Gaming takes off in Israel

‘All we need is a push,’ says Jerusalem-based Capricia CEO.

Screenshot from Capricia's current game ‘The Birdcage’ (photo credit: CAPRICIA)
Screenshot from Capricia's current game ‘The Birdcage’
(photo credit: CAPRICIA)
THOUGH ISRAEL is well-known for being the “Start-up Nation,” the story was very different when it came to gaming (playing video games) – until just recently.
While nowadays, gaming is the biggest entertainment industry, games are just beginning to come out of Israel, and most of them are in the form of casual games (mobile, social, gambling). Not many produce computer video games, which are the most luxurious.
The vast majority of the active Israeli gaming companies are located in Tel Aviv.
However, Jerusalem aims to change all that and become the video games capital of Israel.
“On paper, Jerusalem has all the needed elements to become a key player in the gaming industry,” says Arnold Nesis, CEO of Capricia Productions, the only Jerusalem- based gaming company. “We have the best design schools in Israel located here and some of the best computer science faculties in the world. Combined with a very developed start-up mentality in Israel in general, the seeds are already planted. All we need is a push.”
Getting that push however is not an easy task. The argument is that Jerusalem has a very strong academy and design schools have existed for decades but were not translated into start-up success until just recently, mostly due to massive student migration from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. Some claim that the big turning point was in the establishment of groups such as MadeInJLM and the election of Nir Barkat (a former startup star) as the mayor of Jerusalem, which led to the forming of government-financed programs in order to accelerate start-up development in Jerusalem. And the results are amazing. A similar process happened in Europe. When the governments of Finland and Poland began supporting gaming, they quickly became leaders in the industry, currently generating billions every year.
“Once the government and municipality decided it’s a good idea to support start-ups, Jerusalem’s start-up scene just exploded. However, when it comes to gaming, there is a lot of goodwill, but very little actual action. It’s a cool industry, so every city wants to have it, but, so far, Jerusalem has not actively supported any gaming companies or gaming content. Our investors, for example, are Polish. Given the fact that Israel has the highest start-up investing rate per capita in the world, this is a bit absurd.
Today, if a gaming company wants to be able to file for government and local grants, it has to develop an actual technology. We were lucky to have technology elements in our games and, thus, we were able to get support from the JDA (Jerusalem Development Authority); but that’s something that is extremely rare in gaming.”
Unlike many struggling industries, gaming is doing extremely well. It is the world’s fastest-growing entertainment industry and is expected to exceed 110 billion dollars in revenues this year, worldwide. Just for perspective, this is about 3 times bigger than the film industry and 8 times bigger than the entire music industry.
Capricia Productions is trying to bring that success to Jerusalem and develop a serious gaming industry in the city. The company believes that in order to stand out in the global industry, Jerusalem has to produce something unique and new. In order to do that, the company is creating a weird and potentially revolutionary idea – story- driven, music-based video games such as never seen before – which, it believes, can become both a new gaming genre and a new way to experience and monetize music.
“The last time our collective experience as music consumers changed was about 60 years ago when the video clip was invented. At first, the idea of making short films based on music must have seemed absurd, but nowadays we can’t imagine a world without the video clip. The same process happened with theater and film – basically with every form of art that music has interacted with. For some reason, however, no one has done it with gaming. The music industry is dying and we believe gaming can be its salvation.”
So how does it work?
“Imagine a great music video, but you are the main character. You can fully control and immerse yourself in it, while the events and the environment are in perfect sync with the music as your decisions and actions in the game change the outcome of the story. Everyone uses their imagination while listening to music – we bring it to life.”
While the idea might sound strange at first, the company has actually produced some impressive work since its incorporation, bringing on board a wide range of well-known artists, getting headlines in international newspapers and magazines, as well as presenting at some of the biggest gaming conferences in the world. “For us it was weird that no one tried it before – I’m not even saying it’s a good idea, but it’s weird that no one even tried. When we began, everyone told us we were crazy, that we should just make ‘normal games.’ However, being Israeli probably also means being stubborn and doing things that might sound insane at first – but after all, we did bring some interesting start-ups out of Israel,” Arnold adds with a wink.
That stubbornness proved to be a good idea.
“After we developed a demo, we approached some well-known artists and found out we are not the only crazy people who believed something like this could work. We were lucky to be joined by artists from Guns N’ Roses, Evanescence, Epica, Kamelot and other huge bands, and industry veterans as advisers, such as Jeff Burton (cofounder of EA games) and Keith Boskey (former Eidos Interactive president), obtain an investment, present in a lot of countries, and we expect to release our first game in about a year. As far as I know, this will be the most ambitious PC/Console game to come out of Israel as of today and the fact that this will come out of Jerusalem is just amazing for us.”
CAPRICIA NOW has a bigger dream than just developing its own games in Jerusalem – the founders are planning to create an eco-system of gaming – and are currently trying to raise interest with both the municipality and private investors.
“When Barkat decided he wanted to have more start-ups in Jerusalem, he did research to find out how to make it happen – and he found a correlation between the amount of culture and art in a city with the number of start-ups working in it.
Gaming seems to be the perfect match – seeing it’s the meeting point between art, technology and business.”
Why Jerusalem?
“I am pretty sure we are just the early bird from a massive flock. I won’t say that it’s not hard – and we’re fighting constantly to stay in Jerusalem, but I honestly think we are on to something that a lot of people just don’t see yet. We are trying to help more companies open their doors in Jerusalem and simply be a beacon of light that paves the way for others. We are all in this together. When JVP (Jerusalem Venture Partners) opened as a Jerusalem-based venture capital company, brows were raised, but it proved itself. When people thought about making films in Jerusalem in the past, it sounded weird, yet now most of the Israeli film scene is in Jerusalem. The same will happen with gaming,” says Arnold.
“We do need a lot of help to make it happen, and I’d be the first to admit that it’s a very big challenge and struggle. However, whoever invests in it and helps gaming grow here will be doing an amazing thing for the city, and will also have an amazing business opportunity that has already proved itself in Europe and Canada.”