Inside the top five game developers in Colombia

Meet the studios that are turning Colombia into a hub of mobile and VR games development

Inside the top five game developers in Colombia

Throughout 2016 the Latin American games market came to feature more and more on our agenda. No surprise, since a Newzoo report showed dramatic growth in mobile gaming revenue in the region.

For us it started with Sabrina Carmona talking at PG Connects London 2016 about how Brazil is the 11th top country in the world by game revenues (a value of nearly $1.5 billion, outperforming console gaming).

Then we visited Sao Paulo in the summer for BIG and were impressed by the energy and drive of the independent scene. Submissions for BIG 2017 are open now, indie devs!

That report by Newzoo last November showed that Latin America was the second fastest region in the world for games, generating $4.1bn in game revenues last year.

The growth of mobile gaming in particular was shown to be 56% up on the year before and overall the region (which Newzoo took to include Mexico and Argentina) fell just behind Southeast Asia in terms of games market growth.

In the autumn we toured the cities of Medellin and Bogota to inspect some of Colombia's key studios, ending up at digital entertainment conference Colombia 4.0.

The tour gave us a chance to get to know the local scene, which features both mobile and VR development, and sizeable teams performing work-for-hire as well as developing new IP.

The Colombia 4.0 conference in Bogata welcomed over 17,000 gamers, musicians and animators through its doors. This is a nation of teenagers. According to the last census, almost 40% of the population were between the ages of 10 and 20, making it a very young demographic – an ideal game-playing crowd.

Taxes are high... except on computers, so it's affordable to be a student in tech subjects. And compared to Argentina, where currency restrictions make it hard to take money out of the country, it's an attractive destination for international businesses.

Forget the Colombia of Narcos. "Netflix isn't doing us any favours!" joked David Sierra of business innovation group Ruta N. He's lighthearted, but the truth is that Medellin is keen to shake off its dangerous image and remind people of the city's investment in infrastructure, transport and technology.

Projects that provide affordable transport within the different regions of Medellin and encourage investment in local businesses have brought the homicide rate down by 95% and extreme poverty by 66% in recent years.

New friends from Colombia joined us at this year's PGC London 2017, completing the circle. And along the road we learned a lot about the thriving game dev scene in a country that might not be familiar to our daily readers.

We've been fortunate to visit and speak with some of the biggest studios in Colombia. Here, providing insight into the challenges and opportunities, are interviews with five of the top developers…

Click here to view the list »
  • Efecto Studios

    Efecto Studios logo

    Eivar A Rojas Castro
    CEO of Efecto Studios (Bogota)

    PocketGamer.biz: Tell us a little bit about your current project.

    Eivar A Rojas Castro: We are working on Decoherence, a battle/strategy game where you can set up a team of robots and pit them against an opponent's team.

    We love the idea of carefully crafting your strategy prior to the battle, as we believe that this brings distinct identity within the RTS type games, where fights feel more automated.

    One of the lead programmers started working on a project for his Master's degree that focused heavily on automated AI. So using that as a base we sold the idea to the rest of the team and started turning it into an actual game.

    As for our inspiration, let us put it this way: we asked ourselves what could happen if Duelyst and Titanfall got together. That has been our main gameplay idea!

    Pertaining how it looks, we are considering places where sci-fi wouldn't normally go, such as art nouveau, in order to further help it stand out in the genre.

    Have you got any plans to experiment with VR?

    We're very excited with VR and are looking forward to exploring new ideas there. We're playing with the technology and making sure we're understanding the VR principles before committing to a full throttled project.

    The possibilities are exciting, and the market seems to be slowly embracing it, but we have to finesse all our skills first so that we can make the jump to VR with more confidence.

    Is it hard to fund a game in Colombia right now? What about tax breaks from the government and help for the games industry from bodies like ProColombia and the Ministry of Information Technology and Communications (MinTIC)?

    It's really hard to fund a game in Colombia. There are no VCs interested in investing in video games yet, and the only way we have found support is through our own savings from working for hire.

    There are some tax breaks, but they're not easy to apply for and it seems like those benefits will come to an end this year.

    MinTIC and Procolombia have helped with strategic support, like covering part of the expenses to attend an event, creating venues like Colombia 4.0 and several spaces to promote the industry.

    In particular, we've been working with MinTIC this year on a pilot program where we receive state funds to prototype a game while helping two smaller companies develop theirs.

