The Sevillian Holy Week marks the passage to the industry | Masters 2022

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  The Sevillian Holy Week marks the passage to the industry

The headquarters of video game developer The Game Kitchen, founded in 2009, is similar to that of other major production studios. About thirty screens, figures of all sizes of the protagonists of their titles, mentions and awards. The main difference between this developer and others is that it is not in San Francisco or Kyoto, but in the neighborhood of Parque Amate, Seville. The Game Kitchen team and its founder, Mauricio García, are developing in this architecture studio converted into a video game kitchen the second part of the Spanish independent title that has surpassed two million players: Blasphemous.

It has taken García and his team seven years of work in precarious conditions and 14 failed projects to settle in these offices. In 2019, the company put up for sale Blasphemous, a “100% Andalusian” video game inspired by Seville’s Holy Week and with a pixel aesthetic in which the protagonist is a mix between a Nazarene and a medieval warrior. It is not the only case of a Spanish best seller, but it is one of the few. Only 13 video games of national production have exceeded one million sales in history, according to the portal Devuego. What differentiates blasphemouss is that it is independent and does not have a large multinational behind it.

Despite the fact that the industry in Spain invoiced some 1,750 million euros in 2021, the production of national video games received a small percentage of that income, according to the Spanish Video Game Association (AEVI). The main beneficiaries are multinationals like Sony and those who distribute their products. Spanish companies, in addition to being 94% medium and small companies with less than 50 workers, bill little: the income of 63% of the studies represents 2% of the total billing of the sector.

Until the arrival of the title of the Nazarene warrior, The Game Kitchen belonged to that 2%. Not anymore. After the success of Blasphemous, the study was catapulted: last year it had a turnover of two million euros and now has 36 workers. García affirms that Spain is a country in which video games are sold “very well”, although the best-seller lists they are led by gigantic creations such as FIFA 22 either Grand Theft Auto V. “It is a business that works, but that correspondence with the big figures does not exist, although we are going to more [en la industria nacional]”, he comments.

Concept art of the 'Blasphemous'.Concept art of the ‘Blasphemous’.

One of the main difficulties in producing games that reach the levels of Blasphemous is the investment. Javier Cadenas, professor at the University Center for Technology and Digital Arts (U-Tad), believes that traditional financing, which seeks fast performance, does not always share the vision of the long developments that a video game requires. The Andalusian title, for example, was four years in production. “The main problem in the sector is that small and medium-sized distributors and studios do not offer broadcast data,” he explains in a telephone conversation. “You can’t know how businesses of a similar size have performed, and there’s no point in presenting a business plan to the bank based on the figures. Call of Duty [una superproducción bélica estadounidense]”, Add.

To overcome these barriers, many companies resort to alternative methods such as micro-patronage on online platforms, in which users financially support projects in exchange for rewards if they go ahead (video game clothing, special editions, advance copies…).

Kickstarter is one of them and it was also one of the keys to the success of Blasphemous. The Andalusian developer set the goal of raising 50,000 euros on the platform in order to get a financial boost that would allow them to bring the project to light. Beyond all the work that was done during the four years of production, luck was a key element: “Magically, all the pieces fell into place,” they comment in the studio.

As soon as the game was published on Kickstarter it went viral. In the first 48 hours of the campaign, they had already covered the initial objective. The first images of the video game, in which the imagery of Holy Week and Goya’s Black Paintings appeared, caught the attention of small investors. The collection, 333,000 euros, multiplied its initial objective almost sevenfold and became the Spanish project that had obtained the most money with this method of financing up to that moment. With these wickers, they were able to attract funds and international publishers (publishers, what are they called in the industry) that gave the final push to the game.

Capture of a frame with a scene from the video game 'Blasphemous'.Capture of a frame with a scene from the video game ‘Blasphemous’.

Blasphemous It had a final budget of around 750,000 euros, compared to the 50,000 that they had as an initial objective. This injection allowed them to increase the team from 4 to 12 people and even managed to reverse the brain drain in the industry and sign Enrique Colinet, a developer from Seville who worked at Yager, a prestigious German studio with more than 140 workers.

The lack of financing is one of the main problems of the sector, although not the only one. Cristina Morales, Deputy Director General for the Organization of Audiovisual Communication Services at the Ministry of Economic Affairs, assures that it is necessary for companies to gain volume because on many occasions growth is not only a matter of aid: “Investment is not the same that a company says it requires that is really necessary to carry out its projects. What is missing in the sector is business vision”. Mauricio García supports this diagnosis.

Workers at The Game Kitchen leave one of the rooms where 'Blasphemous 2' is taking place in Seville in July.Workers at The Game Kitchen leave one of the rooms where ‘Blasphemous 2’ is taking place in Seville in July.EDP

Experience is another important factor in cooking a bestseller. The 14 failed projects of The Game Kitchen helped to know what they were looking for in number 15. In addition to the eye-catching aspect of the video game, the 13 years of work since the founding of the studio were key: “If as an inexperienced developer you set yourself an unattainable goal, your company is going to palm. We got it because we weren’t newbies. We were able to stay alive for a long time, because before Blasphemous, at most, we earned to cover costs”.

Now the studio is developing five projects: three of its own videogames, including the second part of Blasphemous, which has a budget that doubles that of the first installment, around one and a half million euros. They also monitor two developments of their business incubator, Billete Cohete, in which they help and finance the projects of new teams that aspire to have their own company of video game development. Be newbie and cook a best seller like Blasphemous it is, according to García himself, “absolutely impossible”, but “between a waste of time and a great success there are many shades of grey”.

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