A View of Bucharest's Burgeoning Game Development Scene

Recently, I traveled to Bucharest, the capital of Romania, to attend a Global Game Jam and ended up touring some studios as well.

Bucharest Global Game Jam 2018 Credit: Bucharest Global Game Jam

Game development differs around the world, shaped by the lives of the developers, the culture and the surroundings of each country.

Recently, I traveled to Bucharest, the capital of Romania, to attend a Global Game Jam and ended up touring some studios as well. I soon discovered that while the country isn’t a powerhouse for game development, there are a few major game studios located there, such as Ubisoft and EA, and that there is a growing indie development scene.

But despite having a growing game industry, it seems that game development in Romania isn’t considered a real job. Many people in the country don’t see it as a way to make a living. Compounding this issue, there aren’t a lot of developers who have ‘made it’ in the industry. As a result, there are comparatively few beacons of light that prove a developer can make it on their own full time.

Developers I talked to also said they were self-taught, noting that there really isn’t much choice when it comes to formal education for game development in Romania. This lack of formal game development education combined with the attitude that game development isn’t a real job means that the country, for now, remains a place for outsourcing rather than a hub of original game development.

The developers I spoke with told me that Romania’s status as an outsourcing country for game development is fueled by the idea that the developers there are cheap, due to an underdeveloped economy, and are excellent at following tasks and completing them well.

Romania’s status as an outsourcing country seems in line with the older generational view that you should just work hard, do your job and take home what you earn. But the post-communist generations have an increasingly optimistic view; one that is more about following their dreams and aspirations.

It’s into this clash of opposing generational views that people like Andrei Istrate fight to make a place for video game developers. Istrate is the founder of the Game Dev Academy in Romania, which he founded to try and deal with the lack of education available to aspiring game developers. Sometimes, he told me, parents of his students come to the studio to talk about how what he is doing is a waste of their children’s time, and that game development ‘isn’t a real job’. He told me that he tries to explain that game development is a real job, but without many real-world examples in the country, parents usually don’t understand.

Developers in Romania also seem to struggle to find creative ideas for their games, according to people at a few of the studios with whom I spoke. This could be in part due to the lingering effects of the former communist government.

Creativity and following what you love to do weren’t typically promoted by the communist government. And once a developer does have an idea or plan on what to create, they seldom share it with others, due to mistrust and a lack of confidence in what they are creating.

The lack of open communication about their games naturally leads to less information and inspiration among the entire group, which can have a negative impact on the industry here. An artist friend once said, “I like to think of myself as a thief. I create my own work based upon inspiration from others. It is my own work, but with pieces of all my other experiences.”

This also spilled over into event attendance - many Romanian developers told me that they don’t understand the point of meetups and events - of why you would take time off of work, which is very important to such hard workers, to go and present their game to other audiences. Work is viewed as a top priority, so taking the time to properly promote your game or connect with other people is out of the question.

This lack of promotion makes the issue of selling games, already hard in Romania, even more difficult. The market for games just isn’t quite there yet.

Despite all of the challenges that Romanian developers face, there is hope. After the fall of the communist government, there has been a gradual increase in creativity, education and online resources. There are increasingly more people trying to make game development accessible and encourage the pursuit of it as a hobby and as a career.

Specifically, Istrate is making strides towards encouraging game developers and making the game development scene more visible within the community. He opened up the Game Dev Academy, a truly beautiful space where developers can pay a fee to come and take classes on game development, make use of the wonderful resources, and technology, all while soaking up knowledge on game development. Istrate traveled all around Romania, documenting the games scene and hosting meetups for developers in each city.

Chris Rares Filip runs the Bucharest game jam, the first Global Game Jam location in Romania for many years. Rares Filip moved to England to study games design at the University of Suffolk. After attending game development events in the UK, he went back home to Romania and started running his own there. He also hosts workshops and panels, interviews developers who attend his events, and makes every effort to know what they are all working on and with what they need help. He started the Almost a Hero initiative, with the aim of teaching game development and communication skills throughout Eastern Europe. This focuses on core communication, leadership, and creative vision skills which are lacking in the mainstream industry in the region at the moment.

The Romanian Game Developers Association (RGDA) is also working to provide opportunities for developers and people interested in development. They provide floor space at large gaming events, run conferences and workshops to promote development, and generally try to help developers in any way needed. They even can help with legal advice and getting games into a larger, international audience.

In a country affected by its past so much, being able to see all of these individuals and groups come together to fight to keep the game development spirit alive, despite the lack of Romanian press coverage or funds is truly inspiring. Slowly, more games and inspiring developers are working through these challenges, finding solutions and creating new games that will hopefully define the Romanian game developer scene in the future.

Jupiter Hadley is a YouTuber and games journalist who covers primarily game jams and smaller indie games. You can find more of her content on her website or by following her on Twitter @Jupiter_Hadley.