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The Serbian Games Association: From Hero Story to Gaming Ecosystem

In 2010, one company lit the spark of the gaming industry in Serbia. More than a decade later, the entire ecosystem was formed to support the sector, with the Serbian Games Association leading the way.

The Serbian Gaming Association (SGA) is a non-profit NGO dedicated to developing and supporting the gaming industry in the country. Aiming to increase the competitiveness of local gaming companies on the global market, the organization strives to turn Serbia into a regional gaming hub.

In the spring of 2010, a small team from Belgrade released Top 11 Football Manager, a football-themed video game. It was one of the first games that provided Facebook gamers with the same experience they would have if they'd played the game on their mobile phones. In 2012, with the release of native mobile apps, the game became one of the most successful in the world—so popular that even José Mourinho agreed to advertise it. Today, twelve years later, the Top 11 Football Manager still rolls as one of the most popular sports simulations, and Nordeus (the team that built it) is one of the most successful gaming companies in the country.

The triumph of Top 11 was just one of the sparks that lit the fire of the Serbian gaming industry. Other success stories followed, developing the gaming scene in Belgrade, Novi Sad, and Niš. Soon, the industry employed hundreds of people from different sectors and backgrounds, expanding from traditional tech talents to other creative branches (art, storytelling, design, music).

The country benefits from a relatively small gaming scene and interconnected company founders, so the idea of creating a joint organization that would represent the entire industry quickly became a reality.

In 2018, a group of eight companies started the Serbian Games Association, a non-profit NGO working on increasing the global competitiveness of Serbian companies, building talent and creativity, and enabling companies to create and publish their video games in Serbia. SGA's activities include educational workshops, programs and meetups, research work and report publishing, and promoting the local gaming scene. Relja Bobić, a Program Director at SGA confirms:

We strive to respond to the actual needs of the community we represent. We get information about which capacities or skills need to be supported and developed through regular surveys and direct contacts with our members and other actors from the gaming community. We also run programs targeting those aspiring to join the industry, whether students, young professionals, or established pros who would like to try a career shift. To do this well, we also follow the hiring trends and needs in the industry in Serbia, mainly via our SGA Poslovi (SGA Jobs) platform.

With dozens of educational activities behind them, SGA now knows how to meet the needs of its community. For example, their tailor-made programs usually attract between 10 and 50 participants (representing as many studios/companies), mentorship programs involve between 20 and 40 people per cycle, and large-scale events, such as the For the Win! conference attracts up to 200 people.

Some of the events SGA organizes require business expertise, and this is how SGA and Swiss EP found an interconnecting space and started collaborating in fall 2021. Relja explains how that happened:

The gaming industry is quite specific—"standard" startup topics all have their particular gaming angle, but some problems still ask for a universal solution. This is where Swiss EP and its experts were valuable. Together, we invited speakers who were relevant for our Game Funding Bootcamp and our international conference.

According to the latest data published in the Serbian Gaming Industry Report for 2021, over 130 Serbian gaming companies and teams employ approximately 2200 people, made an estimated revenue of 125 million USD, and 57% of them are working on original IPs. With a constant growth in revenue and number of employees, the Serbian gaming industry is evidently constantly developing, opening new opportunities for SGA engagement. Rejla is optimistic:

The possibilities are endless. The Serbian gaming industry has enormous growth potential and different needs. Based on many relevant research projects, our continual insights into the industry, and the level of talent and motivation, we know exactly how high that potential is. So, in the future, we will focus on building a couple of big projects with different local and international stakeholders to make the Serbian gaming industry even more successful.

In 2010, one success story inspired the development of an entire ecosystem. Over a decade later, Nordeus is one of many hero stories boosting a new generation of gaming studios. Two Desperados, 3Lateral, Mad Head Games, Webelinx Games, Playrix, and Peaksel are some of the Serbian bellwethers that have succeeded globally. So, we can't help but wonder: what will come of seeing so many of these inspiring stories?