There was a game being made, then a virus arrived

Gotham Knights, Hogwarts Legacy, LEGO Star Wars and Far Cry 6 they are games that have something in common besides being videogames awaited by the public. All were postponed while the COVID-19 pandemic is occurring around the world, due to factors imposed by social isolation and the difficulties that this presents to development – and even more: the four titles are productions of major studios.

Companies like Warner and Ubisoft they are used to large-scale productions, which are usually delegated to their contracted studios. But they are companies with big budgets, vast experience, industry support and fans, among other favorable details. But what would a company look like that has none of this in its favor? For example, most Brazilian game studios.

I came across the question in this almost a year and a half of a pandemic. As reported by one postponement or another in the Tecnoblog, immediately thought about how small and medium-sized national devs are coping with everything that is happening. The questioning becomes even more intriguing if we stop to think that the world is “getting ready” in several countries, while Brazil still faces a delayed vaccination and zero forecast for any normality.

One of the promises for 2021, Gotham Knights was postponed due to the virus (Image: Disclosure / Warner)

It was thinking about this scenario that I decided to go after some stories to tell around here. Developing games is not easy anywhere in the world, but in Brazil we have some extra layers of difficulty, even though there are incentives.

There was a game being made and then a virus came. And Umbrella Corporation has nothing to do with it this time.

Games in Brazil in 2020

We know that the pandemic has increased the habit of consuming digital content and interactive entertainment, especially games. Despite having a high dollar even before the global calamity, the market here was heated, with dubbed national launches, large annual events and even important people from the scene passing through the country to make their mark, interact with the public and give lectures .

A study published by the Visa card operator reported that transactions on electronic gaming platforms and consoles increased by 140% in 2020, compared to the same period in 2019. HyperX has already reported that the demand for peripherals, such as mouse, keyboard or gamer headset, grew by 50% here.

This was also a reflection of the rest of the world. At the beginning, we were all “in the same boat”. Several countries did not know how to contain the pandemic and social isolation prevailed in a large part of the territories between March and April, especially when the situation seemed more terrifying and out of control.

The natural result was to have more people at home playing and playing a lot. Animal Crossing: New Horizons, for example, was launched on Nintendo Switch as soon as the pandemic started, on March 20, and was responsible for one of the company’s best marches, calculating twice the sales of hardware in 2020 compared to the previous year – according to the NPD Group.

Animal Crossing was one of the successes during the pandemic (Image: Disclosure / Nintendo)

Animal Crossing was one of the successes during the pandemic (Image: Disclosure / Nintendo)

Around the world, cell phone games also dominated and gained ground. In Brazil one of the great examples is the Free Fire, capable of running even on the most modest devices – in April 2020, the Battle Royale game had a 113.2% increase in revenue, totaling $ 369.7 million accumulated in the first quarter of that year, against $ 173, 4 million from the previous one.

So many numbers and figures to show that, yes, the game market is doing very well, thank you, despite the pandemic. It is quite a contrast with other areas and realities, which have reduced job positions and positions, reinforcing the recession that started in the first quarter of 2020.

But how are Brazilian producers in this scenario? Was it good or bad? Follow four stories in this four-stage game.

Phase 1: Chance sometimes helps

Dumativa is a company from Rio de Janeiro specialized in game development with a rhythmic footprint. It was in 2016 that they achieved national prominence when launching The hero’s legend, a game co-created by Castro Brothers, inspired by videos that the two created on their YouTube channel. At that time, the company showed the potential it had in its hands, when mixing video games and music, but not in an obvious way.

Before the pandemic, the producer had an office in downtown Rio de Janeiro, a neighborhood that brings together an enormous commercial concentration and that breathed energy and agitation throughout the week, outside the pandemic scenario. Today, the entire team works from home and, according to Julia Teixeira, marketing director at Dumativa, the plan is to keep it that way even after everything “goes back to normal”.

Remote work worked for Dumativa and they should keep it that way (Image: Reproduction)

Remote work worked for Dumativa and they should keep it that way (Image: Reproduction)

“For Dumativa it was not a big shock. We already had a programmer who does not live in Rio de Janeiro, for example, so working remotely is not a surprise. As much as we didn’t wait, we already had this knowledge, ”he said.

Teixeira explained that some minor changes were made. They defined the time allowed to talk about work, to be available in the virtual environment created in Discord and in what opportunities people worked or rested. Still according to her, the most impacted area, however, was precisely the musical.

“We are focused on music and it is a complicated job to do via distance. Before, we would gather about four or five people and do the recordings, we would do everything at once, in one day. Now we need to go through a biosafety process, wear a mask, have fewer people in the studio. We do what is necessary, instead of everything at once, ”he added.

