Mobile Gaming: The Istanbul London Connection

With two cities both boasting mobile gaming industries, and one growing to be a major force to be reckoned with, here is what you need to know about London and Istanbul.

What do Istanbul and London have in common? Well, they’re both arguably the largest cities of their respective countries, they’re both massive economic centers, rich with history and culture, and they’re also world-famous destinations for tourists.

But that’s not all because if you scratch the surface, you’ll also find a vibrant gaming industry bubbling away in both of these cities. And the primary driver for both, and what ties them even more inextricably together, is mobile gaming.

With mobile being the largest part of the largest media industry on the planet, it’s no surprise that these two cities are the subject of intense business and investment scrutiny. And what’s what we’re looking at today? What do we need to know, and what are the links between London and Istanbul’s mobile gaming scenes?

Establishing the similarities

To start, we should look at how Istanbul and London are similar. Both are large metropolitan areas, both are considered the cultural and political centers of their respective countries and most importantly, both are also their primary economic drivers.

These similarities are important because they also establish why the two have such strong links. Istanbul has seen many successful game studios established and a number of successful exits by their founders. And these exits have primarily headed towards London…


Photo by Benjamin Davies on Unsplash

For better or for worse, London is the economic heart of the United Kingdom. So it should be obvious why many are located in the city, and more broadly the South of England. The UKIE (United Kingdom Interactive Entertainment) trade association for games lists over 4000 game companies in the British isles, with 1700 of them in London alone, and the vast majority (3000) located in the South-East of England.

Of these, a broad estimate marks more than 2000 of the total video game developers in the UK as mobile-related or focused. The south of England has been traditionally seen as more affluent and thus white-collar industries like game development remain more prominent.

So why London? Well, aside from the commercial opportunities and historic status as a center of finance and economic activity, being in London offers a prestigious name to attach, access to easy networking and a huge potential workforce with close proximity to major institutions of learning.

However, these strengths also offer challenges. High costs of living and renting mean that working in London can be a major issue for both companies and individuals alike. And given that London is the main focus of the UK’s economy, this issue isn’t likely to lessen anytime soon. This means that relocating there is prestigious but also expensive.

Case Study: Space Ape Games

Arguably one of the more prestigious developers out there, founded in 2012, Space Ape Games has a number of successful titles under its belt. A long-term strategic partnership with Swedish mobile superdev Supercell further fuelled their success when they penned their deal in 2017.

While many other devs have taken advantage of exits from Istanbul, Space Ape’s most successful titles have all been developed in-house. Games such as BeatStar and Chrome Valley Customs, as well as licenced games like Transformers: Earth Wars.

It hasn’t all been smooth-sailing for Space Ape of course, the company seriously faltered at one point before the release of BeatStar, and a game with that calibre of content – mainly relying on licenced music – isn’t always feasible for other small studios.

Beatstar is a mobile rhythm title from Space Ape Games

While Space Ape may not be the largest in London, they are demonstrative of both the risks and advantages of London-based studios. They benefited from both their own high performance, and also from a well-timed acquisition by a larger company that helped them endure long enough for their work to bear fruit.


Photo by Anna Berdnik on Unsplash

Turkiye itself is rapidly becoming known as the Silicon Valley of mobile gaming, a slightly hyperbolic albeit accurate reference. And although it hasn’t escaped the global downturn of gaming unscathed, it’s still poised to continue its rise. This includes continued profitable exits and high-profile fundraising efforts that have brought major investment to companies in the city.

Part of this strength is geographic, as Istanbul straddles between Europe, Asia and the middle-east. This allows it to serve as a bridge to each of these areas, their strong education and thus skilled workforces, and benefit from economic agreements with Europe, which the UK now lacks due to political changes such as Brexit.

You only need to look as far as the touting of the country’s strong gaming industry in most official documentation to see exactly why Turkiye is rightfully proud of this growth. And it’s even attracted outside game developers to begin setting up shop in the country, like Voodoo.

But it’s not just simple strengths & weaknesses, as you need only look as far as the list of studios who have made huge successes in mobile gaming that come from Turkiye, and Istanbul. Gram Games, Dream Games, Peak Games, Rollic Games and more, all of which point to why Istanbul is considered the second most prominent hub for games development, just behind London.

Case Study: Dream Games

Arguably, Turkiye’s biggest success story is Royal Match developer Dream Games. Generating millions in in-app purchases and seeing just as many users, for a studio that was founded only in 2019 the seismic success of Royal Match demonstrates just how vibrant and potent the mobile gaming industry in Istanbul is.

This is especially notable considering Royal Match is one of a vanishingly small catalogue from Dream Games. Compare to some like the aforementioned Supercell, who have made it their business to rapidly develop and axe games in order to find their hit. How they develop beyond this is something to watch.

Dream Games’ Royal Match is a common fixture of mobile game advertising

We can also draw a notable comparison to Space Ape Games with this title, as it shows just how successful Dream Games has become in a very brief window of time (being founded in 2019). They’ve also done so without the benefits of a partnership with an established company such as Supercell, or an acquisition by companies like Zynga.

More interestingly, Dream Games have chosen to stick to their roots and remain independent. Rather than exit and sell to a UK studio (yet), they have instead joined others and opened their own office in London. Allowing their home studio to benefit from remaining domestic while opening up a whole new avenue for more employees.

Advantages & incentives

Indeed, this movement is to be expected, as we’ve seen other titans of Turkish development like Gram Games (who benefited from an acquisition by Zynga way back in 2018) making the jump to London. Conversely the companies opening offices in Istanbul are mainly smaller hyper casual developers and publishers, like the aforementioned Voodoo.

One major advantage Turkiye has over the UK is an increased interest in building up game development, and a number of financial incentives to do so. As we can see from the recent 2023 State of the Turkish Gaming Ecosystem report, tax incentives are a major boon to developers and publishers in the country.

Meanwhile the United Kingdom as a whole has faced stiff criticism from trade bodies like UKIE who point out a lack of skills and investment by the government is endangering the country’s game industry. This is in stark contrast to the incentives offered for Turkish companies, including not paying any tax on their earnings by some metrics.

But it’s not just money being thrown at the problem, as even in mid-2023 there was plenty for Turkiye’s games industry to boast about achieving. Perhaps thanks to a diversity of smaller studios, the country as a whole – including Istanbul – has been quick and agile in reacting to industry trends such as Web3 (when that was a hot topic) and hyper casual.

Indeed, at a time when closures and sluggish investment seem to be a constant topic, Turkiye has benefited from continued investment on nearly all levels, which while perhaps not as great as at its peak, demonstrates that the country and its biggest city remains attractive to investors.

What conclusions can we draw?

Initially it might be tempting to pose Istanbul and London as competitors. But as we can see, they are far more alike than opposed. The decision by companies outside Turkiye to open offices in Istanbul, and Turkish companies to open offices in London, demonstrates both have value for different reasons

It would be wrong to suggest the two countries and cities are at odds. But Istanbul and Turkiye currently boasts far more government support, perhaps fuelled by the meteoric rise of the games industry in the country. In contrast while the UK is still prestigious it is somewhat sluggish, and still benefits mainly from – increasingly restricted – connections to the wider European games industry.

Right now, London remains a centre of game development on many platforms. But Istanbul is growing, and that growth is attracting significant investment. So can we expect to see Istanbul outshine London in the future? Quite possibly, but they are not in direct competition as some might expect.

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