Gamedev in Lithuania Part 1: A Passion Project

Nov 24, 2016
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Passion. It’s a term we don’t always associate with investment attraction. Usually it’s governmental support or cost-to-quality ratios that take centre stage. But sometimes, just sometimes, it’s passion and ambition that enable you to defy the odds and transform a sector.

We hit upon the idea of focusing of Gamedev in late 2013. Back then, we were specifically targeting product development companies. The services sector was booming, and we were looking to diversify. Plus, product developers bring a number of advantages; intellectual property registered in your country, career opportunities for skilled specialists, a greater focus on training and upskilling.

Gamedev was a natural fit, and had lots of added bonuses. It’s an interdisciplinary industry that creates high-profile products. One big plus for us was that it is a b2c industry. You can bring in a huge b2b company, but in terms of your country’s global profile not much will happen. But even a small Gamedev studio can put your location on the map with one global hit. A few of us in the office were sold on the idea.

Our first step was to approach the newly formed Lithuanian Gamedev Association. They shared some useful advice with us on the local sector, but we didn’t come up with a clear strategy for attracting more Gamedev companies at the time. Everyone was happy we were taking an interest, but the consensus was that, for attracting studios from abroad, there were too few success stories and a limited pool of talent.

Even within Invest Lithuania there was some persuading to do. Globally, Gamedev generates $100 billion a year, and it’s larger than the film and music industries. But did Lithuanian Gamedev have the right conditions for growth? The jury was out on that one.

But within Invest there was a hard core of us who were really into gaming, and we were young and ambitious. And within the industry there were key players whose personal passion for the cause of Gamedev in Lithuania would make a huge difference.

After meeting local developers we decided to speak to Unity. In 2010, they had chosen Lithuania as the location for their first office outside Denmark. We made a pitch to them, but they weren’t looking to expand at that time (they have gone on to grow substantially since then, and plan further growth in 2017.) But, again, they were happy we were interested, plus we made some great contacts.

One of them was Oleg Pridiuk, who was Unity’s tech evangelist at that time. For him, the idea of a government agency actively wanting to promote Gamedev was something of a revelation (here’s how he tells the story). As an evangelist, Oleg has an extensive network of contacts across the region. He immediately got stuck in, introducing us to key players and potential clients.

One of the first, and definitely most important, was Sergei Klimov, founder and managing director of Charlie Oscar. At that stage Sergei, who’s originally from Russia, was living in Stockholm. The Charlie Oscar team was spread across the region; Sweden, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus. And coordinating their efforts was proving increasingly challenging. So, Sergei was on the lookout for a location where his team could all relocate to, and Vilnius turned out to be just what he was looking for.

We invited him to Vilnius, and quite quickly it became clear that he liked what he saw; the conditions, the city, and the level of support on offer (here’s his incredibly detailed analysis of Vilnius’ pluses and minuses). He was sold. And even before he had moved here he was pitching Vilnius to his own contacts.

The best part about it was how naturally it worked, because it was a win-win situation. For us, we wanted the Gamedev sector to flourish. And for them, building an ecosystem was the best way forward. After all, the contacts Oleg and Sergei were pitching Vilnius to were also their close friends.

Soon Sergei and his team were in Vilnius, and Gamedev in Lithuania was ready for lift off. A sector which, on paper, looked a tough nut to crack was fast becoming a major success story. And all thanks to individuals with the passion and ambition to make it happen; from us at Invest Lithuania through to Oleg and Sergei.

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