Top Start-up Cities in the Link, No Utrecht in Sight


Which incited me to think, why is Utrecht not in the list, or any other city from the good old Netherlands for that matter?

And then to write a semi-rant, semi-article, semi-discussion piece…

Unless Utrecht solves its logistics problems (limited space, expensive rent, food, and commute) it will never enter that list, even though it has a high desirability and visibility, being in the Netherlands and all, and high talent/visionary output.

Right, just a couple of students can start up a company, but it is still regarded as a highly risky behavior and without luck or $ you will get worn out in no time.

Even in DGG the question rises more often than not: what if DGG had a cafeteria, what if DGG had more office space, what if DGG costed less, how can I get to DGG when the train tickets are so expensive, etc. Some actually become serious restraints.

Basically my experience with immigration and starting up in Netherlands showed me that Dutch Economy wants you to be first self sufficient, have a paying job, and only then think about ideas whereas most occur to people who wish to do it at a minimal overhead. A person who has a paying job rarely quits it to create a start-up. Kind of a catch-22.

Ex-pats who are not insane usually find a job, get things set, and go on about their lives.

Then again there are nice things happening in Netherlands right? With all that “million euro” investment funds news that gathered attention recently. What I understood of it was that it would be given to companies who wish to scale up.

The problem here is that the Independent Development/Start-ups, rarely wish to scale up. We have been very careful about that fact, and we tried to encourage/help other start-ups with their vision while benefiting from each other’s existence. Which was, to some extent, one of Rami’s points in a recent discussion about the funds. We do not want to hire a 3 people for a project and then get stuck scratching our heads, trying to fill in tasks for an idle work-force.

Start-ups first require a proof of concept.

The average entrepreneur thrives in sustainable diversity where people do not get penalized for trying new things. That is to say, I often hear from friends and colleagues, “if this project does not work, I will have to find a job at AH” sort of rants, summing up quite nicely the expectations of people who have taken a huge risk. They see AH as the epitome of monotonous low wage  closed mind drudge work. To be honest I’ve seen CS master diploma holders work in worse conditions.

The result is people getting stuck on dead-end or low quality projects for long periods of time, just because the failure of it is over-inflated misery and doom. Your production force doesn’t scale to the project? Re-evaluate, scale down, start anew, scrap that shitty product which won’t sell and even it did you would feel bad about it being shitty, and start a better one.

In that sense almost each new project undertaken is a new start-up. It requires, in our case at least, contracts with partners, agreements, deals, a new business plan. Like all start-ups it requires a proof of concept, or should be scrapped. Our experience has been getting stuck with most, not wanting to find investors, etc. etc.

I remember the long meetings where when IP owners being not happy with the depth a game presents, thinking they could make it sure that it “at the very least” should cover the expenses, making ridiculous demands, everyone in development agreeing to underpaid requests of additional features/design decisions, each of them being poorly based on anecdotal experience and “feelings” and what “people want”.

That is, all this madness instead of personal experience, which could have been acquired much earlier if we did not get stuck on making a “sure hit”.

Some people just want to figure out a vision while experimenting on different possibilities. Without a minimum of 10K euros in the bank account, this is highly unlikely given the average rent cost for a person.

To my perception, people are afraid of getting invested on, since they do not wish to share this huge risk; they are afraid they will fail, and if they don’t they do not want to share the meager rewards of that risk, they are afraid of hiring people, because it requires such a huge commitment.

But there are subsidies right? Dutch Government subsidies for creative and technological start-ups is just a “beggar’s fee” that holds entrepreneurs in limbo; they do not want to make a dime more than the allowed money, because then they do not qualify for subsidy, and nobody wants to lose free money which unfortunately is only good enough for semi-decent living standards with some luck. Even more money would not fix this. It is free money, it is not a reward. Free money has a way of messing people’s minds. They try to get it with least amount of effort, and set the effort level so that they keep getting it. Then living arrangements get tailored around that amount.

We often get requests from Turkey and Germany, with very talented people who wish to do their internships here. They tell us that having worked in the Dutch Game Scene is a huge boost for their resumes. The brain-drain in Turkey is amazingly high. Yet they cannot leave, because it is amazingly expensive. Dang it, even Dutch people can hardly afford going to Global Game Jam, which by the way did not even have the decency to give any prizes, yet it had the nerve to have “judges”. That is the subject of another article. People who live as far as Den Haag have considerable problems commuting, let alone living here as an ex-pat. Subsidies would help in this case. You have your own company? Travel free. You want to bring in interns? Here have a bunch of euros.

I remember JP’s plan to send talented people to US, so that some exchange would happen later on. This is a good way to establish relations with industry savvy people, but talent will never come to Utrecht if it is not affordable.

Perception is that, living in Europe is a luxury. A frivolous expense. A self inflicted look at all the misery I am enduring even though I am paying double the amount an average US citizen does for amazing facilities, who by the way, doesn’t even get properly taxed.

Dutch Economy thinks that creating and supporting the game industry and having star-ups resembles having farms, throw subsidies so people want to work at it, all the while taxing them for the privilege. Newsflash, people already want to work at creative industries.

My point is, unless Utrecht somehow becomes a facilitating environment, it will struggle to fulfill its true potential in the international arena. We will remain as one of the “unofficial” indie hot-spot in the list of big theaters of the world.  I do not know how this should be fixed exactly, then again I am not running for burgemeester or whatever it is that has a say in the matter. Minister of Economy maybe. I may, in fact, have some ideas, but I am too busy earning my rent and food at the moment to write about them.

I believe that the recent proposal/public poll about selling tosti in the balcony of DGG by a resident company supports my point.

Yet, I am still an outsider. My view and understanding may be skewed. I would appreciate if anyone would care to correct me.