This article was developed within the program Venture an Idea funded by the USAID.
Serbian Games Association (SGA) was founded in March 2018, based on other trade body organizations already operating in some of the most developed European economies. It was founded by eight Serbian gaming companies and studios, working on different projects and from different cities. This ensured that the association represented everyone from the ecosystem. In time, SGAâ€™s network of members, partners and friends kept expanding. Today they have more than 160 members and dozens of successful events and initiatives behind them.
We had the opportunity to speak with Kristina JankoviÄ‡ ObuÄ‡ina, the executive manager of SGA, and learn about their ambitious plans for the coming fall.
Her primary role is to communicate with all the members, but sheâ€™s also in charge of the SGA website, external communications, events and programs. Sheâ€™s been with the organization almost since it was founded.
What from your perspective has changed since SGA was founded?
A lot! When we stepped onto the scene the ecosystem was pretty fragmented and nobody knew exactly how many actors there were. We were pleasantly surprised by the amount of talent, expertise and interesting projects weâ€™ve found. Now, almost five years later, the industry is well-connected, and there is a constant exchange of ideas and knowledge. There used to be one gaming event per month, now people often have to choose between attending one event or the other. The visibility of our members and their projects increased a lot as well. And finally, a career in gaming is now considered a legitimate professional path for many. We also introduced the annual industry report, so we can track, in detail, how the industry is expanding and what are the main needs for future growth.
Two years in a row Startup Genome report identified Serbia as a place where the blockchain and the gaming industry are ecosystems to watch. How is SGA responding to those aspects?
We always pay close attention to what different publications are measuring, and we combine that with findings from our own annual report. This data guides our program planning and helps us prioritize. In this particular case, Startup Genome shows everyone that Serbian teams and gaming studios are investment ready, and that huge acquisition deals are happening. Our job is to prepare teams to pitch ideas and think more about the business part of the process, not just the creative one.
This year we organized our first-ever Game Funding Bootcamp, a two-month-event consisting of six different modules, covering the topics of publishing, pitching, European and state funds, tax and legal issues. Other such long-format events will follow by the end of the year. One for game production and one for soft skills. This month weâ€™re part of the regional IP conference, organized, in part, by the World IP Organization (WIPO).
And perhaps the biggest initiative weâ€™ve ever been a part of is the pilot Creative Tech Serbia supercluster, connecting our members with other creative industry-related institutions and entities - universities, science and technology parks, IT hubs, specialized business support companies etc. This pilot supercluster is launched with the support of USAID Serbia and ICT Hub Belgrade (through the Serbia Innovates project).
SGA annual report for 2021 highlights that games made in Serbia are downloaded or purchased by more than 370 million people from around the world, are there some other significant findings from the report you could share?
The number one thing we get asked by the media for example is, of course, the revenue. Serbian companies and studios generated 125 million euros in 2021.
Another thing I always like to share is that the industry employs more than 2300 professionals working in a wide range of professions. More and more new positions are being created (for the first time) like Employer Branding specialists, and they are joining all other artists, developers, sound designers, narrative designers and many others. Top three positions hardest to hire are producers, game designers and monetization specialists. Needless to say, seniors of all backgrounds are really hard to hire. Finding the appropriate expertise will be the number one problem to scale our studios further.
As much as 30% of all employees are women, which actually puts us in the first position by this statistic in Europe. This is something weâ€™re extremely proud of, but weâ€™ll keep on working on all matters considering diversity and inclusion.
What are the most famous gaming companies and games coming from Serbia?
Besides the usual suspects (Nordeus - Top 11, Two Desperados - Woka Woka, Mad Head Games - Scars Above, Ebb Software - Scorn) all of which achieved global recognition, there are many small indie studios making the waves. Foxy Voxel published Going Medieval, a huge hit in the colony sim genre. Demagog Studioâ€™s GolfClub: Wasteland was ported on all platforms and generated a buzz in the art house part of the gaming community, worldwide.
As of recently, weâ€™ve gathered all games published in Serbia on our website. You can visit the page and browse more than 200 titles, and filter them by genre or platform.
What are the other ecosystems offering as an inspiration and good model for practice?
The very founding of SGA was inspired by other game associations across Europe. UKâ€™s UKIE has been around for more than 30 years! Luckily, all associations are more than happy to openly share their experience with us. Weâ€™re regularly in contact with colleagues from the entire region, especially Croatia and Romania.
Weâ€™re also members of the European Game Developers Federation (EGDF) and another umbrella organization ISFE. This made it possible for us to sit at tables where major policy and legislative decisions are being made.
What is the current situation with the formal education system? Is there an option to educate students and prepare them to be actors in the gaming industry?
The educational system is traditionally very slow when it comes to major changes in the curriculum, the number one problem is finding the appropriate lecturers. However, there have been some big strides in this area. The Academy of Arts in Novi Sad has a four-year program for Game Design. After detailed research on education in the field of digital arts and gaming, and two years of conceptualization and planning, the Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Belgrade also announced the launch of a new study program - 'Visual effects, animation, and game art'. The first generation is starting there this fall.
What is SGA planning for the next period, and what the community and wider audience can expect?
Again - a lot! At the end of the month, weâ€™re traveling to Reboot Develop Blue, a leading regional game dev conference where weâ€™ll have a national booth with three upcoming indie games. Weâ€™re revamping our Peer group project where professionals from the same niche gather and exchange ideas and experience. The third cycle of our 1 on 1 mentorship program is also about to launch.
We always try to keep a balance between different parts of the community. That is why the end of October is reserved for a huge Unreal Engine day for the core part of the ecosystem. Weâ€™ll talk about UE5, Meta Human Creator, there will be a showcase of local talent, and a lot of keynotes, lectures and workshops with experts from, among others, Epic Games.
The mobile part of the community can expect a Hyper-casual day with Voodoo in Novi Sad, again, with leading experts from Voodooâ€™s international teams. All events will be announced on our Programs page, so keep an eye out for those!
This article was made possible by the support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this article are the responsibility of Nova Iskra and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.