Even so, that was not enough to overthrow the Dumativa. Today the Rio de Janeiro production company has 14 people on the team. During the pandemic, only one professional was dismissed, but not for reasons that did not involve the world situation. “We did not have a bad situation, we had some financial difficulties at the beginning of the pandemic, change is never easy, for any reason, but today we are in a good situation”, guaranteed Júlia Teixeira.

Reflection, of course, of the current and future plans of the company. In addition to new versions of The Legend of the Hero and Shieldmaiden, another of its games already released, Dumativa is responsible for Paranormal Order: Riddle of Fear, a game inspired by the RPGs of the youtuber Cellbit, which was a huge success in crowdfunding in 2020.

In a few days, Paranormal Order: Riddle of Fear it collected 846% of what it intended to be produced, adding up to more than R $ 4 million in support of fans. “As a studio, we are never in a very good situation, we always have to run after new projects, a new thing to do, so Ordem has kind of arrived at a very good time,” said Teixeira.

Paranormal Order: Enigma of Fear emerged during the pandemic for Dumativa (Image: Repdroduction)

Paranormal Order: Enigma of Fear emerged during the pandemic for Dumativa (Image: Repdroduction)

Júlia does not open numbers, but according to the crowdfunding page in Catharsis, 50% of the sum added in support goes to “team costs”, so you can imagine that Dumativa had a good help with this RPG phenomenon, for stand firm during stormy weather.

Phase 2: Manaus in the eye of the storm

January and February 2021 were the worst months of the pandemic for residents of Manaus, Amazonas. Deep health crisis, aggravated by external problems and poor public management, caused hospitals to run out of oxygen and the entire public system to collapse completely. Had it not been for the help of third parties, including celebrities and neighboring governments, the scenario could have gotten even worse.

It was in the midst of this hurricane that a small team of start-up developers tried, and succeeded, to achieve a dream with their first – and for the time being only – computer game.

O Do not disturb is a 2D horror game that takes place in scenarios based on locations in the city of Manaus, which are famous for having reports about supernatural apparitions, the game focuses on its narrative, centered on creatures from Urban Legends and Myths of the region.

The production is from Hollow Harpy studio, which formed with people who already knew each other, but who never saw each other in person while the game was being developed. “Hollow started in October 2020, when we participated in the Game Jam Plus event. We started with 10 people, nine from Manaus and one from Canada, ”said Isabelly Rohana, 26-year-old Unity producer and developer.

Hollow Harpy by winning the Game Jam Plus 2020 (Image: Reproduction)

Hollow Harpy by winning the Game Jam Plus 2020 (Image: Reproduction)

Do Not Disturb was born as the main project to participate in Game Jam, a kind of programming marathon that can last for days or months, with incentives and awards to the winners. Not by chance, the game won the first place for the studio, which took home a cash prize and other benefits, such as Unity software license to program games and the chance to attract investors to make the dream come true.

But it was not easy, of course.

“Some people who started with us in October were unable to continue due to family issues, logistics, impediments, all because of the pandemic. We were very affected in this sense, apart from the psychological issue ”, added the programmer. In addition to taking care of the “title works”, it was still necessary to continue with the production of the game, which was a “serious hobby”.

According to Rohana, production inside the Hollow Harpy came to a halt for two weeks, at the height of the pandemic in Manaus, precisely between January and February, while they still needed to finish the project to present in the following phases of the Game Jam Plus. “It wasn’t working. At the time of the lack of oxygen, there was general chaos here in Manaus ”, he recalled.

But, after the suffocation, even though the pandemic is not over, Hollow Harpy went ahead and conquered not only the first place but the fruits that came to its members. Davi Bennier, for example, is one of the game designers of Do not disturb and got a job at a gaming company due to the prominence obtained, at 25 years old.

For Davi and Isabelly, despite all the regrets, collaboration between the team was essential for success, even without resources and only with the will and tools that were available. “Our team’s communication was very important. We worked 100% remotely, with people we just met. Having this communication was fundamental, having a leadership in the team, talking to people, seeing where I could improve ”, pointed out Bennier.

Now Hollow Harpy’s mission is to increase the land conquered and become a reference in the market, a position that once belonged to the Black River studio, also from Manaus, but which unfortunately ended its activities.

Phase 3: The new generation in the pandemic

It was the beginning of the pandemic when the Diorama Digital Studio, in Recife, collaborated with the development of Returnal, PS5 exclusive game, which was released in April 2021 on the new generation of Sony. Everaldo Neto, one of the founders and also managers of the team, said that the experience of facing the pandemic with remote work brought some challenges, especially involving confidentiality.

