Continental European countries are quickly ramping up game development - perhaps nowhere more surprisingly that in Portugal, where there was basically no game development at all a few years ago.
Thus - if you didn't know there's a Portuguese games industry, you'd better learn, says Paulo Gomes, founder and CEO of upstart Portuguese publisher GameInvest.
Recently publishing its first title in the US, Toy Shop, with the help of Majesco (and developer Seed Studios), Gomes discusses GameInvest's unique "clustering" approach to publisher-developer relations.
Why did you start GameInvest?
Paulo Gomes: When I realized that it would be very challenging to continue developing games in Portugal because there weren’t any game development studios in the country! So, I started to develop a strategy for a business that would help development in Portugal -- hence, GameInvest was created.
GameInvest was founded in June 2006, and we develop, publish and invest in original titles for international markets. The company is based on the principal that games -- like music and movies -- should be available for all ages and tastes. I call this category of entertainment “pop games.”
Pop games incorporate five principles: fun, innovation, a memorable storyline and characters, high quality and accessibility. GameInvest set out to demonstrate that just because a game is not “hardcore” it does not mean that it lacks in immersion and depth, and we hope to bring memorable experiences to a wide audience.
We’re backed by over 3 million Euros in private investment funding, and have 40 employees and six external partner studios working with us. GameInvest is prepared to present publishers and distributors with an average of ten new and innovative multi-platform games each year for the mainstream "pop" audience.
Can you talk about the way in which you interact with your partner studios?
PG: My idea for this "clustering" approach began in 2004 when I wrote a whitepaper about Portugal’s need to invest in the creative industries. I proposed that to generate critical mass, a company would need to implement a “cluster-based” business model, by which I mean working with other companies, utilizing individual strengths and sharing resources to streamline the production process.
In 2005, I was challenged by the Portuguese government and by the Mayor of Portalegre to implement this concept. So, I created GameInvest, the business, financial, creative and engine that illustrates this “cluster” approach.
So, we have partnered with external studios specialized in developing for a particular field or platform: animation, art, 3D assets, broadcast television video, Nintendo DS, Wii, Xbox 360, PS3, but what sets the system apart is that the studios within our “cluster” group can utilize all the GameInvest resources for production of games and entertainment products.
This maximizes efficiency in expenses and production time, and makes it possible for these smaller studios to grow within the GameInvest structure to become more profitable. Independent of the studios, we have 40 people working internally from business development and sales to programming, production, design, art, audio and more, and they work with a lot of specialized teams to complete all of our entertainment products.
We have also invested directly into some of these studios. All of our studios are based in Portugal, but we hope to expand our partnerships with other studios worldwide. The studios we are currently working with are Camel Entertainment, Seed Studios, Blueshark Studios, RTS Studios, MadPuppet Entertainment and Spellcaster Studios.
So, for an example of how clustering works, Camel and Seed are working on Nintendo DS projects, including porting other GameInvest titles on to DS, and Blueshark started working with us to provide 3D assets for our games and our animation studios, but will soon start working on PSP titles.
An animation studio?
PG: Our animation studio is one of the most important parts of our business strategy. The studio develops not only animation, but also concept art, scripts, and character designs for all of our creative works. By having our artists and animators in-house, we have more creative control and can more easily adhere to the principals of our “pop games” strategy.
We built this studio by hiring people that came from other media experiences outside of the traditional hardcore games industry, such as comic books, graphic design, television and cinema scriptwriting. By hiring artists from other entertainment media experiences centered on immersive stories and original characters, we intend to bring these characteristics to interactive media.
In 2007, our animation studios started the production of our first animation TV series, Tic Tac Tales, a 65-episode series that will be completed in early 2009. We have already started signing contracts with various TV channels around the world, and also licensing deals for books, music, toys. In 2009, we hope to be a multi-brand and multi-media platform entertainment company.
How is Portugal as a base for an international developer/publisher?
PG: There are a lot of places where we could be based, and from an audience perspective Portugal has a relatively small local market with only 10 million inhabitants. But, we chose to base our business in Portugal because we have the resources, the talent, the opportunity and the support of the Portuguese government to implement the cluster approach.
We’ve set out to prove that Portugal is the next hub for international game development and publishing. We never think local -- we never think of ourselves as solely a Portuguese, Iberian or even a European company. We think globally.
So you said that there wasn't much of a community in Portual before you began GameInvest. Has this changed at all?
PG: It was only in 2004 when the first Portuguese companies launched into mobile entertainment (YDreams and BSure Interactive) and the PC games market (RTS Studios). At this same time, I had just completed writing my whitepaper, and as a result I founded APROJE (Portuguese Game Developers Association). Today, almost all Portuguese-based developers (except mobile) work directly with GameInvest for publishing and developing games.
How has the Portuguese government helped?
PG: Since we started GameInvest in 2006, the Portuguese government and European Community have become very interested in our venture into the games industry, and we’re looking for their support in three ways: venture capital, education and infrastructure.
In terms of venture capital, we’ve secured private investment funding, and are looking to the community of investors to provide support for new studio startups entering this market in Portugal. We also need more programs in Portugal that focus on education, research, and development for the game industry.
Regarding infrastructure, since the Portuguese gaming industry officially launched in 2006, we have needed a place to grow. We’re looking for support to build a network of companies housing developers, animators, writers, programmers, etc. We’ve already identified a technology park to devote to the needs of the game industry. We believe we will gain the support of the Portuguese and local government to establish this space for the creative industry as our “cluster” of development studios expands.
And the first title you've shipped so far is Toy Shop for Nintendo DS?
PG: Yes, Toy Shop is the first product we’ve shipped, and the first we’ve shipped with Majesco Entertainment.
When we founded GameInvest, we immediately began partnerships with a number of independent studios, which we now invest in -- Seed Studios, Camel Entertainment and Spellcaster Studios. Each of these studios submitted proposals for different games, and we chose to move forward with the development of Toy Shop and four other titles.
GameInvest supports the production investment for these games. Seed Studios submitted the proposal for Toy Shop, which went into development with our audio and localization teams. In addition, after an alpha version of the game was available, GameInvest's sales team pitched the product to potential partners for publishing and distribution. Majesco Entertainment has been a very supportive publishing partner, in both the game review and licensing process, and in working with us on the commercial strategy.
PG: Right now we are very focused on launching a series of games into the market this year: Enigma 7 (PC Download), Sarah’s Emergency Room (PC, XBLA, PSN, Wii and DS), Shop City in the World of Zellians (PC, Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii), Defenders of Law: Crime in Willburg (PC, Wii, DS) and Aquatic Tales (PC, Wii, DS).
At the same time, we are preparing our production pipeline for 2009 with Tic Tac Tales and Peanuts City. Tic Tac Tales will be based on our upcoming animated TV series, and Peanuts City will be our first major GameInvest franchise. Both games will be delivered to the leading game platforms (PC, Xbox 360, PS3, PSP, Wii, DS).