Being Indie in South America
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.
Hello! My name is Adrián. Together with two other people, I work on an indie game called SkyRider. The team is just the three of us, and we each work full-time jobs making games, so we work on SkyRider on the weekends and after we get off work. Aside from paying the rent for our homes, we also rent out an office so we can get together and work closely on the game.
This won’t sound like a strange situation for a lot of indie devs around the world, but I know this happens a lot more around my neck of the woods. You see, I’m from South America. From Argentina, to be specific.
SkyRider's latest gameplay trailer
In order to give you a glimpse of some of the differences we encounter working on games down here, I’ve put together a list of the difficulties -- and the advantages! -- of making games in South America versus many other places of the world.
Attending big conferences is very expensive. Going to GDC, PAX, or Gamescon is a big deal when you’re making games. Not only do these events give you a chance to learn from some of the biggest developers in the world, they’re also huge opportunities to make valuable contacts and showcase your own games. But the travel expenses, not to mention the entrances fees, are often out of our reach. In our economy, two thousand dollars, the price of an All Access Pass to GDC, represents what we earn in two to three months of full-time work -- and that doesn’t even factor in the price of airplane tickets, food, hotels, etc.
It’s difficult to get press coverage. Living so far away from where most big gaming publications are located doesn’t help one bit, and not being able to attend conferences and events only adds to this problem. Being able to show your games to the press while still being involved in the industry, I think, is really important, and down here we have to struggle a lot if we want to stand a chance of keeping up.
The language barrier is high. As non-English speakers, we have a hard time developing games for a market that demands a high level of comprehension and expression in the language. Localizing our games, or even writing a press release or a blog post like this one, represents a big problem for us unless we have the luck of finding a native speaker to help us out.
Not quite like some Japanese translations but, yes, you get the point.
Piracy isolates us from South American players. Piracy is a huge problem in our region and it’s the number one reason why players in our own countries aren’t our principal target audience. In fact, they’re hardly our target audience at all. This is a big issue for any of us who want to include our own culture in our games or express ourselves within our own national or social contexts. We are flooded with games about European history and about cultures from other parts of the world. Those regional expressions can only happen because those developers are able to share their games with their own people, who buy them and support them, and with that support they can then garner interest from the rest of the world. We can’t do the same in our own countries. The risk of producing a game for our own people and getting rejected or massively pirated is very big. This leads us to put aside our own traditions and folklore, our own culture, and work instead with foreign imagery and customs.
Hey Ubisoft, let’s make “Gaucho´s Creed”!
International experience is scarce. Even though we do have access to jobs from all over the world, we have a lot more barriers keeping us from them. We’re unable to get internships, we have to go through lengthy applications for visas that we’re often denied, we need to learn other languages, etc. Gathering enough experience to be known in the industry at an international level is much harder over here.
Access to (crowd)funding and seed capital is very difficult. I’m not saying that it’s easy to get elsewhere, just that it’s even harder to do so here. Just to take an example: we have a Latin American crowdfunding platform here called Idea.me, but using it to fund the budget of a game like ours is completely impossible. So when we tried to crowdfund our game we turned to Kickstarter and were immediately gated out for not having a US bank account or an SSN associated to one. Luckily, we had met Mike Raznick at GDC 2015, who aside from being an award-winning music composer is also an amazing guy, and he believed enough in our project to help us get our campaign off the ground.
Our KS campaign video. Thanks Mike! Next one will work out :)
An unstable economy. You know how the games industry suffers from constant change? And how you have to stay up to date on everything if you don’t want to be left behind? Well, imagine having to struggle with that while also dealing with an unstable economy that doesn’t allow you to save much money. We don’t get much of a chance to dream about our long term possibilities or taking risks while we work month to month to meet our basic needs.
But it’s definitely not all bad, there are some great things about working down here as well! Things we’re very proud of.
We are highly adaptable. We have an amazing capability to work under pressure and are resilient to all the troubles that can arise during development. There is a saying here in South America that we Argentines are particularly fond of: it is said we can “tie things with wire” -- “Atamos las cosas con alambre.” This means that where others would give up, we’re skilled at finding ugly but practical solutions. Luis Wong mentioned this in an article he wrote recently for Polygon about The Game Industry of Argentina.
A great and really close-knit community. We celebrate one another’s successes and are genuinely happy for them. We don’t think twice about helping another developer, even when they’re out “direct competition”. There’s this event in Buenos Aires, the “Game Work Jam”, that is based on a single principle: collaboration. Every other Saturday, newcomers and industry veterans alike come together to make games and share their insights on development. That’s the kind of spirit you can find everywhere around here!
Developing games on weekends? Hell yes!
Some or all of the items I describe on these lists may be present where you live. I’m not trying to say that South American game development is necessarily unique in the hardships it faces, but that these hardships definitely exist and impact us heavily down here, just as our practicality, our resilience, and our collaborative spirit does.
This post simply tries to illustrate some of the differences that there may be between making games in South America and making them in the rest of the world. It’s not better, it’s not worse, but by and large and on average, I think it’s more difficult to make games down here.
But saying it’s “more difficult” doesn’t mean we haven’t or aren’t making any good games down here. Recently, the Argentine developer, NGD, released their remake of Masters of Orion into early access. We have Argentine indie figures, like Agustín Cordes and Daniel Benmergui, who are well-known worldwide. There’s IronHide, from Uruguay, with the top grossing mobile revenue that their Kingdom Rush games bring in. Ark was largely made in Colombia. And while those are just some examples, there’s plenty more stories like them.
We are struggling like a lot of indies out there in the world are struggling. Being from South America isn’t an excuse; we see it as more of an opportunity, really. Once we finish SkyRider, we’ll be able to look back on all the difficulties we faced and were able to overcome and we will be really proud, as will a lot of indie game developers across the world.
Thanks to Pablo F. Quarta for corrections and edition