Diorama was founded in 2015 and, since then, it has accumulated experience and trust among several studios around the world, thanks to well-developed works and strictly following confidential protocols so as not to miss surprises regarding major projects. They always collaborate with other companies, gringo, in projects of great expression.

That’s how they worked on Elder Scrolls Online, Just Cause 4 and Horizon Zero Dawn. During the pandemic, they even worked on the launch of three other very relevant contents, in addition to the already mentioned Returnal – DLCs Borderlands 3, Predator: Hunting Grounds and Override 2 Super Mech League.

“We have always been a studio used to working on the spot. We have never had a culture of remote work, due to the nature of what we do, the confidentiality terms we sign. We couldn’t even hire an external freela, because this person wasn’t going to produce inside the studio, they have names and secrets of the projects that can’t leak, ”said Neto.

Exclusive to PS5, Returnal had collaboration from a Brazilian studio during the pandemic (Image: Disclosure / Sony)

Exclusive to PS5, Returnal had collaboration from a Brazilian studio during the pandemic (Image: Disclosure / Sony)

The problem is that, with the pandemic, and social isolation, there was no option. The “positive” side is that the partner companies and who were already used to working with Diorama agreed to loosen some of these confidentiality protocols and allow the work to be carried out outside the studio, via remote. “Many studios did not open this concession, but it was a new thing for everyone, they had to open it,” added the co-founder.

Everaldo Neto also said that the company was very responsible and got ahead of the news, introducing a “lockdown” even before any isolation was decreed by governments. “As soon as we saw that things were starting to move out of the Chinese context and gain pandemic status, we started thinking about working remotely. We wanted to protect our people, a lot of people who work here have their elderly parents and etc ”, he added.

The result seems to have borne fruit. In March, the Diorama had about 20 people – only in the credits of Returnal we have no less than 15 involved – while today they are almost 60, now with people from all over Brazil: São Paulo, Goiás, Belo Horizonte, Rio de Janeiro, Manaus, among others.

But Everaldo said that the studio still exists, physically, and that he intends to resume face-to-face activities as soon as the pandemic situation is under control in Brazil. Since March 2020, the company has maintained total isolation among employees and has remained so. Only the partners meet at the headquarters, eventually, to resolve specific demands.

For the future, the company also hopes to maintain the good scenario it has achieved over the years and which was not affected during the pandemic, even in financial terms. “Over the past year, we have had absurd growth, in projects, in demand for entertainment. Our area was privileged with this crisis, while others were simply devastated. We are trying to earn this privilege, ”said Everaldo Neto.

And it looks like they really are! At the end of the conversation, the executive also said that one of the novelties that the pandemic brought to the company was the hiring of a psychologist, focused on treating the mental health of its employees. “It was something we didn’t have and it’s been a really cool experience. It was a business that changed a lot for the better ”, he concluded.

Diorama invested in mental health for its employees (Image: Reproduction)

Diorama invested in mental health for its employees (Image: Reproduction)

Phase 4: The pandemic as a character

An unusual example of how the pandemic impacted game development in Brazil comes from a new production company on the Rio-São Paulo axis. BrainDead Broccoli is a studio formed during the pandemic and which has a game in development … About the pandemic! Or almost so.

Composed of six people, half in RJ, half in SP, BrainDead was created in late 2020, after the development of Fists of Repudiation it started. I already talked about this game here, in a news about its crowdfunding, but now I decided to go deeper and know more about who is behind the project, since a game of this nature could not be left out of this article.

And that is what I did when I spoke with those responsible, especially Kainan Lacerda, 30, who is one of the founders and screenwriter of Fists of Repudiation. “I had never worked with games before, as a screenwriter and animator, so it all started as an experiment. I once spoke to Ulysses [Davila, programador e produtor] about the news I saw, about people going out to drink in the pandemic, without wearing a mask. I made this pitch for him, to do a beat’em up, then the other people joined the project and we started to create something more formal ”, said Lacerda.

Repudiation fists: hit someone who doesn't wear a mask (Image: Reproduction)

Repudiation fists: hit someone who doesn’t wear a mask (Image: Reproduction)

Fists of Repudiation has as premise to fight people who are on the streets and who do not wear masks during a “fictional pandemic”, although totally inspired by the current scenario in Brazil and in the world. According to the synopsis, the pandemic is “being ignored by fanatics who do not believe that the disease is real, making protagonist Laura, an ordinary citizen adequately protected with gloves and a mask, deal with these fanatics and resolve the situation with the strength of the fists themselves ”.

