FNE Film Meets Games: Q&A with Lukáš ‘neker’ Čulík, Game System Designer of Slovak Pixel Federation

    Lukáš ‘neker’ Čulík Lukáš ‘neker’ Čulík photo: private archive

    BRATISLAVA: FNE spoke to Lukáš ‘neker’ Čulík, the game system designer from the very early start of Pixel Federation, about the company’s current activities, as well as the state of the Slovak game development industry.

    Founded in 2007, Pixel Federation is a Slovak social game developer and publishing company headquartered in Bratislava. The company primarily focuses on mobile and social networking platforms, and its most successful titles include Diggy's Adventures, Seaport, Train Station and Emporea.

    Central and Eastern Europe is one of the most important locations for global games developers and studios, and artists in the region are increasingly working for both film and games. FNE looks at how these two sectors of the entertainment industry are converging and why this trend is important for the future development of both.

    FNE: When was the Pixel Federation founded and what have been your main missions and strategic projects so far?

    Lukáš ‘neker’ Čulík: The company has celebrated its 15th birthday just recently. Back in 2007, each founder just came from an unsuccessful local dev endeavour called Elveon. Despite the fact that the project got cancelled, they had the drive and the ambition to conceive something of their own. Hence a rather bumpy beginning of a 15 year long journey began. Back then we had skill and knowledge to utilise Flash, which allowed us to establish some cash flow by doing commission work, while our first games were cooked in the kitchen. Even back then, it was really difficult to make a big splash without a publisher who would walk you through the door.

    Along with a fantasy 4X browser based strategy, we released two games on Nintendo DSi. Unfortunately, in terms of revenue, none of it really worked out. The turning point came with Facebook games and we rather quickly released Trainstation as our last shot. A steady stream of revenue finally arrived and since then the company became a leading fp2 mobile developer in Central Europe. 

    FNE: What is the current situation in the Slovak gaming industry and what distinguishes it from the industry of other countries?

    Lukáš ‘neker’ Čulík: It’s improving slowly, but compared to the neighbouring countries it’s still rather lacklustre. Various prospects are still pulling the rug from under the incentives to remain in Slovakia and develop games here. Experienced developers are often more motivated to work abroad on either more interesting games or for a more interesting salary. Then there’s lack of support from the government, inadequate school systems which should deliver a stream of newcomers to the field, or almost non-existent companies which would be willing to open new offices in Slovakia. We’ll get there though. There is a lot of drive and talent.

    FNE: Film and games convergence is a hot topic now. What can you tell us about the relationship between the gaming industry and the film in your experience?

    Lukáš ‘neker’ Čulík: To be honest, I’m not a huge fan. Despite some overlapping similarities, both fields should strive to achieve quite the opposite. I feel the emerging trend comes from the ever increasing production costs and the fear of creating new IPs. It’s easier to release a title with an already existing market research, data set and somewhat already established parts of the project’s vision. We need more new successful IPs coming from AA studios. In both film and games.

    FNE: Are games going to IPO on the Slovak stock market and do the companies going to IPO include a film person or film projects?

    Lukáš ‘neker’ Čulík: I’m not familiar with any, to be fair.

    FNE: Are there any Slovak films that are being turned into games or games that are being turned into films or TV series?

    Lukáš ‘neker’ Čulík: Haha, not at all. Both of the fields, and especially the film industry, was severely crippled by the post-communist government. Both films and games would be destined to fail financially as there would be little to no market which would be interested in such a thing.   

    FNE: Which Slovak games would you single out that have had international success, on which did you work? Which films also do you single out from your portfolio?

    Lukáš ‘neker’ Čulík: Across the Pixel Federation portfolio, the company has several titles which were played by millions of players. I think that can be counted as an international success regardless of their own respective revenue numbers.

    FNE: How much is the turnover and how much % of expected growth in the Slovak Games industry? What can you tell us specifically about your company numbers?

    Lukáš ‘neker’ Čulík: I might be betting on the wrong horse here, but I think the overall turnover in 2021 was approximately 84 m EUR. When it comes to the revenue of Pixel, for the same year it generated 51 m EUR.