You may be surprised to learn that Turkey is home to a burgeoning games market.
Between 2014 and 2015, Turkey's games market grew by 24.7 per cent and, according to research firm Newzoo, it ranks as the 16th biggest games market in the world with a value of 573m.
This in part has been due to the formation of the Turkish Game Developer Association, a body that has not only united the local games scene, but has also worked with the country's government to help develop this sector.
With the organisation we started a dialogue and relationships within the industry, and developers started to contribute more,” explains Tugbek lek (pictured, right), the head of advisory board TOGED.
We started having more presence and worked really hard in the last few years to create important government support programmes. All that momentum helped us grow quicker. Turkey has a very young population and they are very into gaming. It's like soil that you seed on. These are young people who are passionate about gaming and all want to be developers or eSports players one day. They have dreams about games. It helps us build more talent and attract more people to the industry.
There were too many barriers before. For example, the general image of games in public meant that families were stopping their kids getting into games. Now we have real government support and public perception is changing, too. They see that this is an industry supported by the minister of economy, among others. It helps us change the image. Now families are happy that their kids want to be a game developer.”
He continues: We get a lot of support from the government. A number of different agencies provide different support. The most important one is a programme from the Ministry of Economy. They support game exports. 95 per cent of our production is export anyway, so basically they support everything happening in the games industry.
Support starts from the concept stage to engineer salaries to production costs, localisation, marketing, events, online store commissions... developers can get back $500,000 per game per year. Of course, you need to first build your game up – half a million is the cap so you need to be clever to use it. And also a little bit successful. The good thing is it's not credit; it's a cash back refund.”
Furthermore, the government has assisted in developing the education infrastructure for games in Turkey.
We have undergraduate and postgraduate programmes here for games,” lek says.
There are also incubation centres helping mature people to gain experience. We need a huge number of talent and fast. We are building up a new training initiative with an employment agency in Turkey. What we will do is create specific three month courses, let's say on AI programming. You attend those courses and the government pays you money just for attending. You can support yourself during courses. It's not big money, it's not like a salary, but it helps with your expenses. Then you get paid internships for three months in one of our companies so you can get some real experience, too. if you are successful, you get employed. Our industry needs skills and our studios have open positions now. We can't find anyone to put there. We built this to streamline the process, so we can find amateurs and people with interests and passion and adapt them into our studios faster. In games, working in a studio is the real education.”
It hasn't all been good news for Turkey, however. The region has by and large been ignored by the big console publishers.
In the last ten years there have been two main trends that have shaped our market,” lek says.
The first is that the big companies neglected Turkey. Publishers like EA, Activision and Ubisoft never wanted to invest in Turkey. So there was a huge gaming population but no investment at all. Then the first online game companies like BigPoint realised this and invested heavily and shaped the Turkish games market. That's why in Turkey online games are much, much more popular than console or triple-A games. It's PC-based, it's online and it's competitive.
After that, a second wave of publishers like Riot and Wargaming came with even bigger investment. Riot has an office with 80-plus people just to serve Turkish gamers. That's around ten times more than Sony and it has something like 85 per cent market share in Turkey (in terms of consoles). Microsoft was too late to the party.
There are probably 2m or 3m console gamers in total, but we estimate there are 14m online gamers. 4m people play League of Legends, around 3.5m play Counter-Strike, FIFA and PES have huge numbers because they're really big in internet cafs.
The second most important trend to shape games over the last decade in Turkey is Facebook,” says lek. Facebook became such a hit in Turkey. When social games were massive, we were the third biggest country on Facebook and No.1 in terms of engagement. Turkish people went crazy for Facebook. When social gaming was a thing, they were all playing games – we suddenly had 20m gamers. 10m Farmville players came out of no-where. Of course, when social gaming died, most of them evolved into mobile games. That's why casual mobile games are really popular in Turkey.”
"Ask Riot if Turkey is an emerging market when it is its second biggest territory in all of Europe. We're talking about 30m gamers here."
Tugbek lek, Seti Media
Despite the lack of investment by console publishers in the region, lek believes that it's not too late for these firms to make an impact.
Gamers are always too rewarding for the care given to them,” he says. It's never too late to invest. But they're still not investing. To most console publishers, Turkey is classified as ‘emerging markets'. It's a term that they use for Turkey.
Ask Riot if it's emerging or if it's the second biggest territory in all of Europe. We are talking about 30m gamers and we are described as ‘emerging'. 30m gamers is bigger than the populations of most countries. It's just the big companies' way. They don't want to invest. They are happy that there is a distributor and they just ship things.”
lek also says that Turkey, with its position straddling both Europe and Asia, is a great place for European firms looking to make it big in Asia and vice versa.
Our culture is much closer to Asia,” lek says. Lots of companies have used Turkey as a jumping board to MENA [Middle East and North Africa]. It didn't work that well because MENA is a very complicated region. Everyone thinks they are all Arabic and all speak the language. That's not the case. None of those countries speak the same Arabic. It's different and localisation is hard. You have to understand each country. It's not that easy. Asia is much easier.
For example, Turkish and Korean cultures are really similar. And the Turkish language and Japanese are very similar. Nobody is trying to use Istanbul as a point to reach the East. But they should.”