How the Catalan videogame industry adapted to the Covid-19 crisis
Event cancellations due to coronavirus have a knock-on effect for companies
The coronavirus pandemic has severely affected the entire economy: in Spain, GDP fell 5.2% in the first quarter of 2020 according to data from the Spanish Statistics Institute (INE), and analysts at Deutsche Bank predict an annual recession of 19.2%. The videogame industry has not escaped its effects.
According to the 2019 Videogame Industry Yearbook, the annual report presented by the Spanish Videogame Association (AEVI), the videogame sector was worth 1.49 billion euros last year, more than the cinema and music industries put together.
Catalonia leads the videogame industry in Spain, with 28% of companies based in Catalonia, generating 53% of sales, according to the 2019 Videogame White Paper, a document published by employers' association DEV.
The same paper points out that the sector is mostly based on small studios: 52% of videogame companies have less than five workers.
"It was a rollercoaster of ups and downs," admits Anna Guxens, co-founder of Barcelona-based 3Bytes, the team behind The Pizza Situation. They planned to go to San Francisco to show their game in the Games Developers Conference (GDC), one of the most important festivals for videogame developers in the world. But the physical event, which was to be held March 16-20, was canceled two weeks before its start date due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The GDC was the first major videogame event to be canceled by Covid-19, but it was not the only one. On March 11, the US videogame industry body ESA confirmed that the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), scheduled for June 9-11 in Los Angeles, was not going to be held this year. A month later, the Gamescom physical event, which was meant to take place in late August in Cologne, was also canceled, with a digital event to be organized in its place, a method that the GDC has also opted for.
Events like the GDC or the E3 allows small game companies like Catalonia's 3Bytes to get in touch with publishing companies that can finance their games and promote them around the world. "Without events you lose real contact with the industry," says Guxens.
A good example of this is the case of Super Magbot, a videogame being developed by two Catalan brothers, Daniel and Eloi Guzmán. On April 15 they announced their collaboration agreement with Team17, an English company that will distribute the game throughout the world, whom they made contact with at Madrid Games Week last year, Spain’s main videogame physical event.
Still, some companies have seen an opportunity in this situation, such as Grimorio of Games. This studio based in Barcelona launched a microfinance campaign in April on Kickstarter to manufacture a physical edition of the videogame they are developing, Sword of Necromancer. They reached the initial goal of 15,000 euros in less than 24 hours and closed the campaign with more than 200,000 euros raised. "We saw that many campaigns were being delayed, and I smelled that there were going to be monetary problems" says Víctor Pedreño, programmer and game designer of the game. That is why they chose not to delay it like the rest: "We thought we would be one of the few who would be in Kickstarter and we would have less competition," he explains.
Better placed than other industries
While event cancelations are a major obstacle to seeking funding and gaining visibility, game development has not been as affected as other industries by the confinement measures. "We have always teleworked", explains Pedreño. The Grimorio of Games team members are based in Spain, Russia, and England. The Guzmán brothers are in a similar situation, as they live in different cities and work from home since they started developing their company. "The way of working has not changed with lockdown," explains Daniel Guzmán.
According to a survey carried out by DEV to assess the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on the Spanish industry, 85% of studios believed that they were prepared to adopt remote working, since some or all of the employees were already doing it before confinement.
3Bytes' situation is slightly different. At the end of February they began to participate in the GameBCN incubation process, which includes a workplace in their Barcelona offices. "We already worked remotely before joining GameBCN, so we are doing it again," explains Andrea López. "The advantage of being there physically was that you could play the game live while doing an explanation, and now you have to trust them to play at home and then make the video call," says Anna Guxens.
The coronavirus pandemic had also affected videogame consumer habits. Animal Crossing: New Horizons, launched on March 20 for Nintendo Switch, sold more digital units in a single month than any console game in history, according to SuperData report. "People with physical games are having problems to distribute, to manufacture ... now it is a problem to have a physical game", claims Víctor Pedreño.
All studios interviewed use Discord to communicate with their coworkers, and in the DEV survey it is also the most popular tool, with 44% using it. With regards to organization, the 3Bytes team chooses to use Jira, while the Guzmán brothers organize with Trello, and Grimorio of Games uses a Google Spreadsheet to distribute tasks.
"As long as you have internet and access to the repository, you can telework", explains Víctor Pedreño, who says that "if this industry is not ready, no industry is".
"It is always more agile to speak in person, but we work with software", agrees Guxens, although she clarifies: "The question is how enabled your home is".