    Hopefully it'll bring fruitful results.

    What do you need next in order to grow?

    Our big challenge next year is to look for investment, once Decoherence is published, we'll start working on our next IP, which could be Aranea.

    What one tip would you give to a company looking to release a game in your region?

    LATAM is a very tough region and piracy is still a big issue here, even with a cultural change that's been happening where, thanks to the digital platforms, consumers are able to access and enjoy promotions, sales and cheaper games in general.

    LATAM is a natural consumer of games abroad, more so than local productions. The best tip would be working on online projects with a competitive component.

    Do Latin American games have a sensibility that's different from other regions' games? Can you play something and tell a Colombian game from a Finnish game from a US game?

    They should, context is everything nowadays! However, due to the strong influence from other countries' products, ranging from games to movies and TV series, the local essence gets easily lost.

    It's easy to lose track of that identity in today's world, especially with the global culture that comes into our everyday lives via the internet.

    I believe it's only a matter of time before developers start realising that the strongest asset they could have is to embrace what makes them unique and present it to the world. A game like Never Alone is a great example of this.

    What's needed for the Colombian game scene to grow?

    The Colombian industry is thirsty for a commercial hit. Efecto's in a good spot, being part of the production team of Ark: Survival Evolved, but it's not enough.

    Efecto supported work on the hit game Ark: Survival Evolved

    Such a hit would put the country on the map, create attention and raise the bar for local developers as to what's being done here.

    The local scene has some good examples with promising opportunities in the mobile market like World War Doh from Brainz.

    As for our next endeavours, we hope to be on the radar of the Steam strategy players with our project Decoherence.

  • Brainz

    Alejandro Gonzalez
    CEO, Brainz (Bogota)

    PocketGamer.biz: Tell us a little bit about your current project.

    Alejandro Gonzalez: World War Doh is our attempt at creating the quintessential real-time strategy experience on mobile. It pits players against each other in an open map, where they can freely direct their troops in bloody battles, trying to kill the other team's commander.

    We think we have nailed both the controls and the elements that make and RTS an engaging experience, allowing for different layers of strategy and skill.

    We wanted to do a game in the genre that we know best, within the context where we feel the most comfortable. This is why humour is a cornerstone of the experience.

    We looked at a lot of shows and games that had humour as part of their DNA, in hand with absurdity and excess in violence. Think Happy Tree Friends, or the Itchy and Scratchy sketches from The Simpsons.

    From the gameplay standpoint, we wanted players to feel as if they had a pocket version of their favourite RTS.

    Brainz's World War DOH

    Have you got any plans to experiment with VR?

    We are experimenting with new technologies but have decided as a studio to remain focused in the type of game we make and the platform it runs on.

    We have also decided to focus in building a technology framework, Brainztorm, that supports our games. This platform includes the proprietary synchronous multiplayer engine used for World War Doh along key tools required to build and operate online free to play games. These two verticals (our game and our tech) have kept us quite busy.

    Is it hard to fund a game in Colombia right now?

    Game funding is tough anywhere in the world. Especially for new and unproven studios. As studios mature they can access co-production and distribution agreements that in turn can fund their projects (partially or fully).

    New studios in Colombia have some incentives from government through grants that allow small teams to develop and commercialise new projects. Selection criteria and consulting support alongside with funds are becoming key to guide upcoming studios into maximising their potential.

    A growing number of companies have benefited from this head start. A recent grant awarded by the Ministry Of ICT (MinTIC) also had as a goal knowledge transfer between studios with higher experience and smaller studios.

    This collaboration ecosystem is helping studios reduce the gaps between them.

    What do you need next in order to grow?

    We have signed publishing deals for our recent titles and believe it is a smart way to develop, mitigate risk and maximise potential of our games.

    It has also shown us that boutique publishers can cover that extra mile needed to maximise our studio potential.

    What tip would you give about releasing a game in your region?

    It is important to understand the potential of the region. Although the mount of players is huge, the volume of IAP is still much lower than in other Western regions.

    Many publishers monetise via ads, but this again is a volume bet. Things like localising in Spanish, covering Android alongside iOS and working closely with platforms to feature your game can be instrumental.

    Do Latin American games have a sensibility that's different from other regions' games?

