Israel’s video game development scene is picking up major momentum, and a recently-launched accelerator program, Game Hub, is a super-powered steroid shot in the arm of the gradually growing industry. The program, established in collaboration with the Jerusalem and Heritage Ministry, the Jerusalem Development Authority, Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Hebrew University, ironSource and the Social Space Association, aims to help startup game developers create games that hold both cultural and commercial value: developers accepted to the program, which kicked off on April 3, have received financial grants, a workspace, mentorship from some of the top professionals in their fields, support and infrastructure for business and marketing development in the local and international market.
It’s no secret that Israel has already made a name for itself in game development with large companies such as Playtika (which has a net worth of $7.5 billion) and Moon Active ($5b.). However, the games developed by these companies that define Israel’s success in the space are limited to a very specific corner of the greater industry: hyper-casual mobile games.
“Israel is a kind of games empire but if you look at the ecosystem and where Israel is influential, it’s very [geared] to mobile and casual genres. Israel is really strong in games, whose main metric of success is financial,” explained Game Hub head Dani Bacon. “What we need – what we don’t have much of here – are games that influence; that are cultural and content-based, and experience-based.”
Bacon explained that while there is great commercial success to be found in casual mobile games, Israel has the capability and talent to become a supporting player on the US- and Japan-dominated stage of video game development, alongside other countries such as Poland and other European nations.
In a few years, with help from programs like Game Hub, “we will see the small companies, small studios and small teams starting to get more and more products out to the market, and then some of them will be successful,” Bacon said. “And the next step will be kind of like what we see happening in the Swiss market, the Polish market, the Finnish market – these are very equivalent to the Israeli market.”
That isn’t to say that mobile development is out of the question, however. Dan Greenberg, chief design officer at IronSource, which is a Game Hub partner, expressed his excitement at the potential for new games to make their way to mobile platforms. He explained that, even though IronSource runs a mobile-based game platform, “we didn’t want to limit it only to mobile.”
“The thing that we kept coming back to is that any largely successful AAA [high budget] or even indie developer today, will have some sort of mobile version. It’s something which is happening more and more – you see it kind of blurring. We’ve had the opportunity to work on Call of Duty mobile with Activision, and you can see how they’re transitioning into something which is more cross-platform – Fortnite as well. So we believe that Game Hub, which is a multi-year venture, is going to continue this trend.”
As for why Israel’s more dedicated “cultural and content-based” gaming scene hasn’t taken off yet, Greenberg suggested that only recently, Israeli game developers have paved a somewhat reliable path to success – developers such as Clover Bite, creator of the recent Indie hit GRIME, which has sold well.
“I think we’ve gotten to a point in time where there’s enough success stories,” he said. “I don’t think it could have happened earlier because Israeli companies always play it very safe – everybody here is very realistic, very pragmatic, and nobody goes and creates a company that is not sure to succeed.”
However, the success of Israeli-made games – such as GRIME (an indie action platformer with an 81% MetaCritic score) or dietzribi’s Toodee and Topdee (82% on MetaCritic), both of which began on Steam and are expected to be released on Nintendo Switch this year – has primed the market for a larger Israeli investment.
“Israeli venture capital is putting money into gaming that it wasn’t before. You see how the whole [Israeli business] ecosystem is getting behind it,” Greenberg said, joking that entrepreneur developers who were previously averse to taking the huge financial risk of committing to developing a game can now “take that leap, and leave their job and create a gaming company – without getting divorced.”