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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 July, 2003, 07:45 GMT 08:45 UK
France offers grants for games
Alfred Hermida
By Alfred Hermida
BBC News Online technology editor

If you come up with a good idea for a video game in France, you could get a helping hand from the state.

Ghost Recon
Ghost Recon was a success for French games firm Ubi Soft
The French Government is offering four million euro (2.9m) to help aspiring game developers turn their ideas into reality.

In a statement, the Ministry of Culture said the money was aimed at helping French firms weather rough times in the global market for games.

"This is a sign from the government that they have realised there is a very strong potential for the games industry in France," said Frederic Diot, a games industry analyst based in Paris.

Struggle to survive

France has several games publishers which can compete with American giants like Electronic Arts and Activision.

They include Ubi Soft, responsible for blockbusters like Splinter Cell and Ghost Recon.

The government has tried to push broadband and the internet. It is now trying to do the same with the game sector
Philippe Poutonnet, Jupiter Research
The country is also home to Infogrames, the largest interactive games publisher in Europe and the parent company of Atari.

These big companies are riding the current boom in video games sales. But analysts say smaller French developers have been hit by the crash of the dot.com and have been struggling to recover.

"All the revenue is going into the hands of a decreasing number of companies," said Mr Diot, "smaller ones are finding it increasingly hard to survive."

A further obstacle is the rising costs of creating a successful game.

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
Would a game like Vice City be paid for by the government?
Ten years ago, the average game cost 200,000 to develop, whereas now the average budget is more than 1m.

Added to that, sales of personal computers and game consoles are lower in France than in neighbouring countries like the UK and Germany.

It means that companies have to rely on making games that appeal to an international audience. Around 80% of sales for French game makers come from abroad.

Analysts say the French Government is eager to encourage more people to get into computers and gaming.

"The government has tried to push broadband and the internet," said Philippe Poutonnet, Jupiter Research analyst in Paris, "and it is now trying to do the same with the game sector."

Strings attached

The funds are aimed at encouraging home-grown talent to come up with new ideas for games and use innovative technology.

Governments will increasingly try to bring some support in some ways, even though it is going to be a bit controversial
Frederic Diot, games analyst
The government will pay for up to 40% of the cost of turning a concept into a working version of a game.

But there are strings attached to the millions of euros up for grabs. To get a slice of the cash, firms have to be French and the work developing an idea must be done in France itself.

And there are limits to the sort of game the French Government is willing to pay for.

It will not hand out grants for violent or pornographic games. This effectively excludes a whole genre of gaming popular among young men such as Grand Theft Auto titles.

These games reward players for raiding banks, beating up gangsters and paying off prostitutes. They have proved to be some of the best-selling games of all time.

Game developers have until 1 September to put forward their ideas.

Analysts believe it is the first time the French state has ploughed funds into video games. But they are sceptical about whether it is enough to help ailing developers.

"It will give some breathing space to the industry," said Mr Poutonnet, "but in the long-term I don't really see an improvement."

More significantly, the decision is seen as a sign that the French Government has recognised the value of its game industry.

Countries like South Korea already have been helping to grow a domestic video games industry and analysts say European countries are following suit.

"Governments will increasingly try to bring some support in some ways," said Mr Diot, "even though it is going to be a bit controversial."

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