Boosting global game success in #brnoregion: Interview with Roman Hladík from Game Cluster

30. August 2023
The gaming industry has been thriving in #brnoregion, with numbers of foreign investors, studios, and game developers rising every day. What role do the local community and cooperating organizations play in all of this? And what does it take for other globally successful games to be developed in Brno? Here’s an interview with Roman Hladík, head of Game Cluster.
Boosting global game success in #brnoregion: Interview with Roman Hladík from Game Cluster
What has made #brnoregion so successful when it comes to game development?
It’s mainly about having studios that develop globally successful games in the region. And that’s been a strength of Brno’s for a long time now. The success of the first Mafia game, which became a global sensation, is no longer enough. Fortunately, the number of successful titles has been growing for twenty years, inspiring and motivating people in the region to develop games. The studios keep looking for talented developers, and those who want to get prepare themselves for this profession now have effective study options available to them.

And do successful games attract foreign publishers to Brno as well?
Yes. If an independent Czech studio is founded here and creates a successful game, a foreign publisher or investor may become interested in it, and this often results in an acquisition. Currently, some Brno studios are owned by major companies, such as 2K Games, THQ Nordic, and 505 Games. Most recently, investors from China have been showing interest, too.

Is this an advantage or a disadvantage for local studios?
Today, developers are able to release their games themselves through platforms such as Steam or Epic Store. The competition is fierce, though, so it’s often better to establish cooperation with a publisher to take care of its marketing in order to reach a larger number of potential players. Gradually, such cooperation may deepen, and the local studio may become a part of the bigger company. Similar to other IT fields, the company may gradually expand or get acquired by a global company. This has its benefits, obviously. Not every game becomes a success, and an unsuccessful title could be game over for a small company. Studios that are parts of larger companies, however, are able to weather these hard times and continue working.

Apart from the games, what do foreign investors appreciate here?
The most valuable is the experience of the developers who have created and released a good-quality game. That’s something you cannot get automatically just by putting together a brand-new team.

Do they prefer long-term experience or young guns?
Both can be valuable. Brno boasts experts who started their careers back in the 1990s and have been quite successful. Relying solely on veteran teams has its drawbacks too, as development in general has grown more demanding and the teams are now bigger. When investors look for a place to do business, they want to know the level of the local education system and whether it can ensure a supply of new, talented developers for their projects.

Game development: Education

And how about the supply of new talents in Brno?
It’s headed in the right direction now, as some educators have worked hard to open study programs dealing directly with game development. Apart from the universities where it’s been taught for a long time now, it’s been emerging in high schools as well. I believe more schools and study programs will join this effort to complement the educational ecosystem in the region.

What remains to be done in terms of education?
For a long time, we’ve struggled for lack of educators, and not enough professionals have plucked up the courage to pass their knowledge to students. Solving these issues would push game development a lot further, I believe. Studies suffer from a lack of developers, and now the interest and funding exists to hire every professional from the industry as an educator. And this creates room to expand study programs even further.

What role does Game Cluster play here?
One of our goals is to further develop the number and type of education options available. Game Cluster brings together volunteers from various fields of the gaming industry and, in a unique way, interconnects professionals, educators, event organizers, promoters, and journalists. This allows for creation of various projects and support for education not only in terms of game development. And it’s just as important to increase public awareness about game development in the region and attract other potential employees as well as students.

And how exactly do you do it?
One of our biggest events is Game Access Connect which provides the public with an opportunity to look behind the scenes of game development and present the work of various schools and student-created games. After that comes Kompas, an exhibition of student games, or a planned exhibition in the streets on the history of games in #brnoregion.

Students as well as experienced developers may find it interesting to attend our annual Brno Game Jam – a sort of hackathon in which developers create a game on an assigned topic within a very short time.

Game incubator Gamebaze is another project which has been going on for some time, with small teams working on their projects under the supervision of experienced mentors at a rent-free place. The aim is to get the games ready for release or approach potential investors.


Do these events and various opportunities for interconnection attract new talents?
For me, the community of game developers in Brno is unique within the Czech Republic. The community was established and has been maintained mainly by Zdeněk Záhora and Jakub Bedecs, who organize monthly meetups as well as major events. The Game Access conference, which attracts up to two thousand attendees from the Czech Republic as well as abroad, is definitely worth mentioning, just like the smaller-scale Gamer Pie festival and others.

What do you think the future of game development in the region will look like?
Our goal is to develop the entire educational system to satisfy the needs of existing studios and even create a surplus in talent throughout the region. This should create some space for new development teams to be established to increase the chances that other globally successful games will be created in Brno.

Gaming industry ecosystem in Brno

What does the cooperation within this ecosystem look like?
Something that makes the gaming industry so different from others in the region is the fact that games are usually developed for the global market. This means there’s no real competition going on and we can agree on common goals, one of them being the improvement of the conditions for our industry, filling gaps in the job market, and so on.

What else plays a role here?
The support from the South Moravian Region and South Moravian Innovation Centre is important for us. And it was JIC as well as the support from Zdeňka Kujová that turned a group of enthusiasts into the Game Cluster, while the Gamebaze incubator would never have been born without a similar impulse, either.

What are you most proud of?
I’m glad to see that education in game development continues to make strides in the region, our community is still active, and the number of developers has been growing. All this improves the dynamics of the entire industry. And the way people exchange their energy is important for me as well. Our meeting and cooperating together provides us with valuable feedback, and enriches the work we do, as well.

Is that something that motivates you to work in Game Cluster?
Twenty-five years ago, thanks to Petr Vochozka, who had founded Illusion Softworks, I got the chance to get involved in the development of games that took the world by storm. Now I’m in a position which allows me to provide a similar opportunity to beginning developers. And that’s what fuels my work in Game Cluster as well as in game development as such.

What are you looking forward to when it comes to new technologies in game development?
We will very likely see games on VR platforms develop further, as they are still rather fringe. AI technology may introduce new approaches into the gaming world, and the day when we will meaningfully communicate with computers simply by talking to them may be coming, potentially bringing a new genre of conversational games. Speech could become a new control interface, presenting an interesting challenge for the future. Here, we could make use of the connections within the region and start cooperating with technology companies that have been dealing with innovations of this kind in Brno.

Roman Hladík (*1978)

General manager at 2K Czech/Hangar 13 studio, which he joined in 1997 as a graphic artist (then known as Illusion Softworks). He has worked on games such as Hidden & Dangerous and Mafia. Since 2022, he has been the head of Game Cluster, a non-profit association of gaming industry enthusiasts from Brno and its surroundings areas. His favourite PC game is the XCOM series.

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