Nearshore Americas

Nearshore Developers Grab a Piece of the Game Business

Nearshore software developers are answering the call of duty and jumping into the modern warfare known as the video-game market. Mexican companies are leading a fresh advance, while at least one Canadian unit has already formed a big cross-border alliance. These small outfits are designing their own games but also offering technical and creative services to U.S.-based developers of mobile and console games.

One such company to keep an eye on is Kaxan Games. Kaxan, based in Guadalajara, has designed several games for the iPhone, including one called Taco Master (available at Apple’s app store), and is working on titles for Nintendo’s Wii. Becoming an authorized Wii developer is “one of our greatest achievements,” says Jesús Cochegrus Jaime, Kaxan’s director, “because it’s a qualification that only a few companies have in Latin America.” The company is also targeting Android and Windows phones.

Kaxan is in the process of partnering with a company in the U.S., Cochegrus says, and expect an announcement soon.

Kaxan was formed in 2009, as part of an effort to produce 52 animated shorts to celebrate the Bicentennial of Mexican Independence and 100 years of the Mexican Revolution. After that, the company branched into videogames.

“What I can say is that we have a very rich, colorful, and amazing culture and a different economic ecosystem that gives us the ability to offer a very competitive product in terms of art, game design, stories, and gameplay”

Blended talent

The Kaxan team brings “an amazing blend of creativity and technical skills that are reflected in our projects and in the way we solve problems,” Cochegrus says, but adds: “We cannot say things like ‘We are more creative than others’ or ‘We have more technical skills.’ Every country has its own way of creativity and a cultural background that can offer new approaches to the product. What I can say is that we have a very rich, colorful, and amazing culture and a different economic ecosystem that gives us the ability to offer a very competitive product in terms of art, game design, stories, and gameplay.”

It can be difficult finding enough talented staffers locally, Cochegrus concedes, but says due to business and government efforts, the number of trained people is growing. “Finding a great programmer is as complicated as finding a great artist,” he says. The hardest thing is finding the experience or the expertise with the development process and design tools the team uses.

Mexican game companies will face all kinds of challenges, Cochegrus says: legal, financial,  marketing, public relations. “But maybe the biggest challenge is the same that every other new game company of the world has: to actually publish your first retail game. You need to work on a strong relationship with publishers and demonstrate to them that you have the skill set to develop a project of that magnitude.”

Mexico works together

One thing that could give Mexican companies an edge, or at least more visibility, is that Mexico is making a concerted effort to build up its game industry and attract partners for its game designers.

The Mexico Game Developers Federation says part of its mission involves “the harmonic development of the Mexican videogames industry.” The group promotes the outsourcing services of, and cultivates work for, programmers, designers, animators, 3-D artists, and others with game-oriented skills. Currently there are more than 40 companies and universities in the federation.

TechBA (Technology Business Accelerator), a six-year-old organization funded by the Mexican government, is working to help local companies grow into new markets and form partnerships with global firms. TechBA provides things like consulting, sales training, and networking. With offices in five U.S. cities, the group clearly has its sights on the Nearshore. Some of its members, like Monterrey-based Xibalba Studios, are videogame developers. TechBA recently opened its newest branch in Washington state, land of Microsoft and home of the DigiPen Institute, a school for game designers.

But still, Central and South American developers might have to step up their publicity a bit if they really want to play in the big leagues of videogames.

Justin Stark, VP of business development for Production Road, is a matchmaker of sorts. “We specialize in helping game publishers and developers procure and manage external development resources both domestically and internationally,” he says. Last year, for example, Activision enlisted Production Road to find an external team to build levels and create some artwork for the console game Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. The deal went to Vancouver-based Piranha Games, one of the teams in what Stark calls his firm’s “200-plus developer network.”

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Stark has “checked out shops” around the world, particularly in Asia, but says Latin America “feels like an empty area in terms of game development because of so many qualified developers in China and Korea.” Production Road has “not made a conscious decision to not focus on Latin America,” he says. “We just haven’t found anyone there to vouch for.” Stark says the only team he can think of in the region is the Chilean division of A2M, a videogame company based in Montreal.

Indeed, there’s some good action north of the U.S. border. One company in particular has established itself as a competitive player in the sports niche. Nova Scotia-based HB Studios, which designs console and handheld games, has done development projects for EA, one of the biggest names in the business. HB has contributed to major EA titles like 2010 FIFA World Cup and FIFA 10 Ultimate Team. Its first release was Cricket 2002 for EA Sports.

EA, by the way, has also nearshored work to Globant, the Argentinian software developer.

Kirk Laughlin

Kirk Laughlin is an award-winning editor and subject expert in information technology and offshore BPO/ contact center strategies.

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