Facts about the Mexican game development industry
Hello, I’m Fáyer and I’m the Cofounder and Director of HyperBeard, a mobile game developer and publisher from Mexico City.
DISCLAIMER: I wrote all of this because of a silly memetweet and I based everything on my own observation and experience, obviously they are not universal facts so feel free to disagree if you’ve seen something different. I tried to structure the original tweet ideas into something more cohesive by putting them into some categories and posting them here.
Origins of the games and game dev in the country
- Mexicans got access to the first video games by locals going to the US and bringing them illegally, that’s called ‘fayuca’.
- Between Club Nintendo (a magazine) and Nintendomanía (a tv show) a gamer culture became mainstream in many 90s kids.
- Piracy is something common here and the government doesn’t do too much about it which is good because that’s how many of us got the opportunity to play games. Eventually this also allowed many to use software tools without needing money for it.
Our neighbors from the north
- Thanks to our proximity to the US we have access to cheap technology and going to many big events (GDC, E3, PAX) is fairly accessible.
- Being the US’ neighbor is a double edge sword. A lot of brilliant people are offered better opportunities there and they leave, it’s hard to keep the talent when they offer so much more there.
- When I was a kid a big motivation to learn english was to understand games and other media, I feel like localization is killing that early drive.
- For many platforms we serve as a testing ground for the whole LATAM region. For example, kickstarter has a local chapter (still culturally we are not known for supporting each other).
- Games on Steam are cheaper in Mexico! :)
- Games on Nintendo (and many other platforms) are more expensive in Mexico! :(
- We don’t have a big entrepreneur culture and tech companies are kinda niche, even in our big cities most companies are more traditional.
- The process to start a tech company (or start-up) are the same used for traditional companies making that super bureaucratic, confusing and expensive.
- People that own companies here are perceived as super rich so everything around owning a company is filled with a weird wealthy culture.
- We don’t have big companies making games so there are not many opportunities for people to go and learn while earning a decent salary.
- “Hay talento pero no hay apoyo”, there’s a lot of talent but not support. This rings true in game dev as well. Almost no one invests in game development, you need to do it by your own means. As a result to this many studios die before they can release anything.
- Making games is not seen as real job. I remember that I wanted to do something game related for my university thesis but the institution didn’t like the concept of games, it was not a serious theme.
Mexico is big, diverse, creative and really cheap
- Mexico is cheap compared to other LATAM countries and really cheap compared to US/Canada/Europe so you don’t really need to have a big hit to live from games. Around $1k USD a month is more than enough to make a decent living almost anywhere in the country.
- Mexico is a big country so most of the people making games are scattered and it’s difficult to meet each other. It’s funny, I’ve met many local developers in international events.
- We are ~130M of people and we love video games so we could, in theory, be enough to support our industry but culturally we hate to buy stuff made by mexicans, we even have a word for that “malinchismo”.
- For whatever reason we don’t play nice with each other so even though we have many meetups and communities, they play by their own rules and probably never communicate or share stuff with others. This also applies to studios, schools and event organizers. In the past 5 years or so this has been changing.
- Design and attention to detail are not a trait of mexicans, we are pretty careless in general.
- You probably know that a lot of mexican movie directors have won Oscars and Golden Globes (Del Toro, Cuarón, Iñárritu) and the government sometimes helps with financing some of those projects. This doesn’t happen with games yet but we are fighting as a medium to get noticed.
- Creatively we are stuck in the same ideas. Because we haven’t seen success in games based on our culture, we as creators haven’t been able to move on. That’s why the first projects of amateur game devs are related to Aztecs or Day of the Dead.
- To the world we are not seen as a game producing country so not a lot of people pay attention to us. This makes it really hard to break the mainstream because the bigger media outlets rarely pay attention to the scene here.
- Commonly mexicans are seen as the ‘bad hombres’ in a lot of cultural game dev related things so when it’s our time to create we repeat those toxic stereotypes.
The local game dev industry, the press and our heroes!
- We don’t have a real industry but we are getting there. We just started a new game dev association a year ago and we are also associated in the LATAM federation. These relationships have helped our country understand how to get in shape and move forward.
- We don’t have access to dev kits that easily and not that long ago we couldn’t even sign up as developers for Nintendo. Most devs that need a dev kit have to travel to the US to get it.
- We don’t have many local heroes to look up to. There are a couple success stories (Mulaka, Kerbal Space Program, Heart Forth Alicia) but they are not known or noticed by the new generations of game dev because no one talks about them. Also, sometimes they behave in a way that makes them seem like foreigners so nobody guesses that they are from here. This happens to HyperBeard a lot.
- A lot of aspiring game devs don’t know what to do first due to the lack of local success stories or they believe that is not possible to be a successful game dev from here because they think that no one has done it before and they surrender before they have even started the fight. We are here dudes, pay attention!
- In 2014 Luis Zuno released Elliot Quest, the first mexican game to be released on all the mainstream platforms of the time. He made the art and coded the game on his own.
