Czech game development

"The rising stars of game development are more likely to come from Central and Eastern European countries than from Western Europe or the United States, attendees heard at this week's Game Developers Conference Europe." Wall comes down, games take off August 30 2002, 2002 Matt Loney, CNET News.com1

22nd September 2003

The PC and video games development industry in the Czech Republic has come into its own over the past ten years, from individual amateur endeavours to professional companies earning the attention of investors and hundreds of thousands of fans around the world. Given its relatively small size (population 10 million), the Czech Republic has become one of the most successful games development countries in the world.

The first company to join the ranks of leading games developers was Illusion Softworks, which in 1999 completed Hidden and Dangerous published by the American publisher Take2. In 1999, sales surpassed the 400,000 mark, eventually exceeding one million copies sold worldwide. In September 2002 Take2 released Mafia, a title which spent several weeks in the PC TOP10 of Europe and the United States. In one year on the market it has sold over 800,000 copies. In addition to receiving several awards and nominations from gaming magazines such as Game of the Year, Mafia has also been nominated for the prestigious IGDA developer's prize - Excellence in Writing.

In October 2002 the sequel, Hidden and Dangerous 2 was released and Mafia is scheduled for release on PS2 and Xbox in early 2004. Illusion Softworks, focused exclusively on original AAA games, now operates six development teams totaling around 190 members. Illusion Softworks works very closely with the company Pterodon. Their last title, Vietcong, released in March 2003, entered at number two and remained in the TOP 20 of the U.K. PC game charts for over 4 months. The success of this title is further evidenced both by the development of an Expansion Pack planned for January 2004 and by its popularity as a multiplayer game - currently Vietcong ranks just outside the top 10 most successful multiplayer games in the world. Thus far all of the titles from Illusion Softworks and Pterodon have been published by Take-Two Interactive Software.

Perhaps the most widely sold Czech game is Operation Flashpoint, a military simulator from the Prague based Bohemia Interactive Studio. Since its release in 2001, this title has sold more than 1.2 million copies. An Xbox version is planned for the end of 2003. The sequel, Operation Flashpoint 2, is scheduled for release in 2005. As with all of the previous titles, this will be issued by Codemasters.

The success of Bohemia Interactive can be further demonstrated. In cooperation with their American partner, they succeeded in expanding beyond the games industry when they licensed the technology behind their military simulator game to the U.S. Army. In 2001, Bohemia Interactive won the ECTS prize for Best PC Developer of the Year and, in 2002, also won the GDC Trophy for Rookie Studio of the Year.

In the Czech Republic an important role in game development is played by the Prague based publisher CENEGA PUBLISHING, established jointly by the biggest Czech game distributor Bohemia Interactive, the Polish IM Group and the private investment fund DBG Osteuropa-Holding. It operates and has offices in other Central European countries such as Poland, Hungary and Slovakia, as well as in the UK, and plans further expansion into other countries.

CENEGA PUBLISHING has positioned itself as a world-class publisher focusing on games developed in Central and Eastern Europe. For the moment, CENEGA is serving as a safety net for those teams from Central and Eastern Europe who have yet to achieve success with renowned western game publishers. Although it is not possible to compare the global marketing power of a publisher such as Take2 with the capacity of CENEGA, it does not mean that their games pass unnoticed. Before it first appeared, suitable attention was given to the game UFO: AfterMath from the Czech developer Altar Interactive; after its release UFO made it to the number 9 position on the PC charts in the UK. Altar Interactive is one of the oldest of the established Czech game developers, having issued their first game Original War with the erstwhile games publisher Virgin Interactive.

In November 2003 the developers at Plastic Reality will complete a new AAA title, Korea: Forgotten Conflict, which will also be published by Cenega. Their first title, Loco Motion was too much of a budget title to be picked up by Take2. It is in this budget market that the Prague based studio SCS software operates. In the late 1990s, SCS was hired by the now defunct SunStorm to develop a 3D-engine for the game Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project.

Among the potentially successful studios awaiting the release of their first games are: Mindware Studios, Lonely Cat Games and Black Element Software. Among those developers who already have experience (albeit unsuccessful) on the western market are companies such as Cypron Studios and 7FX. Aside from these developers who are clearly oriented towards the western market, there are several Czech teams that primarily develop budget titles for the Czech market. The most successful of these titles thus far has been the adventure game Polda from the Prague based company Zima software. Over 70,000 copies of this multi-sequel game have been sold to date in the Czech and Slovak Republics.

Although the capital and, with a population of over 1 million, the most populated city of the Czech Republic is Prague, the majority of the most successful game development teams are based in Brno, the country's second largest city with a population of over 400,000. Altar Interactive, Plastic Reality, Pterodon and Lonely Cat Games all operate out of Brno as well as the management and the majority of Illusion Softworks' development teams.

The game development industry in Brno also benefits from the neighbouring Slovak Republic, which until 1992 part of Czechoslovakia. The Czech and Slovak languages are very similar and thus the countries still enjoy very close relations. It is quite common practice for almost all Brno based game development studios to work with Slovaks. Indeed, the Slovak Republic also has its own successful game development studios.

The most successful Slovak developer is Cauldron who is presently working on the fantasy-hero title Conan for TDK Mediactive, scheduled for release at the end of 2003. Their previous titles were published by the European publishers JoWooD, Sci and the now defunct Blue Byte.
Illusion Softworks also has development teams in the Slovak Republic. The increasingly visible Slovak developer Mayhem Studios will have its latest title published by the American publisher Strategy First.

The game development industry in the Czech Republic is supported by several specialist game magazines, a weekly television programme on national television and continually garners ever more attention from other traditional media, similar to the attention paid to Czech film.

The release of every new Czech AAA title is supported by large-scale marketing campaigns focused not only on game media but also on traditional media. Such initiatives significantly help to raise the general awareness of PC and video games in the Czech Republic.

1Used with permission from CNET Networks, Inc. Copyright 2003. All rights reserved.

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