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A speedrun through Flanders’ creative media and gaming industry
A goldmine that has only just been unearthed, the gaming industry in Belgium and its northern region Flanders is bubbling with potential and knowledge:
- Belgium is home to 70+ game studios, almost exclusively in Flanders.
- With a total population of only 11 million people, of which 6 million live in Flanders, Belgium is home to a whopping 4.2 million active gamers.
- Nearly half of Flanders’ population reports playing digital games at least once per month, and half game daily.
- The JPEG 2000 standard owes its existence to brainpower from Flanders. Ingrid Daubechies – who comes from Limburg (Flanders) and teaches at Duke University (US) – first described the ‘Daubechies wavelets’ that make the new and more efficient JPEG technique possible.
- Flanders is home to a fully-fledged game technology cluster that unites game developers, middleware developers and publishers. All five of Flanders’ universities are also involved in various domains of the game technology cluster.
- THEOplayer, the world’s number 1 video player, has its corporate roots in Leuven, Flanders.
Flanders is home to a strong talent pool. With 5 universities and 16 university colleges, the region highly prioritizes the education of its population. And with the aim of turning talent into successful developers and entrepreneurs, many of these university colleges – such as Howest in Kortrijk, LUCA School of Arts and PXL-MAD school of Arts – offer bachelor’s and masters’ degrees relevant to the fields of creative media programming, digital communication, game production and 3D design.
A notable program worth mentioning is the Digital Arts & Entertainment curriculum at Howest university college in Kortrijk, which attracts around 850 students every year – of which 150 come from abroad. The curriculum is the biggest gaming education program in the Benelux, and this has not gone unnoticed.
The program consistently ranks among the 10 best game design and development curricula in the world. It has even been elected the world’s number 1 game design and development curriculum for several years in a row by international institute The Rookies. With these accomplishments, it surpasses the academic offerings of top gaming nations such as the US, the UK and Sweden.
In addition to Flanders' higher education institutions, various other centers of knowledge and expertise back the creative media and gaming industry in the region. Here are some of the main ones you should know.
Flanders District of Creativity (Flanders DC) is a non-profit organization commissioned by the government of Flanders that functions as a unique point of contact for companies in the creative sector. Extending support to businesses seeking to either get started, grow or professionally expand, Flanders DC aids you at any stage of your development process.
The support starts with an introduction to the gaming and creative media landscape. It also includes advice on setting up a business plan and how to obtain the needed funds for your company. Additionally, Flanders DC is active in the field of marketing and communication. Whether a creative firm struggles with PR or social media, the nonprofit is there to help along the way.
But it goes further than that. By offering advice on how to tackle production challenges, manage product sales and handle administration and accountancy, Flanders DC also assists you with the practical side of things.
Larian Studios – a flagship firm from Flanders
Larian Studios started its journey in 1996, when it was founded in Ghent (Flanders). Since then, it has grown into a strong international player in the field of game development, specializing in role-playing games (RPGs).
Besides Ghent, Larian Studios has now established offices in Saint Petersburg, Dublin, Quebec and Kuala Lumpur. Their most popular games – Divinity: Original Sin and Divinity: Original Sin II – have secured them a spot in the international limelight, with the latter game generating USD 85 million in revenue the year of its launch.
Flanders’ gaming industry association – FLEGA – aims to support the gaming industry of Flanders as a whole by:
- linking people and companies in Flanders active in or connected to the region’s creative media and gaming industry;
- allowing members to make use of their press list, offering them a direct promotional line to over a hundred companies in Flanders;
- defending and proactively promoting the interests of its members, advising them and representing them during interactions with the government, non-gaming businesses and international organizations;
- setting up activities, events and networking opportunities in cooperation with their ecosystem of valuable partners;
- providing coaching services and helping companies attend international expos.
Graphine – graphics innovator under the wings of Unity (US)
Graphine was established in Ghent (Flanders) in 2013 and has become famous for its middleware that allows the display of textures in high resolution, bringing the quality of real-time graphics to the next level. It develops streaming and compression technology used in video games and the 3D visualization industry. Following its success, Graphine was acquired by Unity Technologies, a US-based computer game developer mostly known for its Unity game engine, which is used by games such as Pokémon Go.
Throughout the past few years, Unity Technology has received investment funds from Flanders’ digital research center imec (through the imec.istart accelerator) as well as local investment fund PMV. In addition, the American firm has received subsidies through Flanders Innovation & Entrepreneurship (VLAIO). Currently, the company’s technology is being used by corporate giants such as NASA and CBS.
For instance, companies that provide capital to producers of original video games can enjoy interesting tax exemptions equaling up to 356% of the invested amount, yielding a fiscal surplus of 5.3%. Each taxable period, a maximum of 50% of the taxable reserved profit can be used to calculate the tax deduction for the tax shelter. The investment amount is capped at EUR 1,000,000 for taxable period where the corporate tax is 25%.
Through the Gamefund, the Vlaams Audiovisueel Fonds (VAF) – loosely translated to Flanders’ Audiovisual Fund – offers financial aid to the gaming sector regarding three different kinds of games: entertainment, artistic and serious games.
Support is offered in three different forms:
- Preproduction support – provides financial aid for activities prior to production. This could include, for example, the further elaboration or iteration of existing ideas and nearly always includes the development of a prototype or vertical slice. The maximum amount of preproduction support is EUR 75,000.
- Production support – provides financial relief throughout the process of effectively realizing a game, with the goal of distribution. To be eligible for production support, a prototype or vertical slice of the game must be presented during the application process. The amount varies for each application, with a maximum of EUR 250,000 per project (including preproduction support already granted).
- Promotion support – aims to aid the product in reaching its public or the market. This could be through classic promotion, creating and maintaining direct contacts with the game community, or through participation in important events to promote the game. The maximum amount of promotion support is EUR 50,000, on top of the already granted preproduction or production support.