    Finding our identity in the game scene has been a slow and challenging process. Colombia is very culturally diverse, and sometimes a bit literal when it comes to show off "that Colombian" fingerprint in our creative output.

    Character art for World War DOH

    We are already at the point that when people grab one of our games they go, “Oh yeah, this is a Brainz game” - hopefully from a positive perspective! World War Doh goes a bit beyond that. It plays around with the absurdity and excess that is found in our everyday culture, both visually and in the humour that is found across the game.

    As Colombians, we are constantly challenged, uplifted and frustrated with everything that happens in our daily endeavours, and as a result, we are humorous, sarcastic and skeptical. We think all these elements have found their way into the game.

    What's needed for the Colombian game scene to grow?

    I think that Colombia needs more success stories. Success stories are powerful: they inspire students and startups; they give confidence to government entities; it generates visibility in the industry; and eases routes like VC funding.

    I think that Finland is a great example of success stories. Everybody in the industry recognises the potential of Finn startups. It accelerates growth and validates the market especially for new and upcoming companies.

  • BW Studios

    Eva Colasso
    Co-Founder, BW Studios (Medellin)

    PocketGamer.biz: Tell us a little bit about your current project.

    Eva Colasso: BW is working in a series of projects that features our own competition system. This will be used in several mobile competition games that merge strategy with casual gameplay.

    We’ll diversify the strategic games into a more casual and competitive format. Carrying out this strategy we are currently closing the beta of two video games to soft launch now (Ready Set Party and Ready Set Play) and two more in June (Ready Set Nitro and Ready Set Think).

    We focus on a segment of the market that hasn't been exploded yet. We have the tools to create amazing gameplay but it's been to hard to monetise, so this time we started by creating a solid monetisation mechanic.

    Have you got any plans to experiment with VR?

    In the studio there are some fans of VR, but we are not really interested now to enter in this market, it requires a lot of specialisation to do it right and we are currently focused on other projects.

    Ready Set Party

    Is it hard to fund a game in Colombia right now?

    We have some support, but it's a little bureaucratic, maybe not so perfect as it sounds. But yes we have support and this year is the first time we’ve received an incentive from MinTIC, and we are happy with that.

    There are some things that need to be improved but there are also some benefits in taxes. Even considering that both things are completely necessary and important to impulse the sector, there are other factors that make it a little difficult to create a game in Colombia.

    It's more related with specific education for video games and human resources at a professional level, and the experience and knowledge of the real business in most of the companies.

    What do you need next in order to grow?

    We definitely need an investor. BW was created by my partner and I, from the beginning we focused on progressively developing the company to achieve the goal of making our own IP games.

    We have worked as work-for-hire on recognised brands, learning a lot of how the market works for mobile games, and how important is the creation of the IP. During these years we have developed more than 30 video games for mobile, web, Kinect and others.

    What tip would you give about releasing a game in your region?

    In Colombia everything is local, but there is not one rule to reach the public. Colombia pays more for services like Netflix, Spotify, or even social networks like Tinder.

    I think games with social components like Clash Royale, Clash Of Clans or Pokemon GO can gain terrain because of the social components.

    Ready Set Nitro

    Do Latin American games have a sensibility that's different from other regions' games?

    Yes there are differences, because of the context and history that is fixed to any person from any country.

    I believe that most of the people will be able to see more a Latin culture than a Colombian culture. Probably if someone knows a lot about Colombia, they’ll see in a game like Ready Set Play a lot of Colombian components. They could probably work out the country of origin.

    But if we are realistic, most people will note it as a Latin American game. I think it's interesting for the region to get our shared culture and expand together to let it grow.

    What's needed for the Colombian game scene to grow?

    At this moment we need developers, artists, level designers, game designers, and much more, at a cost that the local market can support. But also we need the experience of local companies working and learning from international and successful companies.

    Colombia has an amazing potential, people here are committed to the video games industry and we are creating a local industry. Investment is necessary to grow up faster and stabilise this country with the other giants of the sector.

  • Teravision

    Enrique Fuentes
    CEO, Teravision (Bogata)

    PocketGamer.biz: Tell us a little bit about your current project.

    Enrique Fuentes: The main driver for Los Calaveras And The Anthem of the Damned was finding a great game mechanic that wasn't common in mobile, but worked well on the platform.

