From indie studios to multinationals, Catalan videogame industry is thriving
Catalonia accounts for more than half of sector's turnover in Spain
Videogames. Great fun, big business.
In Catalonia, the videogame industry has exploded over the past decade, with Barcelona transforming itself into a global hub for game developers.
Companies based in Catalonia account for more than half of the sector's total earnings across Spain. To be exact, 53% in 2018, or €429m, an increase of 17% on the previous year.
Huge multinationals like Ubisoft and Gameloft have offices in the Catalan capital, but local startups have also achieved massive international success.
One of these is Socialpoint. Founded in Barcelona in 2008, it specializes in mobile games. In 2017 it was bought by the US giant Take-Two for $250m. Its games such as Dragon City have had more than 600 million downloads, the equivalent of 7% of the world's population.
Socialpoint employs 330 people in Barcelona, including Jon Davis, Technical Director for their Monster Legends game.
Jon, who is from the US and was headhunted while working in Germany, says Barcelona is unique.
"I've never lived in a city that had such a close-knit network of gaming companies and so many talented individuals working for those companies. It's such a competitive environment. It's very difficult to find and retain talent because so many new companies are coming."
Socialpoint isn't a typical company though. According to the Catalan government's white paper on the videogame industry, around half of all firms have five employees or fewer, while just over a quarter have more than ten.
There is a thriving community of indie studios creating imaginative and daring games, like The Pizza Situation from 3Bytes.
The Pizza Situation is a social network simulator, a parody of online culture. As one of the game's developers, Anna Guxens, says, it's an invitation to question how we use the internet ourselves.
"We wanted to put into focus how easy it is to use and misuse information online and make this the whole topic of our game."
The ultimate goal of all this snooping? As the name suggests, securing as much pizza as possible for the protagonist Roni Mozzarello, of course.
Student numbers on the rise
The seed for The Pizza Situation was planted at university, something not at all uncommon in this sector.
The explosion in gaming companies has been paralleled by huge increases in the numbers of students studying videogame development. They have more than doubled in five years, from 550 in 2015-16 to 1330 in 2020-21.
In 2013, the University of Barcelona started an undergraduate degree course at the School of New Interactive Technologies (ENTI).
"It makes sense," explains Academic Director Oscar García Pañella, "because the ecosystem is huge."
Barcelona is home to Gamelab, one of the biggest gaming events in Europe, and NiceOne Barcelona, which drew 124,000 visitors in 2019, as well as numerous smaller festivals and events, such as Retrobarcelona and Indie Dev Day.
While undoubtedly a success story – it has weathered the pandemic much better than most other sectors – the videogame industry does face challenges.
Anna points out that jobs in the bigger companies are hard to come by, which is why so many graduates end up setting up their own indie studios. And with the market more saturated than ever, Jon says creating the new hit is "always a struggle."
But one of the biggest issues to be tackled is diversity. Women make up around half of all gamers in Catalonia but barely one fifth of the workforce.
It's something Socialpoint are trying to address, by looking at their "recruiting practices and normal day-to-day working practices," in order to, Jon says "create as diverse an environment as possible."
The issue extends beyond the number of employees to the types of jobs they are doing. According to Oscar, few of the women who do work in gaming are programmers or developers, which he says is "a huge pity," as those types of jobs tend to provide the best opportunities.