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Bigger than the Western Balkans/ The once-in-a-lifetime opportunity provided by Doku.Tech

18 June 2022.

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Doku.Tech is an international annual event, organised by the IPKO Foundation in Prishtina/Pristina. The Western Balkans Fund, as the donor of the GameJam session, attended the 9th edition of Doku.Tech held from 10-12 June. IPKO Foundation, as the lead applicant, is one of the 30 winners of the 4th Call for Proposals, co-funded by the European Union, IPA – Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance

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In the forested plateau of Anamorava/Kosovo Pomoravlje, the town of Viti/Vitina, near Gjilan/Gnjilane in Kosovo*, along with the surrounding areas, is known for its fertile lands. Not by chance, in a radius of fewer than 10 kilometres, you can find the settlement of Llashtica/Vlastica, with stones dating Bronze Era and carved, according to some legends, by the giants. Nearby, in Dardhankodër, literally meaning “The pear uphill”, bronze coins from the time of the Roman Empire have been found. Of Rome is also the Castle of Goven/ Podgrađe. At the same time, the curative Baths of Kllokot/Klokot have been sought-after for their miraculous effects since antiquity.

Kujtesa Sejdiu, 21 years old, was born in the middle of this “waltz”. Still, Viti/Vitina offers few opportunities for young people like her.

Kujtesa Sejdiu, 21, left, partecipant of the GameJam

In her hometown, agriculture remains the main economic activity. In addition to agriculture, the largest employer is a plastic bottle packaging and manufacturing company. Most of the young people who attend university have to move to big cities, such as Gjilan/Gnjilane or Prishtina/Pristina, to have more employment opportunities. Kujtesa, an English language student, makes no exception.

Unemployment is a scourge that pushes many young people to leave for better opportunities abroad. An industry larger than the entire GDP of the Western Balkans combined can be a game-changer.

Day One of the GameJam

The idea is simple and original. With partners from Albania and North Macedonia, IPKO Foundation invites young people from all over the region to teach them how to develop computer games. With this idea, they applied to receive a grant from the Western Balkans Fund/EU joint action. This proposal was endorsed formally by WBF Secretariat in April 2022.

Thanks also to our support, for three days in a row, young people from the region’s Contracting Parties met in Prishtina/Pristina to learn how to become part of a $ 195 billion industry, several times larger than Hollywood. By comparison, the GDP of all the contracting parties combined is 115 billion USD in 2021 (source World Bank). On the final day, every working group was able to produce a video game.

GDP of Western Balkans CP in 2021 amounted to 115 billion USD (World Bank). By comparison, the revenues of the video-game industry in the same year amount to 195 billion USD

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“It all started with two people five years ago. Then in the second edition of GameJam, there were 5, 10, and 20, and now we have 50 participants. For the first time, in this edition, we had to reject 50 more applications to participate”, underlines Ardi Ponosheci, project manager at IPKO Foundation.

Figure 3 Identity Inc and Scanner Dino, games developped by the GameJam partecipant in Prishtina/Pristina

GameJam session of Doku.Tech is not only an opportunity to promote one of the fastest-growing industries in the World, but also a tool to promote gender equality and fight against social marginalisation.

“In general, the gaming industry is male-dominated. In many companies in this field in the region, the gender ratio is 80-20 or 90-10. In some cases, even 100% boys, but not in GameJam. We have deliberately tried to promote gender equality, having an equal participation of men and women”, adds Ardi.

Figure 4 Lek Sahatqia programming during the GameJam

Lek Sahatqia, co-organiser of GameJam and one of the tutors of this event, is one of the first to turn his childhood passion, playing computer games, into a real career. A passionate game developer with dozens of releases in the Play Store, Lek explains that he has to cope now with more contracts than ever before because of the shift caused by the pandemic. Although a freelance, Lek had to reject some of the proposals received over the last year because of the booming demand.

The pandemic will most likely be remembered as one of the biggest catalysts for change in the computer video-game industry. Games experienced an unprecedented explosion during the lockdown, and this boom continues well into early 2022.

There was a sense of optimism at the start of 2022 that this would be a banner year for video games. The first few months were full of major releases: Pokémon, Elden Ring, Horizon, Gran Turismo, Dying Light, to name just a handful. And although the slate beyond that was uncertain, there were some big titles due over the year. The two biggest (outside of annual titles like Call of Duty) were Starfield and The Legend of Zelda.

Day Three, GameJam

According to the largest portal of the gaming industry, gameindustry.biz, some delays in the release of new games are threating the expectations of the 2022 as the golden year of the games.

However, on the bright side, the delays are not happening because of a dry up in demand, but only because the industry is readjusting herself with many employers working remotely.

