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Live from the BIG Festival: Day three of Latin America’s biggest gaming event

Thousands of gamers and industry professionals have descended on São Paulo, Brazil for the state of play 2023, and we’re here live at the show
Live from the BIG Festival: Day three of Latin America’s biggest gaming event
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BIG festival goes a long way towards showcasing the passion Latin America has for gaming, and the focus companies worldwide are giving to this fast-growing region. 

We’re here at the festival to bring you the latest news right from the floor - from talks to meetings to big announcements. Here are the highlights from the third day of the festival.

Who won big at the BIG awards?

As part of the festivities, BIG hosted an award ceremony highlighting some of the best games at the festival, identified by their judging panel.

The award for Best Mobile Game went to An Otter Game Studio’s title Sequenza - a musical puzzle game in which players have to connect nodes in order to create a looping melody. The game beat off stiff competition from Aquiris Game Studio’s racing title Horizon Chase 2, Pixlab Game’s SAND - An adventure story, and Icon Labs’ The Last Ronin.

Multiplatform title A Year of Springs took home the Big Impact award for best diversity, while Lost In Play - which is currently available on several platforms and will be coming to mobile in the future - was nominated for the Best Game and Best Art awards.

Environmental card game Beecarbonize was nominated in two categories - Big Impact: Educational Game and Big Impact: Social Matters.

How to set up a diversity committee in your studio

Diversity is an important topic not just in the games space, but in society at large. Game makers have a big part to play in this development and BIG had plenty of opportunities for big names to highlight the voices of minorities in the game making process.

A panel discussion on the subject saw team members from the likes of Tapps Games, PUGA Studios, Webcore Games, 44 Toons, and APTA discussing their efforts in fostering diversity in the workplace.

“As producers of content we have a responsibility. We have to represent those that weren’t considered in production up until a few years ago,” said 44 Toons' Ale McHaddo. “When we talk about diversity, sometimes people think of charity, but the content of the game benefits from that not because of charity but because we have a diverse audience.”

“This committee is something essential for a company, and for our products. We created our anti-racist manual because it’s not just about diversity of gender. We have to think about everything,” said Tapps Games’ Daniela Costa. “Or company has a freedom of suggestion. Regardless of being a part of the committee you can still bring in ideas and creativity.

“We felt that we really needed this kind of support,” said Webcore Games producer Camila Malaman. “We wanted to understand how companies work and we created a CO of diversity.”

Malaman also highlighted some lesser known issues within the industry, for example members of marginalised communities being left out of training or other business opportunities, such as gaming events. A diversity committee can help recognise any barriers preventing minority employees from succeeding where their other colleagues do.

“It’s very important to be able to share what we do in PUGA,” said PUGA’s Debora Palhares. “Our committee was started by the board in 2021." Palhares discussed an employee who worked with the committee to encourage more focus on neurodivergence in the company’s products, and the structure of the committee and its actions to ensure that everyone in the company was aware of its culture, and knew how to participate to create a positive workforce.

“It’s important to create a space where people are welcome, but it’s also about the benefits that it brings to the company, such as inclusivity and diversity.”

A meeting with Takashi Tokita

Although the first two days of BIG Festival had a B2B focus, the weekend saw the festival transition almost entirely into a fan event, with the business area swapped out for an open space for 15000 fans at the sold out arena. We had the opportunity to speak to a true legend of the gaming industry: Square Enix’s Takashi Tokita, lead developer of Final Fantasy IV and director of hit games such as Parasite Eve and Chrono Trigger.

Square Enix has shown significant concern in cultivating a robust mobile business, with mobile releases becoming a key part of the company’s strategy. This has included not just games created for mobile, but ports of massive hits such as Final Fantasy VII and several games that Tokita had a leading role in, including Final Fantasy IV and Chrono Trigger.

Tokita spoke about his time in the industry and how the RPG genre has developed during his time working within it, comparing game development to ramen. "With too many ingredients and elements, developers risk overwhelming the player, resulting in a situation where it’s hard to pick out individual elements".

