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Remote Control seeks to galvanise "overlooked" Romanian industry

Hendrik Lesser and Bogdan Oprescu on challenging the view of Romania as "a sweatshop," and where Remote Control might go next

Remote Control Productions first office was in Munich, in its founder Hendrik Lesser's native Germany. The second was in Finland, one of the powerhouses of European game development. The location of the third, which opened last month, may take some people by surprise.

According to Lesser, though, that really shouldn't be the case. Romania's national industry started in 1992, when Ubisoft chose the capital city of Bucharest as the location for its first office outside of France. Remote Control Productions model - uniting and providing a range of services for its "family" of developers - can theoretically be applied to any country, and when I ask Lesser why Romania was selected as the next step in its expansion, the answer arrives without hesitation.

"People," he says, placing one hand on the shoulder of Bogdan Oprescu, CEO of the prominent Romanian indie BigBlue Studios, and the chosen leader of Remote Control's operation in the country. "When I met Bogdan two-and-a-half years ago and explained about what we do, he was totally aligned with the goals and the vision that we have. Obviously Romania is interesting on top of that, but maybe we would have pushed it through with him, as a person, even if it was a less attractive region."

"Romania has been overlooked. And one reason is that it's been treated as a sweatshop region, where we outsource QA and whatnot"

Hendrik Lesser

With a national industry comprising 7,000 people, Romania is undoubtedly one of Europe's major development hubs, but Oprescu believes there is little recognition of that in the wider industry. "Inside Romania, people know the history of the [games] industry, but outside? Abroad? Nobody knows. Apart from really senior people like Hendrik, who have an overview of the whole industry in Europe - whether countries are emerging, whether they're already established - but nobody else knows. This is the reality."

Lesser certainly knows about Romania's history, thanks in no small part to his dual roles as CEO of Remote Control and head of the European Games Developer Federation (EGDF) - when we spoke to Lesser last year, he described the EGDF's expansion into Eastern Europe was one of his primary goals. In a sense, the Romanian industry is too big to be ignored; in reality, though, that's more or less what has happened.

"What's fair to say is that Romania has been overlooked," Lesser says. "And one reason is that it's been treated as a sweatshop region, where we outsource QA and whatnot. Maybe it was that at the start, and there are still companies in Romania that provide outsourcing services, but it has evolved over time.

"What a lot of people don't understand is that, if you have QA people working with established AAA companies over time, they not only get good skills but they also have a change in attitude. If you work on AAA [games] for five, ten years, you don't allow people to treat you like an underling any more."

"Inside Romania, people know the history of the industry, but outside? Abroad? Nobody Knows"

Bogdan Oprescu

Ubisoft remains an important force in Romania even 25 years later, employing more than 1,000 people in the country. The French publisher also proved a catalyst for other big publishers to follow, including Electronic Arts, Bandai Namco and Gameloft. Indeed, Oprescu worked at both Ubisoft and CI Games before founding his own company, so when he says that the presence of these big companies has been beneficial "in the long-run," he speaks from personal experience. Oprescu gained valuable experience within their walls, and so have many others.

However, Oprescu describes a "strong gap" between "two huge groups" within the Romanian development scene: huge, multinational companies on one side, small indie studios with, at most, ten employees on the other. "We've had a couple of successes from the indie scene, but not so many," Oprescu adds. "That's still emerging. The middle-class of studios is kind of free at this point, with only one or two studios that could fit in that category."

Our conversation takes place amidst the general clamour of Reboot Develop's Indie Expo, where a handful of the most promising games are made by Romanian teams. Earlier that morning, I was one of the judges for a pitching competition in which Breadcrumbs Interactive's Yaga - an intriguing blend of roguelike, branching narrative and Romanian folklore - was one of the standouts. "What I can tell you is that there's a lot of talent in Romania," Oprescu adds. "Also, what I'm seeing here from the Romanian developers who came to the indie booth at Reboot, there's also a lot of potential."

"I have to admit that Remote Control's scalability seems kind of endless. We could go to every country"

Hendrik Lesser

Remote Control's arrival in the country, Oprescu says, is at "just the right time" for its community of indie studios, which could benefit from working and growing together. "We're not just a passive actor in Romania, expecting people to come to us," Lesser explains. "We will also go to them, which is what we always do. We also reach out to educational facilities, to politicians, to some regions within Romania that are not that developed yet, and offer support and guidance."

The first development team to work with Remote Control Romania has already been chosen, the identity of which will be revealed in the coming weeks. Using the company's operations in Munich as a template, Lesser believes that between 8 and 12 teams "makes sense" for a regional office, but there is no timescale and no strict guidelines. After 12 years, Lesser believes the Remote Control model has proved itself to be stable and beneficial to those involved. If it succeeds in both Finland and Romania, there's no logical limit to how far it could reach.

"For the first couple of years, when we had just a couple of studios, everybody was like, 'what the fuck are you doing?'" he says. "We reach ten-plus years and people are like, 'oh, this is actually a system.' At 12 years it just works; we're still here, we don't live off welfare, so there's something going on.

"I have to admit that its scalability seems kind of endless. We could go to every country. We could even have more than one subsidiary in certain countries. Does it make sense to deal with a lot of studios just out of Los Angeles? In the US alone you could have a couple of Remote Control subsidiaries.

"It is a very strong, sustainable idea, which can of course be brought into America, brought into Asia... From a cultural point-of-view, what every region can bring to the table, with their different perspectives and different heritage, this is what will make it even more successful in the future. That's my bet."

GamesIndustry.biz is a media partner for the Reboot Develop conference. Our travel and hotel costs were provided by the organiser.

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