammerbrook has the potential to become a gaming hub in Hamburg.
What benefits are there to being based in Hamburg as opposed to other parts of Germany?
Marc Morian (InnoGames): Hamburg is one of Germany’s few city states. So, in many ways that are relevant to us, Hamburg is on an equal footing with area states such as Bavaria or North Rhine-Westphalia. They tend to have deeper pockets, but we benefit from the fact that Hamburg can make its own state laws and policies while harbouring a gaming scene that is sizable, yet compact and manageable.
As a result, the relationships between the law makers, the gaming companies and Gamecity Hamburg – the city’s business development initiative for the gaming industry – are comparably close. That’s a huge advantage when it comes to addressing the industry’s needs. The fact that Gamecity Hamburg was the first initiative of its kind when it started 20 years ago, and has had a lot of time to optimise its support, is another big plus. Lastly, Hamburg is a metropolis by German standards, with nearly two million people living within the city limits and another five million in the Metropolitan Region. That’s a huge talent pool, and we all know how crucial that is for making great games.
Marvin Eschenauer (Bytro): There are a lot of small and medium sized studios around. Also Hamburg, being a port, is a very international city – and Bytro is an international company. It just made sense.
Michelle Zou (Bigpoint): It is a highly international city with a vibrant and diverse population. There is always something interesting to do, regardless of one’s interests, whether it be in terms of culture, food, sports, or other activities. In terms of the gaming industry, Hamburg stands out due to the presence of numerous game developers, publishers, and other gaming-related companies. Additionally, the city provides excellent support through initiatives like Gamecity Hamburg, which offers grants for smaller studios, workshops, and networking events. This support has truly been a game changer for the industry.
What challenges would you say are unique to the area?
Marc Morian (InnoGames): I can think of some challenges, but none of them are unique to Hamburg.
Marvin Eschenauer (Bytro): The weather, definitely!
Michelle Zou (Bigpoint): One unique challenge in the Hamburg area is the intense competition for attracting new talent. With a high concentration of gaming companies, it can be tricky to find suitable candidates for specific positions. The demand for skilled professionals often exceeds the available supply, leading to increased competition among companies.
What is your experience of local or federal government / business support in the area?
Michelle Zou (Bigpoint): Our experience with local government support in Hamburg has been highly positive. The city’s Gamecity Hamburg initiative and Hamburg Invest Team have been instrumental in providing various forms of support to the gaming industry. They offer grants, organise workshops and networking events, and provide valuable resources for game developers. The government’s commitment to fostering the growth of the industry has been evident through these initiatives.
Marvin Eschenauer (Bytro): Events to meet and connect with local industry peers are very valuable – especially since the games industry is very openminded and everybody can learn from each other. Gamecity Hamburg is an outstanding initiative there. We have been a sponsor and supporter of different Gamecity events for years, because we strongly believe that the local games industry in Hamburg has many talented developers. We are a big fan of Gamecity’s Games Lift program especially, where our CEO Tobias Kringe has supported new game developers and talents as a Mentor.
Marc Morian (InnoGames): The financial support provided by the City of Hamburg through Gamecity Hamburg is mainly focused on supporting start-ups, e.g. by providing financial aid for prototyping and access to know-how. Overall, Gamecity is doing a very good job in that area. For that reason alone, Hamburg is a good place to start your gaming business. In addition, Germany provides substantial federal funding.
However, that funding has been a bit of a roller coaster ride. Most recently, it became the victim of its own success, with more and more companies asking for – and relying on – federal funding while the budget stayed the same as before. The unfortunate result: A temporary application stop. Needless to say, there are now discussions going on between our industry association and the law makers. One side is asking for more – and different kinds of – funding to make Germany’s gaming industry more competitive internationally, while the other side is pointing to general budgetary constraints. All in all, we are still a ways away from what countries like France and Canada are doing. However, substantial federal funding does exist in Germany, which is more than many other countries can claim.
Do you have close relationships with other game companies in the region? Is there a healthy sense of “community” in the local scene?
Marvin Eschenauer (Bytro): Of course! For starters, a few of Bytro’s sister companies are located in Hamburg (Goodgame Studios, Playa Games), and then there’s Gamecity Hamburg, through which anyone gets to meet pretty much everyone involved in the industry.
Michelle Zou (Bigpoint): We have established close relationships with other game companies in the Hamburg region. The sense of community in the local game development and business scene is quite healthy.
The Gamecity Hamburg events, in particular, have played a significant role in fostering this community spirit. Attending these events often feels like being part of a big family. Additionally, Hamburg hosts exhibitions and conventions such as the Hamburg Games Conference and the Polaris Con, which attract a growing number of visitors and contribute to establishing the city as one of Germany’s major gaming hubs.
Marc Morian (InnoGames): We do collaborate with other Hamburg-based gaming companies on various projects. The fact that Hamburg’s gaming industry is sizable, yet concentrated in a relatively small area, really helps with that. Our paths cross all the time, be it at the many networking events, seminars and workshops organised by Gamecity Hamburg, at Indie Developer gatherings, or at one of the lighthouse events such as Hamburg Games Conference or Polaris.
We try to do our share by organising an annual networking event called “GamesCompass” together with Gamecity Hamburg and by organising a games internship program for pupils together with Fishlabs, Tivola Games and others, just to name a few examples. Not least, there’s a sizable local chapter of game, Germany’s gaming industry association, which serves as a platform for exchanges on all relevant matters. So, yes, it’s fair to say that there’s a healthy sense of community.
Can you describe your relationship with any local colleges and universities? How do you rate their facilities in terms of providing the talent you need?
