In view of the 14 million Spaniards who spend an average of five hours a day playing with their video consoles or in front of their computer and mobile phone screens, the video game industry has begun to find its place in the national economy. Over 300 companies and almost 2,800 direct jobs, 45% of which are occupied by young people under the age of 30, are the data that prove this sector is one of the fastest growing businesses in the country; a business that already organises specialised festivals, training programmes and distribution networks.
A complicated industry in which consumers only see the surface but not its inner workings. Countless programming hours in front of a screen, designing prototypes, creating game mechanics, trials, designing the art and eliminating bugs with a view to creating a product that is accepted or rejected at a click.
A vocational career
Ismael Serrano has had a passion for video games since his childhood; a passion that has become his way of life. With qualifications in Computer App Development and in the Administration of Computer Systems, Ismael quit his job to study IT engineering (real-time interactive simulation – programming) at DigiPen, the landmark university in video-gaming located in Bilbao.
Ismael, 28, declined to two job opportunities in Poland and India in order to move to Pamplona where he is developing a machine that diagnoses eyesight issues by means of a video game that patients control with their eyes for the company, Davalor Salud; a project that Xabier and Julen Urrutia, DigiPen graduates, are also working on. “I have been drawings comics, illustrations, stories… since I was a child, but the world of video games seemed far away until I decided to get on-board when they launched specific training in arts in this sector in Bizkaia”, says Xabier, 23, who began studying industrial engineering and changed to fine arts, specialising in digital art and animation.
However, Xabier has not only dedicated his time to video games. During his third year, he made ‘Level 1457 Last’, a short animation film that takes viewers to the year 2463 when the Earth’s surface is frozen and humans live in underground colonies whose power supplies are located on level 1457, which is only visited by maintenance workers. With this audio-visual production, Xabier participated in several international fairs, such as the Portland Film Festival, the Los Angeles International Student Film Festival and the Blue Plum Animation Festival, where he won the prize to the best film in the Student’s category.
For the time being, the gaming industry is flashing the ‘Game Over’ screen on the crisis because, despite the economic recession on a planetary scale and its effect on consumption, this industry is displaying excellent health with a turnover that clearly exceeds the figures achieved by the music and cinema businesses. As the figures are on the side of companies such as Sony, Nintendo, Microsoft or Sega, independent artists have to work a lot harder to access the market niches occupied by the big firms. Internet is the field where the war is waged to attract consumers.
“You can reach everyone on the Internet but you have to stand out from the crowd of video games that are being published… Some are lucky and make millions and others may have worked twice as hard but are unable to make their game go viral”, says Xabier. All that is needed is a “Like” by a celebrity who is followed by legions of fans around the world and a video game can go viral. “Competition is good and has to exist because it drives companies and improves the market”, says Ismael, convinced that competition is the driving force that will lead to higher quality products.
Six percent of the companies dedicated to this field are located in the Basque Country, according to data from the Spanish Association of video game developers, DEV, where it is also an industry on the rise. “There are many entrepreneurs and companies doing fantastic things, such as Delirium Studios, among others, but there are also some that are after subsidies regardless whether the video game they have developed is attractive or interesting for players, whether it is new, includes new gaming systems or whether it teaches something”, complains Ismael, who dedicates his free time to developing a video game together with Xabier. However, they prefer not to advance any information because the game for these young people is just beginning.