 

“Genie is out of the bottle”. 96% of world-leading companies will continue to hire developers remotely. Here lies a fantastic opportunity for the Western Balkans

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According to participants in the “US Best Places to Work Awards”, 96% of industry leaders said they had no intention of making their staff return to the office full time. The developers, unanimously, now seem to admit that the “genie is out of the bottle” and the idea of going back to commuting every day and only hiring people who are willing to move to area is a no-starter.

Here lies the tremendous opportunity for the Western Balkans. “There is no need to relocate or live in the area near a big game developer. You can work well in the industry, from every town or village in the region”, tells you Sahatqia. His experiences of working many years remotely prove him right.

Indeed, examples of success in the region are not lacking. Nordeus is one of the most popular smartphone game developers in the World. Top Eleven and Heroic are the two most famous games conceived and released by this Belgrade-based company.

And yet, the potential in the region remains largely unexplored. “It is not a question if Prishtina can become a hub, but simply when it will happen”, underlines enthusiastically Lek.

Programming a game

“Five years ago, when we launched GameJam, even though it is an international format, it was just me and a colleague of mine who registered. Almost no one knew what we were doing. Currently, the number of our applicants exceeds 100 and more and more young people are interested in getting involved in the gaming industry. The chances of generating jobs are tremendous”, adds Lek.

Besa Istrefi, part of the development of Angry Birds, accounts for 5 years of experience working in some market-leading companies, such as EA Electronic Games, NextGame and Remedy. She arrived from Helsinki to say that “everything is possible”.

 “There is a big misunderstanding. To be involved in the gaming industry, you do not have to be a game developer or software developer. From my experience as a project manager in game development involving staff of 70-300 people, I guarantee that almost anyone can find their place. A game needs translators, screenwriters, graphic designers, artists who deal only with vegetation, flowers, plants, game character hair artist, legal experts and much more,” she insists.

“Furthermore, there are other ways of employment. For example, there are hundreds of young people employed in the Customer Service hub in Bulgaria. Today, most of these opportunities are offered online. My colleagues at Remedy are probably 50% foreign and 50% local from Finland, but the number is changing fast in favor of international staff.”

“There is a big misunderstanding. To be involved in the gaming industry, you do not have to necessarily be a game developer or software developer. Everyone willing can find his proper place”

Even for her, the pandemic is the catalyst for an epoch-making change in the video game industry. “With the pandemic, companies have started to think differently. They have seen it as an opportunity to access a much larger talent pool than it has ever been. Most companies have been working from home for about two years and will continue to do so. My goal in this GameJam is to show people that even here in Kosovo, there is an opportunity to get involved and grow in the gaming career. It takes a lot of work and courage. Still, thanks to free online courses, thanks to employment opportunities that can be found more and more easily with a Google search, anyone can try and get employed in this industry”, adds Besa.

Figure 7 Besa Istrefi, far-right

For the young participants, developing a game from scratch, for many for the first time, is an exciting idea.

Angela Bogdanovska, a first-year engineering student in Skopje, says participating in this regional event, learning new skills, and being part of a long-term network over time are the most attractive aspect of Doku.Tech.

For Adriano Lleshi, 25, a cyber-security expert from Tirana, the gaming industry offers “an unexplored opportunity” and is extremely attractive to everyone. “None of us can do this alone. We need to rely on each other to create a network through which we can all succeed. “That’s why I’m here in Pristina,” he said.

Even for Kujtesa, developing a game is an extremely engaging experience. “I do not know what the future will hold. But, I do know that the more knowledge and friends you have, the easier it will be. Can I move forward in the gaming industry? I would love it!”

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None of us can do this alone. We need to rely on each other to create a network through which we can all succeed

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For the time being, she will continue to commute between Viti / Vitina and Prishtina / Pristina until the completion of her studies. But, thanks to GameJam, “I have an entirely on the horizon for my future.”

Written by Klevis Gjoni, public relations officer

@All rights of this publications belong to the Western Balkans Fund

 

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IPKO Foundation, a grantee of the 4th Call for Proposals, delivers self-sustaining, practical, holistic and long term solutions based on Technology and Innovation through a number of projects.

This year program, provided the opportunity for listening to international speakers, entertaining ground-breaking ideas, and challenging the audience's knowledge and points of view on technology.

DOKU.TECH convenes speakers from colorful backgrounds in technology, social entrepreneurship, and ground breaking ideas in the field of tech, in front of an eager audience. From simple, modest social entrepreneurs, to people who want to bring down globally irresponsible companies.

Through DOKU.TECH program, IPKO Foundation has achieved global reach, in countries such as: Albania, Austria, Bosnia&Hercegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, United Kingdom and United States.


*This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo Declaration of Independence.