Rheinauhafen aspires to gaming capital of Europe


COLOGNE, Germany -- No one would confuse Cologne's Rheinauhafen with Silicon Valley. So far, only a handful of high-tech companies -- most prominently Microsoft and Electronic Arts -- have set up offices in the gentrified harbor area along the river Rhine.

The way NRW is chasing after games publishers and developers, offering tax and other incentives to relocate, is reminiscent of the 1980s, when the state convinced a little-known channel called RTL to make Cologne its headquarters. Twenty years on, RTL is a European giant and Cologne is the center of the German TV business.

Can NRW do the same with games?

"They've got a long way to go," says Olaf Wolters, managing director of German games association BIU. "At the moment, Frankfurt, Munich, even Berlin, are ahead of them in terms of their importance for the industry. But NRW is moving in the right direction."

Which is why Wolters and BIU decided to move GamesCom, the world's largest confab for the gaming industry, from Leipzig to Cologne, starting next year. With upwards of 200,000 attendees expected at the Koelnmesse's state-of-the-art facilities -- a figure that would top Leipzig's record numbers -- the move is the clearest signal yet that NRW is serious when it comes to games.

"The political support for interactive entertainment in NRW has been exemplary," says Martin Lorber, communications director at EA Germany. "The state government has realized that computer and video games have enormous potential, and that this branch is already one of the most important in the creative and media industries."

The Rheinauhafen might not look like much now, but remember, it only took 10 years for RTL to turn Cologne into the capital of Germany's TV industry. And the gaming business moves a lot faster than TV.