- Also in 2014, Alonso Martin successfully funded Heart Forth Alicia. He got around $250k USD!
- GameCoders Studios made their own engine (!!!) and made Attractio with it that released on PS4, PS Vita and Steam published by Bandai-Namco.
- Lienzo successfully published Mulaka (a 3D action-adventure game based on the rich indigenous culture of the Tarahumara) in all the mainstream platforms. They were everywhere!
- Bromio successfully published Pato Box in all the mainstream platforms. Suda 51 said that it was his favorite 2018 game!
- Mecha Studios had a successful kickstarter as well and it is almost ready to release its debut game Neon City Riders.
- KleptoCats has made more than $1 Million in revenue and has more than 10M downloads across platforms. It also has many merchandising deals with big players like Funko and Scholastic.
- Many game dev schools started to appear in the past decade. The first graduated from those schools are starting to work. The future looks bright!
- There are two games based on the boxer Julio César Chávez for SNES that were developed here.
- Mexican gamers love AAA stuff and indies are more of a niche thing. This puts a lot of pressure on starting devs to create something on that level. Overscoping is pretty common.
- Gamers here also grew up playing “maquinitas” (arcades), with fighting games being really popular in the 90s.
- In the early 2000s a local company called Evoga partnered with Noise Factory to make a tag team head-to-head fighting game.
- Around 2010 the owner of the biggest video game retail store in the country decided that he also wanted a video game studio and he funded Slang. This studio made some games but their biggest bet was on a AAA Lucha Libre game that never took off. Most of the people around the industry today started there.
- In 2012 there was a contest from Square Enix in the whole LATAM region, the winner was going to be published by them. I feel like this was the moment that started the current local game dev scene.
- Many of us grew up watching anime and playing on consoles so those traits are still what defines the vocal gamer scene, but I feel like in numbers the casual mobile scene beats them.
- Almost no one considers mobile gaming as real gaming (whatever that means).
- The vocal gamer scene here is as toxic as it is in most of the world.
- The press/media scene here is mostly a translation of news from the big companies, it is also mostly superficial. I don’t know if the reasons is that they don’t want to put the extra work or if the consumers don’t really want deeper articles.
- A lot of people giving advice to new devs don’t really know what they are doing themselves so be careful who you listen to!
- We had a big game dev event (DevHr) but gradually it became more about gaming culture and academia. I feel like this event currently is more for students and aspiring game devs, professionals moved away from it.
- Unity saw that hole and filled it with its Unity Developer Day. They started it here as an experiment and seeing how successful it was they took it to other countries. This is probably the biggest game dev event we have in the country.
- There’s also Pixelatl, a local animation event that is my favorite one and I can’t recommend enough if you are a creative creator.
- Most of the local devs use Unity and most of the local meetups are unity groups. Unity helps a lot here. Thanks Arturo Nereu!
- The biggest game that has been released from Mexico was Kerbal Space Program. The sad thing was that, for whatever reason, they were almost never present in local events and those learnings only stayed with the people that made it.
- AFAIK the IP now belongs to 2K and many devs went to Valve to make something there.
- There are also some companies that make 3D for game or animation studios. They mostly work on production assets and they have a lot of people doing that. That’s a good starting point if you are an artist.
- Gameloft has an office in Mexicali, a small city next to the border with the US. According to one of the founders, they chose that city because they could develop and test old cell phone games pinging the US antenas from there.
- We had a big studio that was working on educational games called Yogome but they closed recently due to the CEO committing fraud.
Related cool stuff
- Artemio made the 240p Test Suite, has a community about arcades and does a lot about preservation of older games. He also translated Policenauts and manages a couple different podcast about games.
- Óscar Toledo (NanoChess) makes games for intellivision and other retro consoles. He also has a record for making the smaller chess program written in C in the world.
- You probably know The Mexican Runner, the world noticed him when he beat the whole NES library and streamed all of it, he holds many speedrunning world records.
- Mario has “Detrás del Pixel” a podcast where he interviews and documents the careers of many mexican devs, all in spanish.
Video games are big in Mexico and we are a huge market for AAA games and in general we are huge consumers of mainstream stuff but, as a country, we don’t pay too much attention to making things or the people that do. We, as actual game developers, have to struggle a lot be able to make something. I realize that being able to work on games and developing what I want is a huge privilege that’s why one of my goals as an industry leader is to help as much as I can to demystify the process of making games and to make it easier for all the future creators. I invest my time going to events and giving talks, I also research local things and I try signaling them as much as I can. I hope that this will help at least a little making things easier for everyone.
As an industry, we are young and we are learning, we only want to be acknowledged and to eventually have the ability to be as good as our best movie directors. We just need time and patience. If you want to help our industry, go follow our awesome game developers, share our work and if you can, buy our games.
Thanks for reading this long and nonsensical thing. When I do analysis or exercises like this I tend to be kinda dark and rant-y, I don’t know, that’s probably my way of expressing things but I can assure you that I’m super proud to be a part of this industry in this country and I’m really excited about the future of it.