From highly personal indie passion projects to entries in billion-dollar world-famous franchises, the Argentine video game scene is booming. That flourishing expanse was on full display last week during the Argentine Video Game Expo (EVA, by its Spanish acronym) at the CCK Centre in Buenos Aires.
The Association of Argentine Video Game Developers (ADVA, by its Spanish initials), which organized the event, estimated that 25,000 people visited the expo where developers from all over the country showed 111 of their creations.
“Last year, we had little more than 60,” ADVA President Florencia Fole told the Herald. “That goes to show how the industry is growing and going strong.”
The video game industry is a billion-dollar worldwide business worth more than the music and movie industries combined, according to multinational consulting firms Newzoo and SuperDataResearch. Argentina is a relatively small player in this world — according to ADVA, in 2022 national companies reported US$90 million in revenue.
This figure, however, represents a 29% growth compared to the US$70 million earnings reported in 2021. The number of game studios and universities offering courses in video game development is also increasing, said Fole.
“There are 2,000 people working in Argentine companies,” Fole added. “Within this economic context, that’s something to take pride in.”
Not just games
Beyond the hard numbers, the EVA showcased the many avenues for storytelling video games offer. Tenebris Somnia, winner of this year’s EVA Best Game Award, is a horror adventure combining an 8-bit gameplay experience (think of the highly pixelated graphics of consoles from the 80s or early 90s) with cutscenes filmed live.
“Two pixels suddenly become detailed, high-definition images,” Tobías Rusjan, co-developer of the game, told the Herald. The game itself tells the story of a 30-year-old woman who decides to pay her ex-boyfriend a visit after having nightmares in which he is being devoured by hellish creatures. She discovers that he seems to have been captured by a Satanic cult and that the creatures in her dream are very real.
“We can tell a story at the speed the player chooses. One can just kill the creatures and win the game, but you can also go around and look for clues to discover the whole backstory,” Rusjan said.
Images of the game— the brainchild of film director, actor, and visual effects specialist Andrés Borghi — went viral on social media. Its demo can be played here.
If horror is not your cup of tea, however, there are plenty of other options. One of them is a game called Los Infernales (“The Infernals”) — which came first in the “My First Published Game” category. Los Infernales tells the story of the mythical Gaucho army that fought for Argentine independence. TMO Games developed the pixelated shooting game with the assistance of Damián Caro, a history teacher at the National University of Tucumán.
Other smaller, personal projects were also on exhibit. Llamalandia, by Bolivian developer José Gutierrez, tells the story of a llama who has to look for his family in the mountains. Gutiérrez says that he used a llama because it is a typical animal from the area where he lives, adding that he drew from pre-Columbian Tiwanaku culture for the game’s aesthetics.
Francote Studios co-founder Franco Ariel Hernández presented “Timmy’s Adventures,” a game filled with dark humor and a 1920s cartoon aesthetic to boot. “I’m an animator and illustrator, and I’m also color-blind. That’s why it’s black and white,” Hernández told the Herald.
But Argentine studios are also working on bigger games with higher name recognition — Nimble Giant is developing Star Trek: Infinite, an upcoming addition to the sci-fi TV and film franchise born in 1966 in the United States.
“It’s a very big responsibility to work with such a large intellectual property and with a fandom so attentive to detail,” said Nicolás Arias, the project head of quality assurance. “The writing team is very talented,” he said. “We were working with people from all over the world, including Europe and the U.S.”
The Argentine industry, however, is not without its problems. According to Fole, national companies cannot compete with international salaries. “There is virtual brain drain,” she said. Together with NGOs, ADVA is also exploring measures to tackle the lack of women’s representation in the industry.
During EVA 2023, representatives of international game publishing companies like Microsoft’s ID Xbox, Google for Games, Epic Games, Devolver, and Konami met with Argentine developers looking for financing and feedback.
“They had meetings every day, they were surprised by the quantity and quality of projects,” Fole told the Herald. “There is a lot of talent, a lot of enthusiasm, and a lot of passion.”