There are those who say that it is “hate for good” or “hypocrisy”, but the team knows where it is and is able to deal with criticism. “There are days that I take offense more than others, with the comments”, says Luiza Bartolette, social media at BrainDead. “People have a habit of drawing false parallels, making absurd comparisons, but in general I am not offended. The criticism that most concerned us was someone who complained about the FPS [Taxa de quadros por segundo] of the game and there were very heavy comments, but we managed to get around ”, he added.

Still according to Luiza, there are those who were voters of the current Brazilian government, with clear positions regarding social isolation, but who supported the game. “It’s funny, there are a lot of people who say they don’t agree with our ideas, but they say that technically it is a very good game”, he added.

At the time this text is finalized, Fists of Repudiation it has already added more than 810% of what is needed to be financed, with a current total of R $ 40 thousand. The game already seems to be a success even before it was released, since a month ago it had raised R $ 20,000, doubling this number in the period – and there are still 10 days left for the campaign to end.

Fist crowdfunding is in good numbers (Image: Reproduction)

Fist crowdfunding is in good numbers (Image: Reproduction)

For the future, the studio plans to continue working on the “Fists”, which leaves until the end of the year, bringing updates and possible expansions. After that, only time will tell. “The game comes out first for PC, then PS4, Mac and other platforms. For now we are focused on Fists. There are other ideas going on, but they would need more time ”, pointed out Kainan.

The producers also say that they have participated in events to encourage and promote the game industry in Brazil, such as SBGames and BIG Festival, seeking investments or possible partnerships, participating in business rounds and accumulating experience, but in the limited pandemic scenario, where everything happens in the virtual environment.

And by the way…

Incentives and what you can do

Brazil is a great storehouse for game producers. In crisis scenarios, it can be a good alternative for those who want to increase business – even outside the area of ​​the producer, I talk about demand, from companies that want to order games for an advertisement or simply launch an interactive product.

Fortunately, events have been around here for some years now, and in this pandemic scenario, they have been increasingly important. On the other hand, they are not carried out in person, they have a series of limitations due to the virtual environment, but they still achieve good results.

Himself BIG Festival, quoted by BrainDead, is a good example. Held annually and with editions in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, this year’s BIG was made entirely online, as well as in 2020, although it was much smaller and more contained at that time.

BIG 2021 was virtual and with explorable environments (Image: Reproduction)

BIG 2021 was virtual and with explorable environments (Image: Reproduction)

“Last year we did it online but only the business part, we chose not to do a festival. There was no game to be shown, it was a limited number of lectures and a round of business, ”Gustavo Steinberg, general director of the festival, told me.

Also according to Steinberg, the focus of the event is to expand activity in Brazil and strengthen the industry, essentially during this pandemic period. Companies from all over the world know that this is where the greatest exposure of the Brazilian developer takes place, as well as in some foreign fairs, but without sharing space with international studios – which is great.

Gustavo Steinberg also said that the BIG 2021 can be considered a success precisely because of these companies. This year it was 545, while the biggest record in the history of the festival was no more than 450. “The world has been progressively waking up to the importance of Latin America, mainly to Brazil, as a game development hub. It has many consolidated and nascent companies, with very interesting talents, the capacity for development is growing ”, he highlighted.

Two things easily corroborate the argument. The first is that, when the BIG Festival was born, in 2012, we had just over 20 production companies in Brazil. Today this number exceeds 500, according to the organizer. Another is that you read, in this text, examples of companies large and small, some nascent, that are already making some noise out there.

But in this difficult scenario, where some companies still face great challenges, what is lacking in incentives, in addition to participation in key events? Greater government support? From private initiative? “Yes and yes,” replied Steinberg. “There was a very high expectation on the part of the Government. In the past we expected investments from Ancine, BNDS, but a lot stopped. It is a very strong sector, with growth potential in Brazil. Private investment is starting to wake up to this area, but what is happening is the entry of foreign players, Chinese, Russian, Europeans, which is a ‘shame’, as it could be national capital, we would have more to gain ”, he explained the organizer.

One of BIG's presentations, which featured the presence of Resident Evil Village (Image: Reproduction)

One of BIG’s presentations, which featured the presence of Resident Evil Village (Image: Reproduction)

Although these problems have arisen, and have intensified with the pandemic, some examples show that there is a way out. Events like BIG Festival, Game Jam Plus, SBGames and even the Brasil Game Show they play important roles in this ongoing incentive – and know that they cannot stop, even with everything that happens.

The Brazil of games in the pandemic follows with different examples and that can show that there are creative, daring and other ways that involve good planning, that can yield good fruits for tomorrow, since you never know what is coming and we don’t always have a “Continues”Available to risk.

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