    One of our creative leads is a big fan of Donkey Kong Country, and thought the barrel cannon mechanic was brilliant and could provide the core mechanic we were looking for, so he started working on a prototype that used a similar mechanic but with portrait orientation and an endless mode.

    We started playing with the prototype and it was clear that he was onto something, so we green-lit the project to full production, then we came up with the theme and everybody in the studio felt in love with Los Calaveras, because what could be cooler than rocker pirates?

    In Neon Fury your job is to obliterate the militia of CyberNeon-punks. In the '80s. With like, a lot of neon. In VR. Available soon on PlayStation VR, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.

    Why is it important for games developers to explore the possibilities of VR?

    We see VR as a playing-field levelling event, because everybody is relatively new to the platform and there's still everything to be done; it's basically the iPhone in 2007.

    Also the biggest companies are hesitant to get in just yet because the install base is still pretty small. We see this as an opportunity for indies and small studios like us that can use our size as an advantage to produce some innovative, yet financially viable, products.

    We want to hit the market early and acquire an expertise that will be very valuable in two or three years when VR becomes a market of several billion dollars.

    Is it hard to fund a game in Colombia right now?

    It's close to impossible to get private investment for video game development, not only in Colombia, but in the whole LATAM region.

    I think the reason is because capital is in the hands of very conservative people that have made their money investing in conservative ventures. I always like to say that we need more millionaire geeks in the region!

    Teravision's Los Calaveras And The Anthem of the Damned

    I anticipate that once we start producing significant exits for entrepreneurs in the tech and creative industries that money will flow down to fund early stage tech and creative startups.

    Right now that doesn't happen with private investments, so a lot of startups that otherwise could have great potential have a hard time scaling up, which is one of the reasons government has stepped up to the plate to fill that gap.

    One good example is the "Conectando" initiative from MinTIC that provided about $500k (USD) in 2016 to fund video game prototypes. We were one of the beneficiaries of that fund and we brought our prototype to VR Connect London in January.

    ProColombia has also made a great contribution in the industry's growth by helping developers attend international events, and bringing international experts to the country to help the local studios in areas where the industry was lacking experience. This has accelerated the learning curve in a big way.

    What do you need next in order to grow?

    Most of the studios you ask that question to are going to answer "we need money", and that might be true to a certain extent - game development can be capital intensive, especially with triple-A titles - but I think money is just one piece of the puzzle.

    Video game studios need to have the maturity to work not only on what they are passionate about, but on projects that they can actually finish and polish, and that have a place in the market.

    I think many LATAM studios focus too much on the former (building what I'm passionate about), and sometimes don't have the experience or the resources to execute their vision, making it hard to end up with an ROI-positive project in the end.

    About a dozen studios in Colombia have the maturity and the experience to understand this and are working on very interesting and viable products, so I think we are about to experience a tipping point in the Colombian industry, where you are going to see a consistent stream of success stories.

    This will definitely attract more investment and publishers to work with Colombian studios, generating a repetitious cycle.

    What tip would you give about releasing a game in your region?

    Do it. LATAM was the second fastest growing region in 2016, just after South Asia and user acquisition costs for mobile games are still below $1 (USD).

    Do Latin American games have a sensibility that's different from other regions' games?

    I don't think we have developed a "voice" as a region, the best games that have been produced in LATAM I don't think have any kind of Latin American flavour.

    The Teravision team with our very own Dave Bradley

    If you play some of the most successful games produced in Latin America I bet you wouldn't be able to tell they were produced in the region. For example more than half of Ark: Survival Evolved's art was made in Colombia, and Kingdom Rush is from Chile.

    On the other hand I've seen games created based on very local and folkloric themes, and most of them fail to get any momentum going, as I honestly believe the LATAM market is not really looking for LATAM themes.

    Our market is excited about Call Of Duty, Doom or Final Fantasy, just like the average player in the US, Canada or the UK, which could be the result of the strong influence we have from the US and Japan when it comes to video games and entertainment in general.

    What's needed for the Colombian game scene to grow?

    We need more commercial successes, and that's 100% the responsibility of our studios. It will not come from government help or an investor, it's a function of a succession of failings, trial and error, and coming out on the other side with scars and bruises - but wiser.

    I think that has already happened over the last 10 years, and we have seen a group of studios that have already lived through the novelty of making games, survived as businesses and are now doing things in a professional and business-oriented way.

    My bet is that 2017 will generate at least two or three very successful Colombian games and a lot of people will start paying attention to Colombia.