Marc Morian (InnoGames): Hamburg boasts some great colleges and universities. Only some of them offer gaming specific programs, but we don’t mind too much because we believe that, in most cases, gaming-specific skills can be learned on the job. Therefore, graduates of non-gaming related programs are just as welcome at InnoGames. That said, we most closely cooperate with those colleges and universities that are involved in our tailor-made dual InnoBachelor and InnoMaster programs.
Other forms of cooperation involve guest lectures, seminars, or workshops given by InnoGames staff, participation in juries that judge gaming-related student projects, giving away free student tickets to gaming business conferences, inviting students to our game jams, or organised visits to our office that provide students with insights on how we work. So, overall our relationships with local colleges and universities are friendly and close – and, generally speaking, we are happy with the quality of their graduates.
Marvin Eschenauer (Bytro): We have not yet established a permanent cooperation with a college or university, but we aim to do so in the future. We always get great applications from them, especially for internships and student work. The TU, the HSBA, the Hafencity University, the Hamburger Kunsthochschule, but also institutes such as the SAE are all of particular interest to us.
How would you characterise the wide tech and creative industries in the region?
Marc Morian (InnoGames): Hamburg has a major port and is by far the largest city in Northern Germany. For those reasons alone it has been – and still is – a magnet for all kinds of industries. Hamburg also has a strong tradition in media and publishing that dates back to the 18th century. It’s actually been Germany’s media capital for a long time now. So, it’s no wonder that the tech and creative industries also have a strong local presence. For instance, the German headquarters of Google and Meta are here, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
We compete against those industries for online marketers, programmers and other talent to some extent. Sometimes we lose employees to them, but other times their employees decide to join us, thus creating a continuous exchange of know-how that benefits everyone involved. At the end of the day, the great variety of industries, the many exciting companies, and the attractive job opportunities they create, attract and – just as important – keep the talent in the city. That’s a big advantage for the local games sector.
Michelle Zou (Bigpoint): Hamburg is home to a flourishing tech and creative industry. It boasts a wide range of companies, from established giants like Facebook, to innovative startups. The creative sector, in particular, is vibrant and dynamic in Hamburg. This is partially due to organisations like the Hamburg Kreativgesellschaft, which support and promote the creative industries in the city. The presence of these industries has a positive impact on the games sector, fostering collaboration, cross-pollination of ideas, and providing access to talent and resources.
Marvin Eschenauer (Bytro): There is a certain degree of permeability between tech and creative companies and gaming. It is not unusual to see applications from ride hailing, dating or big tech players in the region and sometimes the other way around. The support of the city’s administration is strong and directed to these players which helps the perception of gaming big time. Hamburg certainly would not be quite as attractive without the wider tech ecosystem!
How easy is it to attract sufficient talent to the area and what are your specific policies to get the best people?
Marvin Eschenauer (Bytro): As we said before, Hamburg is a pretty international city, so there’s a lot of talent and diversity. It is highly competitive though! At Bytro we understand the importance of working together in the same physical place, but we also know that productivity and high-quality work can be done no matter where you are. We have colleagues all over the world, and we meet a few times a year – physically every quarter – in our Hamburg HQ’s for workshops, team building activities, and of course a good party!
Marc Morian (InnoGames): Despite its size, Hamburg is still a very liveable city. It’s pretty liberal and openminded, rather safe, very green, and there are many options for recreation. The Baltic Sea coast, the North Sea coast, Denmark and Berlin are only a few hours away. Not least, Hamburg’s cost of living is still a bit lower than in some other German cities of similar size, such as Munich or Frankfurt. Attracting talent to a city like that is comparatively easy and that’s a big advantage given that InnoGames has a hybrid rather than a remote working model.
However, attracting top talent remains a challenge in absolute terms. We tackle that challenge in a variety of ways, for example by maintaining a company culture characterised by fairness, openness and fun, by paying transparent salaries that are in the top third of the German labour market, by offering advanced trainings through our own ‘InnoVersity’, and by supporting colleagues in pursuing a degree – be it a dual InnoBachelor or InnoMaster or some equivalent qualification.
Michelle Zou (Bigpoint): Attracting talent to Hamburg is generally easier due to the city’s attractive features. Hamburg offers a wide range of activities, excellent connectivity, and a multicultural environment, making it an appealing place to live and work. However, competition for talent is fierce, and finding the best people for specific roles can be a challenge. To address this, we focus on creating an engaging work environment, offering competitive compensation packages, and providing opportunities for professional growth and development. Additionally, our emphasis on remote work allows us to tap into talent from a broader geographical area.
How would you describe the infrastructure? Can you get the resources you need easily enough?
Michelle Zou (Bigpoint): Hamburg has a robust infrastructure that supports easy travel and access to resources. The city boasts an excellent public transportation system, enabling convenient movement throughout the city. The introduction of a Germany-wide monthly ticket for 49 Euro at the beginning of this year has made public transportation even more affordable, especially considering our additional subsidies for employees.
What is the one thing you would change about Hamburg to make it a more attractive place for people to work in game development?
Marvin Eschenauer (Bytro): Maybe its reputation. It is not as well known as other big cities in Europe. Not everyone knows how international it is and how developed the gaming industry is in this part of the world. That or the weather! But maybe if it was sunny all year long, then everyone would wanna live here.
Michelle Zou (Bigpoint): If there was one thing we could change about Hamburg to make it an even more attractive place for people to work in game development, it would be to increase the availability of affordable housing. The rising prices and high demand for housing have made it challenging for professionals to find suitable and affordable accommodations. Addressing this issue would further enhance the appeal of Hamburg as a desirable location for individuals in the game development industry.
Marc Morian (InnoGames): If Hamburg wants to continue to attract highly qualified people for the gaming industry – or any industry, really – in the sense that they physically move here and decide to stay long term – keeping the city safe, green, and reasonably affordable is the way to go.