Gaming is a mature industry within the United States, in that it’s treated as another form of media similar to cinema or radio. Albeit, positive or negative connotations, gaming is a cultural force. On the contrary, gaming has a anachronistic connotation outside of the standard major markets, but that sentiment is slowly changing.
At GDC, I had the opportunity to chat with game developers from across the world, and spent an hour or so with the Brazilian and Italian game industry. The first thing I noticed was the scale of their games. Unlike America, where the market is split between AAA blockbusters and independent developers, the majority of these game studios were no more than a small business.
Thus, many of these games were smaller in scope, but smaller does not mean less; this is juxtaposed against triple A titles that contain thousands of pieces of artwork, and numerous ergonomic and, somewhat extraneous, features. To make up for the lack of content, international game companies must strive on originality and innovation to succeed.
What I saw at GDC was a prime example of this. In fact, each country had intrinsic characteristics that defined their national culture. Brazilian games were innovative, Italian games were artistic, and Norwegian games made good use of color; which though sounds like an underestimate, I assure you is not. One game I played at GDC was Guts by Flux Game Studio in Brazil. It was a 2D brawler where players’ fighting abilities progressively degraded and evolved as they lost health. Though, it still needed polish, the concept was innovative and fun.
There are a couple of consistent problems for game developers in smaller countries. First of all, the greater national community is more hesitant than it is here; especially compared to San Francisco, where game developer is a proud profession. In other countries, where there isn’t a history of prior successes, video games are still seen as an oddity, though the general mood is redressing fast.
Many countries are providing financial assistance, including tax breaks, to promote the industry, but it’s seen as another method to boost the economy. Somewhere along the lines of, “If this will help the economy, let’s try it.” This is juxtaposed against the US and Asia where gaming is a medium of culture, and a proven method of financial viability.
Despite, there has been notable successes. Knights of Pen and Paper, a Brazilian dungeon crawler where players control both the players and the dungeon master, has gained significant notability and moderate commercial success in the global market. The Italian firm Milestone is a leader in racing games, utilizing surprisingly responsive and realistic automotive controls.
For many international game studios, they don’t have the option to make unprepossessing titles like many US companies can. Take Call of Duty, despite the quality per individual title, each addition is polished and content-filled enough that publishers can throw in a sack full of money, and faithfully expect a profit, similar to Hollywood romantic comedies.
The international game industry is growing, and it's growing fast. It will never reach the level of the American or the Asian industry, but that’s more of an issue with scale than talent. However, I do believe that in a few years, we’ll see international titles that will be a core part of every gamer’s library.
In many smaller regions, there is talent and drive, but lack experience and resources. But then again, Moonlight won the Oscar with only a 1.5 million budget. Most investors want to wait and see how their industries develop, but I’ve saw a lot this week, and I don’t that wait will be very long.