Gaming industry in Bulgaria is a field with optimistic perspectives for development
One of the ways in which the lockdown united our family, scattered over three locations around Europe, was the sudden and somewhat surprising way we all got hooked on computer games. My mother went all into playing a version of online Mahjong, my brother rediscovered a long-forgotten strategy game and became obstinate to win on chess agains the computer, and I discovered that the endless WhatsApp conversations pass more imperceptibly when I play Tetris or 1024.
Our family is hardly an exception. The global lockdown forced millions of people to face the challenging combination of plenty of free time that has to be filled with some activity (especially for people living alone), and the need to deal with the anxiety born of the uncertainty presented by the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, computer games boomed at a global level. Although society has worried for years about e-games' effect on child psychological development and teenage behaviour, during the pandemic e-games helped millions of people to cope with their anxiety, to fill their free time and, in the case of multi-player games, to stay in touch with other people. Without e-games, the lockdown's psychological fallout would be much graver.
As a result of the increased interest, sales of e-games soared. Numbers vary in different countries, but according to some calculations the global gaming industry is now worth $150 billion.
Bulgaria is one of the countries where this field of IT industry is doing particularly well. The first game developed in Bulgaria, the real-time strategy Tzar: The Burden of the Crown, appeared in 1999 and reached the international market on the following year. In 2005 was released the even more successful strategy Imperia Online. Today, the portfolio of games created on Bulgarian soil is diverse and interesting.
The field is in a constant flux, as startups come and go, but as of 2018, according to a survey by Game Dev Summit, in Bulgaria existed about 60 specialised studios. Some of them are a part of international companies, but a significant number are startups and companies with up to 5 employees. About 1,300 people are employed in the field. Most of the companies are concentrated in Sofia, but e-game developing studios also exist in Burgas, Plovdiv, Varna, and even in a small town, Sopot.
Bulgaria's gaming community is vibrant and active. In the early 2020, the Sofia Game Jam hackaton, which was created in 2014, became a 10-day festival with presentations, seminars, exhibitions and talks that attracted an audience of 1,200. In 2019 was created the specialised ARC Academy, which aims to prepare specialists for the field.
Many of the companies in the field are a Bulgarian initiative, but the advantages of the local market have grabbed the attention of ambitious foreign developers. The reasons are the same that make Bulgaria an attractive destination for high-tech industry as a whole – fast Internet, educated and motivated talents, low corporate tax.
"We chose Bulgaria because it provides excellent opportunities for a video game studio, especially for one that would rather remain independent," says Adrien Bacchi, CEO of Chibi Phoenix (chibiphoenix.com), a company that has been in Bulgaria since 2006. "The most important factor for this is the plethora of talented and professional people here. And the most exciting thing is that we are currently witnessing the building of a strong and dedicated community of artists, developers, and other game enthusiasts. The scene has so much potential to grow and we want to be part of that evolution as pioneers."
The combination of beneficial factors shows that the future of the gaming industry in Bulgaria is more than optimistic – the country has the potential to become a centre of this field that is bound to grow in the years to come.