Interview

Bica Studios on the Portuguese industry, VC funding, and Smash Time

Bica Studios on the Portuguese industry, VC funding, and Smash Time

At the Microsoft-supported Lisbon Game Dev Camp back in September, a particularly assured local presence at the keynote was Bica Studios CEO Nuno Folhadela.

Taking the stage to discuss the studio's successful VC funding, growth from 5 to 13 employees in one year, and commitment to embracing games-as-a-service, he was someone who oozed ambition - not just for himself and his own team, but for the wider Portueguese community.

As such, we decided to catch up with him to learn more about Bica Studios, the state of play in Portugal, and the ambitions of Bica's soon-to-be-launched game Smash Time.

PocketGamer.biz: How would you describe the Portuguese development scene right now, and what is your place within it? Is it true that only Miniclip stands ahead of Bica Studios in terms of Portugal's mobile development?

Nuno Folhadela: The Portuguese development scene is booming right now! Almost every month, if not less, we see a new game or studio announcement.

And the good news is that all these projects are being made by people that are starting to be aware of the market (emerging ones as well) and more important, are being quite ambitious.

Almost every month, if not less, we see a new game or studio announcement.
Nuno Folhadela

Regarding Miniclip, this is usually a joke that we tell, but in the end it reflects the reality. They have more than 100 employers and Bica Studios is a team of 12, and at the moment we are the second biggest team in Portugal.

I have to recheck this since Marmalade have opened a development studio in Lisbon as well, although I don't know how many people are working in there.

We are looking forward to seeing more established studios to appear here as it's pretty evident that Lisbon is the perfect place for tech companies to be based, bearing in mind expenses and lifestyle. Just look to the startup scene around, it's crazy!

In the Lisbon Game Dev Camp keynote, you said that the Portuguese industry "needs to make not just games, but games studios." What did you mean by this, and how are you attempting to counter this trend?

As all of us are starting pretty much at the same time, I feel that everybody is focusing too much on themselves and on their own projects. We need to communicate more and share more experiences. We shouldn't be afraid of criticising as long it's constructive.

In that way Bica Studios began organizing every month a small event called GameDev Meet to reunite all the devs in Lisbon to gather around and to each one start presenting their games and knowledge.

The more we avoid repeating the mistakes of others, the better. And we are very happy that it is now an event that it is organized by other studios as well, and jumping from different places and cities.

The other goal is to give a bigger meaning to the projects that are being developed. Lots of these games that are appearing are just that, games without a purpose.

And that's okay, but if we want to be part of this awesome business and grow on it, we should have a strategy to build a company.

[We asked ourselves if we had] the means to do it, if they are fun by having test sessions with prototypes, how we will show ourselves in the market.

Smash Time has started like that. We looked to the genres that we liked and that we saw that we could become highly competitive. By being on mobile, we believe that there are two things that are necessary to succeed: be free-to-play and create a game as an entertainment service!

The first one allows us to break all the barriers for everyone to try it. The second provides the player with certainty that every month or week something is going to happen! New challenges are coming, more characters are going to appear with crazy stories to follow, etc. 

Some say that free-to-play is an impenetrable market for smaller teams, but Bica Studios appears to be thriving with a growing team and closing a successful seed funding round. Why do you think this is?

It's an impenetrable market if you go alone. That's not our case. We are always looking for partners to join us and increase the speed of our success. We are talking now with publishers on that sense, to have a higher visibility on our world launch with a mindset of thinking globally but acting locally.

It's an impenetrable market if you go alone.
Nuno Folhadela

Since the beginning we wanted to bring expertise advisors and mentors and because of that, alongside our strategy on mobile and emerging platforms such as VR and AR, we caught the attention of our investors.

They know that we have a huge desire to learn and that we do not falter at any challenge, being always eager to move forward.

How rare is it for games companies to receive funding in Portugal? How important was it for you?

With Bica Studios being invested by a local VC, this has represented a turning point for this business in Portugal.

For more than 5 years we haven't seen investment on games. To turn tables, it's necessary to have more studios raising money to grow faster and put more than just a game on the market.

The moment this happens, more local investors will gain experience on this business and they will be willing to bet more and better on potential new projects.

How important do you think events like Lisbon Game Dev Camp are for local developers?

Extremely important! It strengthens the bonds of all developers in here and allow us to share experiences, stimulate partnerships and by bringing international speakers show what's happening in Portugal.

This puts the country on the map which is great for companies that are looking for extremely new, talented professionals or great projects. It starts with a local event but because this is games we know that it easily goes everywhere.

Tell us about your current project Smash Time, when you expect it to launch, and how it factors into your long-term strategy.

Our local VC investment has represented a turning point for this business in Portugal.
Nuno Folhadela

Smash Time is a whack-a-mole kind of game in which players need to smash everything that moves. But there's a twist! The player joins a group of heroes to smash the Blarghinis - blobs from the outer space that are eating everything that moves.

On this quest the Players will make their way to the top on worldwide leaderboards and see who is the best smasher around!

It will be available to everyone this month on the Google Play, App Store, Windows Phone and Aptoide, tying in perfectly with the Halloween season.

Our strategy in the long term is based on 3 pillars:

  • Offer great entertainment as a service to have a higher engagement with our players and assure a good retention by always offering content like more levels, events, characters, missions and new ways to collaborate or compete against other players. We want to have people excited for a new update, just as they are for a new episode of Game of Thrones!
  • Present a world and characters that you will care about. It's time to bet on more compelling stories on mobile where characters have a past, different objectives, and future to be reachable together with the players. Nowadays we feel that if more than half of the grossing games on mobile disappear tomorrow, nobody will care. They will just jump to another game. We don't want this to happen with our titles.
  • Build a brand. More than ever we have the potential to reach millions of players and put everybody connected through interactive and enthusiastic stories. We are aiming to deliver a great game and in the future expand it to other media. Too much ambition? There is no such thing!

For more information on Bica Studios, and Smash Time, you can visit its website.


Features Editor

Matt is really bad at playing games, but hopefully a little better at writing about them. He's Features Editor for PocketGamer.biz, and has also written for lesser publications such as IGN, VICE, and Paste Magazine.

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