More than 600 game industry professionals attended the third annual Ludicious: Zurich Game Festival in Zurich, Switzerland January 26-29. The festival has grown from 200 attendees in 2015 to its current size by offering a trio of game contests across student, international and Swiss competitions and an in-depth series of lectures and panels exploring game development. Those numbers don’t include the families that flock to the festival by the thousands over the weekend to play virtual reality, console, PC and mobile games.
Dominik Marosi, head of Ludicious, told [a]listdaily that the idea for this festival came from two different entities–the city of Zurich and the Swiss cultural agency–both wanting to bolster the local game development scene. Marosi’s pitch for Ludicious, a celebration of game culture through a festival and multiple game competitions, won out.
“One of the reasons Ludicious exists is to promote the companies and schools were have here in Zurich and Switzerland,” Marosi said. “The Zurich University of the Arts has had a strong program for ten years educating game design from both the programming side and from the arts side. They have very talented teams with a lot of creativity.”
Zurich is also home to Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH), which Marosi said is one of the top universities in Europe. Disney Research also has a lab in town. Marosi said there’s a second hotspot located in Geneva with additional art universities.
“We decided to combine all these forces and come together for three days to present themselves,” Marosi said. “Ludicious is also about the industry outside of Switzerland in Europe and internationally. We’d like the students and game and technology developers to find a home here in Switzerland and not have to relocate to Canada or somewhere else.”
Switzerland is home to Giant Software, makers of the international hit franchise Farming Simulator, as well as Urban Games, the developer behind Train Fever and Transport Fever. Sunnyside Games is developing mobile games, and there are startups specializing in VR and AR, such as Apelab, which is developing for Google Tango and is working together with Kenzan Studios.
“There’s a good mix of startups here, but what’s missing is a big publisher or a really big studio that is available to hire all those students that come out of the universities,” Marosi said.
Facebook-owned Oculus VR purchased ETH startup, Zurich Eye last year to enable inside out tracking for Oculus Rift. Faceshift, which created software that enables real-time tracking of faces, was acquired by Apple in 2015.
“We’ve seen a lot of success on the tech side already working, so it would be great if we could get it working on the creative side as well,” Marosi said.
Ultimately, Marosi would love to see Switzerland turn into a Finland or Sweden when it comes to a game development hub. That’s one reason so many speakers from Finland, home to Rovio Entertainment, Supercell and Housemarque, were invited to speak at Ludicious.
“Finland also had the same problem starting out because it’s a very small local market, so you have to work together for international success,” Marosi said. “And that’s what they did. We’re trying to find out so what exactly is the recipe for success, so we’re looking to them for advice. We’re still hoping for a runaway success like Angry Birds that starts opening the doors and pushing the money in and gives even more trust for investors to invest in game companies.”
All Switzerland needs is one studio to hit a home run because studios like Rovio in Finland spawned many smaller successful studios like Supercell that also grew.
“If you look at the ratio of how many awards and how many nominations are going to Swiss teams compared to the size of the country and the size of the development community, it’s very tough to compare to other countries that have much, much larger developer communities,” Marosi said. “So we’re really happy with that, but translating all those awards and nominations into commercial success is the big goal.”
Over 300 games were submitted to Ludicious this year for the competition, which includes games from studios and colleges outside of Switzerland. Given the level of quality from the 11 international finalists, it’s obvious that this event is already on the map for those making games.
Ludicious also incorporates an accelerator pitch program, which already had a success story last year. Developer EverdreamSoft found a partner in All 4 Games, the video game publishing arm of Channel 4, to release its mobile Bitcoin blockchain game Spells of Genesis.