Here, inventiveness, creativity and high-tech solutions come together. The gaming industry in Greater Zurich surrounding the Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK) is growing and thriving. Maike Thies, Research Fellow at the ZHdK, says: “It is part of an innovative scene with a high density of technology-driven companies and agencies as well as renowned universities and cultural institutions – that’s inspiring.” Many of the independent studios receive international awards and have an impact on the global market. One such blockbuster is the Farming Simulator series by GIANTS, which is based in Schlieren in the canton of Zurich.
Currently, the ExerCube by Sphery is meeting a gap in the market by linking the areas of fitness, e-Gaming and rehabilitation in the form of a game. Sphery, an award-winning spin-off from the ZHdK, recently founded the International Association of Mixed Reality Sports (XRS) along with other European start-ups, thus bringing this topic onto the global stage.
Innovation in science-based FitTech
With its ExerCube, Sphery has developed a mixed reality setting for sports training in the form of a game; players are equipped with sensors on their wrists and ankles that transfer their movements into the virtual game scenario. In addition to a version for fitness studios and rehabilitation clinics, there is also one to be used within your own four walls. Market penetration is supported by a franchise model.
Sphery shows just what makes the local scene so strong. Co‑Founder and CEO Anna Martin-Niedecken said recently in a GZA Live Talk: “Sphery collaborates closely with the network, whether that is with other studios or even the universities. The idea came from a research and development project at the ZHdK and everything is based on a training and gaming concept that is scientifically tested.” This is what sets Sphery apart from the competition. The ExerCube comes under the umbrella genre of serious and applied games, used to describe games with meaning and purpose aside from gaming enjoyment. The ZHdK has a particularly dynamic focus in this area.
Watch the full GZA Live Talk with our guest Anna Martin-Niedecken:
Enthusiasm for experimenting with the latest technologies
Training at the ZHdK is an important basis for the success of the games scene. Maike Thies from the ZHdK explains: “Having the game design specialization located within the design department is virtually unique among international universities.” The BA study program with its all-round approach runs through all of the steps involved in developing fully functional game prototypes. Furthermore, the latest technologies play an important role: the Immersive Arts Space at the ZHdK allows complex developments with immersive technologies.
Everything is nearby – collaborations with students from the music, film, dance or theater departments are common. Thies adds: “There is a sense of family within the scene. Knowledge is shared in order to grow together.” Finally, there are also collaborations with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), the University of Zurich (UZH) and the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) for research projects in the area of serious and applied games.
This leads to a signature exemplified by an enthusiasm for experimentation and attention to detail. According to Thies, the high level of visual identity and sophisticated sound design is typical of Zurich. She adds: “The games delight with their use of the unexpected and the unconventional.”
Coronavirus pandemic opens new doors for the gaming industry
Companies like Sphery are optimistic about the future. This has a lot to do with the increase in digitization brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. Founder Anna Martin-Niedecken explains: “I am seeing a change in perspective.” She adds that people who were previously more critical of digital games are now much more open to them. As such, more and more companies should discover games and launch partner projects in the long term.
By Yvonne von Hunnius