Mexican Game Dev Decade Retrospective (2011–2020)

Note: Most of this was written around at the beginning of 2020, after Rami Ismail posted this tweet. So many things have happened since then but I still wanted to make this “analysis” available for anyone that is interested in learning more about the Mexican game dev scene. Obviously all this is a personal opinion and based on my own experience, seasoned with anecdotical info from other devs from the country.

A little personal context: Hello, I’m Fáyer from México. I started my career in games this past decade, my first finished game was released at the end of 2011, and at the beginning of 2020 I announced that I was leaving HyperBeard, a studio I co-founded in 2014. HB is one of the biggest mobile game developers and publishers in México.

As most of the local devs I started making games with some friends with the idea that we were the only ones doing this in the country, why? because the industry here at the time was smaller compared to today and because if you didn’t know any Mexican game, you assumed you were the first one making one. Even today every time that the press announces a new mexican game they always say that it’s the first Mexican game so the situation pretty much seems the same, right? No, wrong!

Before 2010 being a game dev in México was rare; the tools, the platforms, the hardware, the knowledge… pretty much everything needed to make games was not accessible to us, in one way or another. But in 2008 something magical happened, the app store launched and they allowed almost anyone to upload and sell apps there and that opened many opportunities for the whole region.

But wait, a little bit before I start with the actual first examples of the decade, I have to talk about a studio that wanted to be so much but didn’t succeed. Slang Studios started at the end of the past decade, they collaborated with big studios from LATAM at the time to make games with importan local IPs from TV. They got super close to being the CD Projekt Red of México but luck wasn’t on their side and the studio closed after a couple years. Their story is super interesting but I’ll save that for another time. It’s also important to mention them because many game devs from this decade started their career there.

Anyway, the first big splashes from the decade were mobile games, two companies in México partnered with Chillingo (remember them? They brought us Angry Birds!) to publish Taco Master and Sky Hero. They both were pretty successful at the time and while I don’t have exact numbers, I remember people throwing the word “millions” around talking about the revenue. I think they even were the top selling games in the app store at some point!

We can’t talk about Mexican games without talking about the super successful Kerbal Space Program. What? You didn’t know that it was Mexican? Well, don’t feel bad, most of the world doesn’t know. They had everything that a game dev studio could want, a successful hardcore game in big platforms, NASA endorsed, made millions, they could have been the heroes that the local industry needed but they weren’t into that.

At the middle of the decade we also had a pretty successful kickstarter for Heart Forth, Alicia, the game is still in development and I’m still pretty excited to get it. Around the time we also saw the launch of Elliot Quest, one of the first mexican indie games launched in a nintendo platform.

Then we had HyperBeard with KleptoCats, Lienzo with Hunter’s Legacy and Mulaka, and Bromio with PatoBox. All of these studios started somewhere around the middle of the past decade and they are some of the most popular ones in the country. The 3 have found success in different ways and they still continue to make things nowadays. I wrote a list at the end of many other studios that are currently active.

There are many others, the country has more than 100 registered studios and they make many things but other than a handful of examples we haven’t really broken the mainstream barrier worldwide. I know that my text has been a little verbose but that was needed to put you in context of the scene over here, it’s difficult to just do an analysis if you don’t know what happened.

I think the same things that helped the indie scene to rise in the world are the ones that helped here too. The platforms opened (finally Nintendo allowed devs from LATAM to sign up!), the tools got cheaper and more accesible, some universities focused on game dev as a career opened, the internet allowed “almost” everyone to learn and local communities started to develop.

These local communities were so important that a game dev event emerged with the idea of teaching people how to make games. DevHr was born with the past decade but as we reached the end of it the event lost its focus and the interest of most of the professional local devs. Unity tested the Developer Day program here and ran it for 4 years but in 2019 they decided to stop doing it.

