election season

Playing the Gamescom Game

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel Officially Opens Gamescom Fair
In it to win it. Source: Bloomberg

This year’s Gamescom, one of the largest gaming conventions in the world, got a heavy dose of politics in the midst of campaign season.

Chancellor Angela Merkel made her inaugural visit to Gamescom on Tuesday, delivering the keynote speech a month out from the election. But she wasn’t the only lawmaker to drop by. More than 150 politicians are planning to make an appearance, which is an unprecedented number for Gamescom.

Ms. Merkel didn’t acknowledge the election or politics during her speech, yet another sign of a low-key campaign even as the election ramps up in its final weeks.

She instead touted the importance of digitization and gaming as not only a form of entertainment, but also as an educational tool and economic asset. Ms. Merkel struck a rather optimistic tone that in the next legislative session, there should be discussions about ways to help boost German video game creators and developers.

“In the next legislative term, we need to get all relevant players to the table and see how we can give German creators and developers more opportunities,” Ms. Merkel said to a packed room of media, politicians and German and international developers and publishers. “We have to discuss other possibilities they can get.”

“I think politicians understand more and more how important this industry is.”

Felix Falk, BIU managing director

Those involved in the German gaming industry want to become more competitive on an international scale and BIU, the German Games Industry Association, hopes for a form of federal financial help for development similar to countries such as France, Great Britain, Poland and Canada.

Ms. Merkel was light on specifics, but those who watched the speech were impressed with her comfort on the topic and felt optimistic she would fulfill her promises on gaming development in Germany.

“For me, it was really positive having this commitment towards the games industry,” Hendrik Klindworth, co-founder and CEO of InnoGames, a Hamburg-based developer and provider of online games, told Handelsblatt Global. “Seeing that she really understands what’s going on in the games industry, she was really prepared for it and I think we can really expect something.”

Gamescom is a more unconventional place to stop on the campaign circuit, but with hundreds of thousands of people flocking to the expansive fairgrounds of the Koelnmesse in Cologne, it’s a convenient place to get an audience of young voters. Around 345,000 people attended last year with similar numbers expected this year.

“It’s a signal of the relevance of the games industry,” said Felix Falk, managing director of BIU, on the chancellor’s inaugural visit. “I think politicians understand more and more how important this industry is.”

Ms. Merkel is running for a historic fourth term and polls reflect that she’s poised for another victory on September 24. Recent surveys have her polling at 37 percent, well ahead of Social Democrat challenger Martin Schulz who sits at 25 percent.

Her appearance at the gaming conference was clearly an effort to shore up spport from young voters, though polls show she is popular with them already. Many young Germans have had Ms. Merkel serving as their chancellor for most of their lives. She has been known to do interviews with famous YouTube stars including recently.

She won’t be alone in stumping at Gamescom. On Wednesday, the conference will hold an election arena with the secretary generals of the five major political parties. Mr. Falk is hoping the discussion on the importance of the German games industry will also be an opportunity to encourage gamers to head to the polls next month.

“We want to bring the people to the election,” Mr. Falk said. “We want to show them what the parties think about digitization and about games and want to move them to the election booth on September 24.”

Lisa Hagen writes for Handelsblatt Global in Berlin. To contact the author: hg.editorial@vhb.de

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