Discussing Square Enix’s presence in the mobile scene, Tokita noted the difference between the mobile market and other platforms. “There are small and huge games, and smartphones have many lives. Some IPs are very simple casual and puzzle games, like Candy Crush is very popular, whereas console games are more theatrical, like movies.”

It’s no secret that mobile potential is there, as highlighted by Square Enix’s own effort in the mobile space, whether it’s through ports of past hits or new games developed exclusively for phones.

Beyond Games: The future of interactive cinema

Recontact Games CEO and co-founder Simay Dinç took to the stage to discuss interactive cinema, alongside her work with Women in Games and CATS in the Village, a gaming workshop for underprivileged children in Türkiye.

“I’m obsessed with gaming as an artform, and I’m also obsessed with accessibility of my features and accessibility in the gaming industry,” said Dinç.

Recontact is a series of mobile games that aim to take interactivity to the next level, combining filmed footage with puzzles to create a new spin on gaming, with mobile platforms firmly at the forefront of development. In Dinç’s own words: “We combine video games and cinema into a new art form using pioneering technologies."

Dinç highlighted the specific power of mobile gaming, stating that “if you’re watching a movie on a touch screen, you want to tap the movie”. As such, their series of games have been developed and prepared specifically for mobile phones with touch screens.

Dinç also stressed the importance of video games as an art form, with Recontact:London featuring key scenes shot at the British Museum, creating a unique and artistic game experience. This focus on art is being brought to the forefront in the upcoming Recontact:Metaword, which will introduce blockchain aspects into the franchise. Users can upload their own images onto the game as NFT’s, allowing players to invest in and take ownership of the game. As such, gaming is being used to highlight real world art and photography, and acts as an alternative exhibition platform.

Discussing her role as founder of Women in Games Türkiye, Dinç notes that she was originally one woman in a hundred people, stating, “At first I didn’t have a community, so I had to create it. If you aren’t happy with the community in Brazil, don’t feel afraid to make your own community.” At present, Women in Games Türkiye has a reach of over 5000 people.

Dinç also spoke about her work on the Cats of Small Village project, a gaming boot camp for underprivileged children. Additionally, she launched the WCIG Hackathon following the earthquakes which hit the country earlier this year with two aims: to develop games which can heal the trauma of the children affected, and to teach kids what to do during and after an earthquake.

“The gaming industry is somewhere we can use our activist’s soul,” expalined Dinç.

Exploring the Potential of Generative AI in Game Development

This panel discussed the use of generative AI, such as ChatGPT and Midjourney, in game development, with some startling statistics.

In a recent survey of 243 game makers, 87% use AI as part of development, while 99% plan to adopt it in the future, with ChatGPT, Midjourney, Stable Diffusion, and Github CoPilot as the most mentioned platforms in use. 92% of programmers use AI tools every day, while in Brazil specifically 36% of gaming professionals use it every day.

Fortis Games director Andrew Lum noted the benefits of AI in game development by using the example of procedural generative environments. While this opens up vast potential for unique environments, it also requires a large amount of coding. Generative AI, meanwhile, offers plenty of potential for unique environments with nothing but relatively simple inputs.

Fortis Games director of data engineering Colin Riddell agreed with this sentiment, stating that “the great power that generative AI has now is the conversational input they have.”

Lum also noted that there’s vast potential for generative AI in fields outside of gaming, such as education.

Much has been said about whether or not the use of AI will see professionals within the creative industry struggle, which Iara Digital founder João Paulo Alqueres dismissed. “It’s a copilot, not a ghostwriter,” he said, arguing that while generative AI can assist in game development, it isn’t going to replace humans in the workforce and still requires significant input and instruction.

Despite the bullishness that the panel had regarding AI, they still had issues regarding privacy and security regarding the technology. “If you wouldn’t trust a stranger with information, Chat GPT is a stranger”, said Lum.

“My hope is that we’re able to create more interesting games, more complex games, deeper games. AI can free small teams up to make bigger games.”

It’s clear that despite the significant criticism - and, arguably, the long way the technology still has to go before it reaches its full potential - it’s clear that the use of generative AI is on the rise.