I just got back from the Bogota Audiovisual Market (BAM) in Colombia and had a chance to meet with many of the game development teams there. Below are my key takeaways from the trip and what may be relevant to you.
- There is a lot of game industry talent in Colombia. I wrote about some of the Colombian studios I saw at GDC and how I impressed I was and that impression was confirmed and strengthened during my visit to Bogota. There are several teams, not only from Bogota but from across the country, that have as much or more talent than developers in the US or other mature markets.
- The enthusiasm is incredible. I was amazed how enthusiastic and energetic virtually all of the developers were. It reminded me a lot of the small game studios in the late 1990s what wanted to create great games and did not care about anything else. That is the mentality in Bogota. It is not about raising the next round of capital (though some are) or flipping the company; they really want to create great games.
- Cultural sensitivities are very close to the US. The population in Bogota (not only in the game industry, but everyone) could fit very easily in a US city, as they think and act very similarly. They are heavily influenced by American television and other media. That gives Colombians a huge advantage over some other emerging markets when creating games for Western markets, as the games do not have a “foreign” feel.
- The government is strongly in support of entertainment industries. I am usually not a big fan of government support/intervention in the economy and without the previous points it would just represent a waste of their limited resources, but the current administration in Colombia is a strong advocate of building the country’s entertainment industries. While in Bogota, the president invited representatives for foreign game companies (including myself) and international film companies to the Presidential Palace for a lavish reception to announce a new law that supports the film industry and underlies the government’s commitment to the full entertainment industry. In my 20 years in the game industry, this is the first time I have met a world leader in an effort to support his local game community. We have seen in other countries, particularly Canada, that government support can accelerate growth of the local game community.
The areas that need more improvement
- They need more women in the game industry As I mentioned above, the game industry has enthusiasm very similar to the small, energetic developers of the 1990s. Unfortunately, they are also dominated by young men, just like those developers used to be. Given that social games represent the best opportunities for developers but these games often need to appeal to women, companies dominated by young men will have trouble creating content optimized for an older female demographic. There are exceptions (e.g., Bulgaria), but they are few and far between.
- The companies need to focus more. This is not a problem unique to the Colombian development community but of many smaller studios, they need to focus. I visited many teams that were working on three or four games with a team of five or ten people. Most social studios in North America or Europe have larger (in some case an order of magnitude larger) teams working on each game. A small team that size would be lucky to create one successful game, and by putting their resources on so many projects they are likely to end up with several mediocre games that cannot compete. Also, many of the small studios were working on mobile, Facebook and console games. With limited resources, they need to choose one platform and become proficient, rather than being mediocre across many.
- They need to learn monetization, analytics, virality, and retention. I visited or met with virtually all the major Colombian game companies and did not come across one person whose focus was analytics or monetization, or even someone who talked about it in a deeper way than a bullet point on a PowerPoint. To be successful in the social game space (either mobile or Facebook), monetization and analytics need to be built into games from Day 1 of development and not just another box to check. Colombian companies will need to train people in these skills and get them into the development cycle if they hope to create successful games (western publishers can help but cannot replace these skills being at the studio and integrated with development).
Colombia has an exciting and promising game development community. It will be fun to watch how it grows. Right now, the best opportunity for US and European companies is probably to contract with Colombian studios for development work, so that we can help them with the monetization and other key elements of free-to-play games. In the future, though, I expect to see some hit games that originate in Colombia.