Tired that most game dev events where in other countries and without DevHr or Unity Developer Day a friend and I decided to try our luck with an event; we started the Game Summit MX, a game dev event by game developers. We did it November 2019 and we had hundreds of attendees, it was the first time that I’ve seen people from most of the local companies making an effort to participate. Most of the sponsors were the local game companies and this allowed us to make it free. It was amazing! (Note from the future, GSMX 2020 happened as a showcase stream, you can watch it here)

Pixelatl is one of the most interesting local events for creatives. They invite people from around the world to give talks about animation, comics, video games and many other creative disciplines. They have showcases, awards and more for people making games. The animation industry has been developing more since the team behind Pixelatl pushed them and I think any creative in Mexico should go, I love it.

Talking about communities, one of the biggest issues that the country has is the lack of a centralized and organized association. We’ve had one for a couple years now but it hasn’t really done much. Most of the devs really don’t care enough to get together and plan as a group, we just don’t trust others to do good by everyone. This probably comes from the distrust we have towards our institutions and government. With or without the association I can feel that many of us are trusting each other more and that good things have been happening because we communicate and share opportunities. This feels like a tremendous change compared to the past decade and it’s being done because the top studios are friendly towards each other and really transparent about how they work.

The biggest challenge currently is the lack of resources, most of the studios are self funded and they die before they learn enough to be successful on their own. This again in part for the lack of communication with others but also because not many look for advise or mentorship from more experienced developers. If you look to other regions, many scenes developed with the resources of big companies investing, we haven’t been that lucky here. Gameloft opened offices many years ago but, as far as I know, they never got to the creating new things phase and people never learned to develop new IPs from them. That’s probably the other obstacle, we are pretty good at music, code, art and other skills but game design is a tough one and the country still struggles trying to find its own creative voice.

I haven’t mentioned the goverment because, even thought they have done some things here and there, there aren’t really many iniciatives to help game developers. They run a couple spaces for jams and talks and the local game dev awards. Overall, I don’t think most local devs consider them a partner.

Now, I don’t want to be pessimistic because the country has so much to offer, really! It took some time but the studios are learning and they are anxious to show those learnings. We also have a rich history that is waiting to be shared with the world, Mexicans come from many different indigenous civilizations and our modern culture is a mix of all of them plus many other things. I’m still kinda angry that the world learned about Día de los Muertos and Alebrijes through the lense of mostly foreigners but I hope that eventually someone will tell our stories and they are going to blow your mind! Another good thing is that living, food and services here are not that expensive compared to other countries so the overall cost of developing games is not that high.

Mexico is big and we love video games but the local gamers are more fans of the big brands than the indies. There’s still much work to do to convince them that the local produce is not bad, it’s just different. Fortunately, in the resent years the local game press has been very helpful with this and it seems like every day more and more gamers give our games a chance.

Written in 2021:

During 2020 Diana Rodríguez (and more) started Women in Gamex. To me this is something that is super valuable to raise the local dev scene and I’m excited to follow their progress. From their website: “We are a community, an initiative and a movement that seeks to encourage, promote, make visible and sensitize the role of women in the video game industry in the Mexican and Latin American national environment. We generate meeting spaces for women creators and video game enthusiasts, where they can raise their voices, share their experiences, building networks of trust and support.”

In conclusion, our industry’s story is complicated and we do have our issues, but things are getting better and better for local creators. I’m definitely excited about the future and I wouldn’t be surprised if you start to see a bunch of great games from Mexico in the new decade, we are ready to take the world!

Interested in seeing more? Follow these studios and their projects:

Bromio
Mecha Studios
HyperBeard
Ogre Pixel
Lienzo
1 Simple Game
Navegante
The Dreamerians
Cosmogonía
Big Monster
GameCoder
Seashell Studio
Tagwizz
Cometa Games
Megalixir Games
Meta Studios
Mum Not Proud
Axolotl Brothers
We The Force
Man-Eater Games
Dynamic Media Triad
Hearth Forth, Alicia
Shibidubi Games
Halberd Studios

(Are you a mexican game dev and want to be a part of this list? Tweet me!)

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