Utrecht gaming industry on the rise

Gone are the days of the pasty-faced developer who subsists on a diet of beer and pizza whilst crunching code for weeks on end. The gaming industry today has evolved massively since Paul Ross, CEO and Founder of Stellar Entertainment Software, first joined the industry in 1996. Today, studios realise the importance of creating a healthy environment in which people can be their best selves. According to Ross, Utrecht has the potential to become the next Hollywood of videogames.

21 August 2023 4 minutes

Host Jos Hummelen of ROM Utrecht Region and co-host Annet Kloprogge (photo), Business Developer New Digital Society spoke with Paul Ross on health in the gaming industry, how to attract talent and why he chose to open a studio in Utrecht in their podcast Pepper.

Utrecht as game hub

The Netherlands, and the Utrecht Region in particular, boasts a strong media and gaming industry. Incubators such as Dutch Game Garden have helped over 230 game studios through their game incubation programme, helping create job opportunities and economic growth in the Dutch games industry.

Events such as Indigo are the perfect platform for developers, publishers, investors, press and other interested parties to connect and create new opportunities. It’s the leading game business and game showcase event in the Netherlands and as well as enjoying international exposure, visitors can expect to find some epic games and the biggest international names in the industry. This is the place where this podcast was recorded.

Crunching code is maybe not the way to go after all

More importantly, it’s a great place to meet people, recruit new talent and discover new things. Precisely what drew Ross (photo) to the 2023 edition. “You might think we’re in the business of making video games, but we’re actually buying and selling skills. Much like on the stock market. Coming to Indigo is about seeing what skills we can find in the market, which we can then purchase and package into video games. Our job is about producing a studio that works for a diverse set of people. When we get the absolute best out of them, we can be the best.”

A great believer in the importance of diversity – his team is made up of some 15-20 nationalities – Paul feels that people are your greatest asset and “deserve to be treated as such”. Run your people into the ground and they’ll leave for greener pastures. This means a strong focus on both mental and physical health. “When I first joined the industry in 1996, the culture was very hard. I’d crunch seven days a week, starting a 6am and finishing at midnight, and do this for three or four weeks at a time, without a day off. That kind of culture couldn’t, rightfully shouldn’t, exist today.”

Huge local potential

As a UK national, Paul watched Guildford’s rise as the capital of the games industry. For such a small town, it boasts a disproportionate number of large developers and startups. Utrecht today is where Guildford was some 25 years ago, he feels. But what really attracted him to the Netherlands for his second studio is that the country has a lot of talent and is set to surge.

“The Dutch are highly educated, hard working and very good at engineering. Just look at universities like TU Delft or companies like Philips. A quick look at the Rijksmuseum, with its Dutch masters, shows the Dutch can do art too. Finally, they have some experience of exporting their culture. Countries that are successful at making video games have done well at exporting their culture […]. Gorilla Games has proven that the Dutch can make triple A games. Nixxes is also extremely successful. This country is ready to surge, it has everything in place, all the raw materials.”

Utrecht as an ideal location

From the brown cafes serving ‘bitterballen’ or ‘broodje rookworst’ and ‘stroopwafels’, there is much to love about the Netherlands Paul says with a wink. Coming to Ridderkerk as an intern, he quickly fell for everything the country and its people have to offer. Unsurprisingly, Utrecht became the location for Stellar Entertainment Software’s second studio. Utrecht came out on top thanks to its central location, affordability, and cool atmosphere.

“We looked at Breda, as it has a great university, but it was too far away from Schiphol. Similarly, Rotterdam was too far away. Den Haag is located on the coast, so your recruitment circle is 50% sea. Amsterdam is crazy expensive. Utrecht really fit all the bills for us. Close to Schiphol, better prices, better available resources. Close enough to the German border to be able to recruit from there too. And it’s been a great place to set up a business.”

As the Dutch ‘New Digital Society ecosystem’ matures further, Utrecht Region has the skills, resources and support it needs to become the next Mecca for developers. Want to know more about how you too can become a part of this hotbed of creativity? Reach out to our digital and media sector specialist for customised support on how to join Utrecht Region’s vibrant business community.

For the full podcast, visit Spotify.

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