    It will be one of those overnight success stories that took 10 years, so stay tuned!

  • On3D

    Mateo Rojas Borrero
    Creative Director, On3D (Bogota)

    PocketGamer.biz: Tell us a little bit about your current project.

    Mateo Rojas Borrero: Right now we have two projects on development here at On3D: one at an advanced state of development, called Quantum Replica (currently with a publisher, near alpha) and one at just beginning development (called Color Spies - commercial name TBD).

    The first one, Quantum Replica, is a homage to all the retro ‘80s neon cyberpunk like Akira, Ghost In The Shell and Blade Runner, all amazing movies with which we grew up and we are certain that lots of people grew up to.

    This, and an appealing gameplay combination of classic Metroidvania and stealth games, are factors that create a strong nostalgia feeling in players.

    Color Spies, on the other hand, is our new project, and we intend to apply all the things we learned from previous stealth titles with another video game genre (in the case of Color Spies that’s the RTS genre).

    Color Spies is based on an idea of the late ‘80s world, immersed in the Cold War, but this time with many suspicious nations, not only the US and the USSR, and with a nation free operatives fighting to create a better world.

    At On3D Studios we have a common factor in our development: we usually begin our creative work based on an exploration of things that generate a feeling of nostalgia in ourselves.

    This, and an exploration of how to combine some elements of gameplay featured in different genres that could provide interesting new ways of gameplay.

    Quantum Replica

    In the case of Quantum Replica, we tried to create a Metroidvania-plus-stealth experience, while in Color Spies we are aiming to have some elements of an RTS alongside the stealth genre.

    Is it hard to fund a game in Colombia right now?

    Video games, as creative products that have high production costs, are certainly risky. So to fund a project like that in Colombia is indeed hard.

    However, the costs of production compared to another nations (USA, Europe) are lower, so there is a competitive advantage that the studios based here are trying to use, and usually our strategy is to look for funding outside Colombia and not internally.

    This, however, has lead to a tendency (specially in consoles and PC development) to not produce original content and instead develop different work-for-hire titles in order to finance own projects.

    In order to focus on those new IPs and new content development I would say that more investment could be ideal, so Colombian studios does not have to split efforts into their own content and the work-for-hire tasks.

    What tip would you give about releasing a game in your region?

    There is an anecdote that I think defines us Colombians as consumers: a multinational food franchise that entered with huge force here in Colombia.

    When they opened, they went in big with advertising, but offering their traditional menu, one with expensive prices and small rations but with the premise that all the food products are not produced locally but imported. The franchise didn't last six months, went broke locally and had to leave the country.

    Recently, about two years ago, they returned with a different approach: a menu that included their traditional products (fast food) combined with some elements of local cuisine, bigger rations, but the same prices.

    This story tells us that as consumers we often try to look for products with a good amount of content, so, if facing a decision about two products with the same price, we tend to go for the bigger one, and we also look forward to find some elements that may tie the product to our territory.

    Do Latin American games have a sensibility that's different from other regions' games?

    In our work, we tend to be perfectionists, so I personally think that we usually aim for high quality products.

    Nevertheless, here in Colombia there are not the amount of human resources nor the budgets to produce an entire triple-A title, so usually what we see locally in terms of productions are small indie games (for PC mainly and in some studios also for consoles), or mobile video games.

    That being said, I think that the usual video game content produced here in Colombia are indie-sized titles with high standards, mainly in terms of visuals.

    What's needed for the Colombian game scene to grow?

    Various studios and the video game industry itself are very young here in Colombia. A common sign of them is to focus on covering the creative and tech part of projects, but this also leads to many cases in which the planning or the scale of the product grows short and, eventually, to awesome projects that never become released as the studio feels them too little to be shown to the international market.

    Following that thought, I would say that the local industry has to focus on smaller releases and projects conceptualised with a stronger business vision. Some kind of an iterative marketing and publishing processes as well.

COO, Steel Media Ltd

Dave is a writer, editor and manager who today is Steel Media's Chief Operations Officer. He gets involved in all areas of the business, from front-page editorial to behind-the-scenes event strategy. He began his career in games and entertainment journalism back in the 1990s when Doom came on floppy disks. You can contact him with any general queries about Pocket Gamer, Beyond Games or Steel Media's other websites, conferences and initiatives.