Earlier this month, members of the European Parliament approved a resolution calling to bolster investment in the Union's games industry.
As contextualised by the Interactive Software Federation of Europe, this is a pretty big deal. Beyond the recognition of the sector as an economic force, the resolution also calls to recognise the value of European IP, further support small studios economically, facilitate access to digital skills and talent retention, and recognise esports as its own field distinct from traditional sports, with its own specific needs.
But this resolution is only just the beginning. Resolutions do not mean new legislation will automatically be voted on; they are non-legally binding texts that typically call for action and further investigation on an issue that matters at an EU level. And now that this one has been approved, there's a long road ahead, working to shape what might become a unified legislative framework for games industry support across the European Union.
"This question today is my fight and it has been largely voted at the EU Parliament, meaning that this institution considers that it's important, so it's a big victory – it's a first step, but it's a big victory really," says Laurence Farreng, member of the European Parliament as part of the Renew Europe group, and the rapporteur for this resolution.
"We ask for an ambitious strategy for video games because we have none today"
Her vision for games across the European Union has widely been welcomed as a positive step for the industry, though a Hungarian think tank did accuse the MEPs who voted in favour of "wokism" and "propaganda."
The resolution had been months in the making, with ideas starting to form following the spike in games usage during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it took more concrete shape last year.
"The context is that months ago I was leading a resolution about cultural recovery [after the] COVID crisis. We worked with a small group of members of the European Parliament to ask for 2% of the recovery plan to be earmarked to the cultural and creative industries."
Ultimately, 2.3% (€10 billion) of the Member States' recovery plans were allocated to measures supporting culture and the creative industries in 2021.
Farreng continues: "And while I was working on this resolution I realised how the video games industry was important at a European level. As all the cultural industries had a drop off of about 30%, the video games industry was the only one to increase, by about 9%."
Farreng says that one out of every two people across the EU "say they are a gamer" (referring to numbers from the ISFE), and points to the size of the European industry, with big studios like Ubisoft and CD Projekt, as well as a wealth of companies under the Embracer label.
"But besides, we have many independent studios, about 5,000, that are really skilled, really creative, and this ecosystem employs nearly 100,000 people in Europe," she adds. "So I think it's a strength for Europe.
The main aim of the resolution, which took ten months of work, is to lead to a long-term European game strategy, which Farreng says is completely lacking at the moment despite the prominence of the sector both culturally and economically.
"The [games] industry needs a lot of investment and time. Today, it's not well considered"
"First, we ask for an ambitious strategy for video games because we have none today," she explains. "Today, this sector has no specific considerations, we have only one cultural programme at the European level, which is Creative Europe. It's not, in my view, very well funded. It's €2.8 billion for seven years and we have to address all the cultural sectors [through the Culture sub-programme], and we have the Media [sub-programme] which funds audiovisual, films, and video games. So it's a very small part of this programme. But video games have specific needs."
She mentions the amount of work that goes into game making (and how long it takes), the variety of skills required, and how different a games launch is compared to, say, film – all examples of the industry's specific needs that are not currently taken into account at a European level when it comes to funding initiatives and more.
"The [games] industry needs a lot of investment and time," she continues. "Today, it's not well considered, so that's why we need a specific strategy to learn about this sector, because nobody knows anything at the European level, to give the sector specific tools that respond to their needs. And, as we have a lot of talent and a lot of people here, we have to retain them in Europe, because there's a lot of appetite from international groups [who] would like to buy our assets, and we need to protect them.
"So that's a recommendation I made: better funding, better [recognition], and protection of our IP."
These tools are currently at the drafting stage, with Farreng also saying she'd like better working conditions for games staff, hinting at the issues with crunch. All the recommendations drafted from the resolution will be going to the European Commission and the Council to work on these questions.
"We want to promote fair play, we want to promote gender equality, we want to promote inclusion"
Intellectual property protection and the promotion of "culturally significant European IP" is at the centre of the proposition. We ask Farreng why building a sort of European label for games is important.
"Because we think that our sector is particularly creative and fruitful," she says. "A lot of our video games are based on our specific history, they are very influenced by European roots, they have very good creators and so on. So we have a kind of specificity in our creation and very good quality. And we want that quality to be recognised and protected. And we have this debate on all cultural sectors, we work to defend our creative assets. That means that we want a legislative framework to protect them.
"Second point is that we want to defend European values. That means, in games, we want to promote fair play, we want to promote gender equality, we want to promote inclusion, and so on. So it's an opportunity for us to make progress in policy and gender equality policies, for example."
Another significant aspect of the MEP's resolution is education and how video games can facilitate scientific and digital careers. It's one aspect Farreng feels particularly strong about.
"For us today it's already a reality because we know that many teachers use video games in their classes," she says. "For example, we have Ubisoft's [Assassin's Creed] Discovery Tours that are used in history classes, because it's very immersive for pupils and very interesting so they can learn further.
"I think nobody knows anything about video games, policy makers don't really know the sector"
"But we have, here again, to raise the value of [these] tools to modernise education. And [similarly] when it comes to scientific careers – it's kind of an obsession for me – and mainly for girls coming into STEAM careers. It's proven that girls who play video games will be more often oriented towards scientific careers. Too often, games have a bad image, but we have to [show] that it develops specific skills, it has been proven. Of course you shouldn't play all day long, but it can reveal a potential.
"So we are willing to go further in this work, we are going to organise some events in the framework of the European Parliament to develop the knowledge on video games. Because we have to raise the attention of the policy makers who are not, today, aware."
Concluding our chat, we ponder over the reasons why it took so long for the European Union to take notice of such a healthy cultural and economic sector.
"It's simple, I think nobody knows anything about video games, policy makers don't really know the sector," Farreng says. "I don't know, because it was created 50 years ago, everybody has played video games, but maybe it was not considered serious enough, I don't understand, really. It's a mystery.
"But now there is a kind of momentum with this report and there is a second report in the EU from the Interior Market Committee that is coming and we have heard that maybe the Council of the Member States are working to include video games in the agenda for culture from 2023 to 2026. So good signs! All because of this work, and we are going to continue to influence the work."