Backed by billions of dollars in investments and government support, young innovative developers are taking the sector to new heights.
In 2005, a Turkish couple – Armagan and Ipek Yavuz – founded TaleWorlds Entertainment, a video game developer based in Ankara.
Three years later, they launched their first PC game Mount and Blade – which allowed players to step into the shoes of a lone warrior in a realm torn apart by warring kingdoms.
In the highly competitive sector, TaleWorlds took the battle to the big names in the gaming industry as Mount and Blade emerged as one of the most successful games to come out of the Turkish stables.
A single-player game, Mount and Blade sold two to five million copies globally every week in 2020. In 2022, the sixth version of the game was released.
The success of the Yavuz couple reflects the growth of the Turkish industry, which was estimated to be worth $1.2 billion in 2021.
For the record, the industry caters to an estimated 40 million gamers, according to 2021 data, in Türkiye alone.
Other numbers are equally impressive. Gaming enterprises in Türkiye attracted investments of over $420 million in 2022, the largest in Europe. It was a 60 percent jump from the same period of the previous year.
The UK follows it with $158 million, Norway with $60 million, Finland with $53 million, and Sweden with $24 million.
The government’s role in the transformation is crucial – from establishing new digital platforms, providing financial assistance, and holding international eSports organisations within the country.
“We support all our companies that carry out studies and make investments not only in the game industry but also in the field of innovative technologies,” Dr Ali Taha Koc, the Head of Türkiye’s Digital Transformation Office of Turkish Presidency, tells TRT World.
A gaming pioneer
From the remarkable achievements during the early 2000s, Türkiye’s gaming ecosystem surged forward, propelled by the rise of social gaming in the 2010s, and gained significant traction with the spread of mobile gaming from 2012 onwards.
Developers say that one of the biggest factors helping the Turkish gaming ecosystem’s progress is the emergence of “hypercasual” games, which can be played with simple and easy settings.
Along this path, the country attracted the attention of game developers and investors alike, showcasing a succession of remarkable success stories from 2018 and beyond.
The rapid success of the gaming sector in the country can be attributed to a dynamic combination: an enthusiastic young population that embraces gaming both as players and creators, complemented by the government’s dedicated efforts to foster the industry through strategic investments.
The gamer population in Türkiye serves as a driving force for the potential growth of future developers in the country.
“For game startups, first of all, it is necessary to be a good player to respond to the requests of the players,” 23-year-old developer Omer Faruk Gunalan tells TRT World.
Türkiye ranked the 7th highest in the world for playing video games in January 2022, and by January 2023, it had elevated to the 5th, further solidifying its position. Official data says that 92.3 percent of all internet users play video games in Türkiye, while the world average is 81.9 percent.
“The exponential increase in our people’s interest in video games resulted in young people becoming not only gamers but also game developers,” Koc says.
Earlier this year, the Digital Transformation Office launched the Türkiye TechnoHub Platform, which builds a bridge between entrepreneurs and investors.
“Through the Türkiye TechnoHub Platform, we offer our new entrepreneurs looking for a place in the country’s game ecosystem the opportunity to increase their visibility and interact with the global investor network,” he adds.
‘Turcorns’ are promising
Startups’ dynamic presence and contributions are instrumental in Türkiye’s digital transformation that occurred at a remarkable pace, defying expectations.
While there was not a single startup in Türkiye with a valuation exceeding one billion dollars before 2020, today, six startups have exceeded the one-billion-dollar valuation and became a Turcorn, a term used for Turkish unicorn companies, reaching a $1B valuation or exit at one point in time.
One of them, Dream Games, became a Turcorn in a mere two years. Gaming Turcorns are expected to increase in number and grow globally in the coming years.
“We have very successful Turkish companies in the game sector, and their success provides a serious added value to our country,” Koc says, adding that, “today’s Turkish unicorn companies in the game industry will appear with new and bigger projects in the future.”
Within four years, former game startup developers have ventured into creating their startups, leveraging their expertise and previous experiences. Capitalising on their knowledge, they swiftly attracted investments, achieved rapid exits, and attained unicorn status. By mid-2022, the Turkish gaming ecosystem had already witnessed the emergence of two new unicorns.
At least 80 former employees from Peak Games, Türkiye’s largest game distributor, ventured into entrepreneurship and successfully founded 65 startups. Of these startups, 28 specifically targeted the game industry, making it a fertile ground for their invaluable experience within the ecosystem to be harnessed more rapidly.
One of those who dared to dream is Beyza Hilal Durak, an Istanbul-based game developer who founded her own startup after working at a Turkish gaming company for two years. She is now developing games and apps with her team.
“Turkish game developers collaborating with global gaming publishers have contributed a lot to the sector’s development in Türkiye,” the 31-year-old Durak tells TRT World.
The growing ecosystem does not only make financial contributions but is also actively involved in nurturing the younger generation for the future.
So far, 15 universities throughout Türkiye have introduced undergraduate and graduate programs in game design.
“The recently-opened gaming programmes in universities also feed the ecosystem in Türkiye,” says Durak. These programmes provide opportunities that were not available a few years ago.
As the Turkish gaming ecosystem continues to cultivate its expertise and witness more success stories, it will evolve into a maturing ecosystem that expands through the acquisition of game companies—a crucial phase of growth—and witnesses the emergence of game startups going public.
“The return to the big-budget console and computer games, which we call AAA, has brought great success in the long run and is driving the global gaming industry,” Gunalan says.
He advises youngsters aspiring to be a part of the gaming ecosystem not to lose their passion.
“Passion for games is a must for those who want to enter this sector. Stay away from ways and methods where you will lose your passion. If you do not lose your passion, you will enjoy every moment of your work as if you were spending time with your loved ones.”
Aysebetul Aytekin, TRT World
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