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April 10, 2017

Is the iGaming Industry in Prague on the Verge of a Velvet Revolution?

Last month, the online gaming software company Playtech signed a deal to bring their wide range of games to the Czech Republic for the very first time, leading to speculation that this could herald an exciting new chapter for iGaming in the country.

The deal means that people will now be able to join much of the rest of the world in being able to play casino games online and this is just the latest stage in a long, and sometimes surprising, the history that goes back as far as the late 1970s.

Prague Morning
“Prague Morning” (CC BY 2.0) by romanboed

The move comes in the light of the government’s introduction, in January of this year, of gaming licences for companies wishing to conduct online gambling as well as new taxes of up to 35% on all revenues raised. With video games already recognized by many as being one of the country’s leading cultural exports, it’s hoped that together these sectors can make an even more significant contribution to the Czech Republic’s economy.

It was only as recently as 2013 that the government first started to give any support to the industry as a whole, but by 2014, many schemes had been put in place to do so. In its earliest days, the Czech games industry concentrated on the very simplest forms of card and chance games including versions of the classic “rock, paper, scissors,” but by the 1980s many Svazam clubs were also becoming informal meeting places for would-be programmers working on ZX-Spectrum or Atari computers.

But, along with all the other changes of 1989, this was the first of the significant turning points for the computer games industry in the newly-formed Czech Republic. The industry quickly became more professional, and the first officially distributed game was one called “Světák Bob.” However, it took a decade for the first internationally released Czech video game to arrive, the World War II action adventure, “Hidden and Dangerous.” Two years later “Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis” was released to widespread acclaim and put the country’s games developers on the world stage.

“2” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by The GameWay

In the intervening years, the industry has seen steady growth, which accelerated even more once the government had started to lend their backing, too. For example, in 2014 there were estimated to be around 350 developers and 30 companies working in the sector, but by late 2016 these figures had increased to 1,000 and 47 respectively.

This new status and size of the industry are reflected in the sheer number of video game conferences and conventions that are held in the country each year including Prague’s Game Developers Session, Game Access and The Central and Eastern Europe Game Studies Conference, both of which are held in Brno. Alongside these, there are also some festivals and awards ceremonies held each year where developers and players can come together to celebrate success and look forward to the future.

Against this backdrop of expansion, and with the momentum that is continuing to build behind the industry, there’s no knowing where it may lead next. For example, in 2015, Playtech also won the contract to run the website for Sun Bingo, an iGaming operator in the UK that offers a range of bingo and slots games to its players. So it wouldn’t be too surprising if the latter also decided to explore the potential of this new market too, especially since there may well soon be an increased appetite for this kind of gaming.

But while the industry may be booming, it shares the skills shortage that affects so much of the worlds of IT and computing. So many of the best graduates are snapped up by big global players like Google, and it may be this that is proving to be the primary limiting factor on growth. However steps are being taken to address this fact with Masaryk University, Charles University in Prague and The University of West Bohemia in Pilsen all now offering dedicated degree courses in video gaming and related disciplines.

This, along with the arrival of Playtech in the country, all certainly seems to herald a move eastwards for the traditional iGaming capitals of the world in the UK and the United States. And, in the case of the former, there’s also the question of Brexit to be considered and whether that could even see some of the most successful British companies looking for a new home in the east.

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