Brazil’s Independent Games Festival goes beyond games to business

On the first floor of Brazil’s Independent Games Festival, around 20,000 attendees played indie titles from all over the world on rows of TVs and in virtual reality booths. Some folks lined up against the wall, waiting to get into the latest panel about composing music or narrative design. Others huddled around the robot racing course in the back.

But in the basement, it was all business.

“Video games are a global business. You develop for the world. We realized that even with a small games scene at the time, most companies were developing their games in English,” said Eliana Russi, the executive director of BIG, in an interview with GamesBeat. “They were already considering self-publishing internationally. We started to invite buyers, investors, publishers, mentors to come to Brazil and meet with our developers.”

Russi and her team created BIG not just as a showcase for Brazilian and Latin American developers or a celebration of independent games. Rather, they envisioned it to be an interdisciplinary vehicle to cross the lines of education, government, and business development. Throughout the day, BIG Impact and BIG Careers panels discussed topics like job opportunities, public policy, and urban development through games. In the business lounge, you saw suits and ties, 1-on-1 meetings, and mixers as developers, publishers, investors, and distributors mingled. Russi said that around 250 companies took part in the meetings, 84 of which were international.

“We have now 1,500 connections set up and being done through the 1-on-1: 1,500 meetings happening in three days, 500 per day,” said Russi. “Last year we had, at the event, $2.5 million in contracts signed, and a forecast for the next 12 months of $12 million. We hope to surpass that.”

Another part of the business strategy is to elevate BIG’s visibility abroad. Russi said that they already have a booth at Game Connection America, an annual industry event, and the External Development Summit in Vancouver, Canada. This year, they’re going to Game Connection Europe and the Gamescom exhibition in Cologne, Germany for the first time. Next year, they’re working toward attending the China Digital Entertainment Expo Conference in Shanghai, China.

Now in its fifth year, BIG has worked with the government to subsidize some of the costs of their international efforts. It’s something Russi is experienced with; before starting BIG, she worked for the Consulate General of Canada in the audiovisual sector. After that, she was the international promotion manager for the Brazilian TV Producers Association, sending Brazilian shows to international events such as the Mipcom show in Cannes, France.

“This is what we’re doing as an association, discussing with funds and the government, simple ways to promote—we already have a program that subsidizes all international costs of promotion,” said Russi. “The booths are already subsidized by the government. Promotional materials and networking at the event, that we already have structured with the agency in Brazil that takes care of international promotion.”

Those particular funds don’t go to the developers, though, she said — it all goes to the program and infrastructure around promoting the industry. Other funding that used to be only available to TV and movie studios has now been opened up to game companies, but she said that it’s also important to get outside funding into the Brazilian games industry from angel investors and venture capital firms.

“This is something we want to demystify, to make clear what is the business model in the game industry, because they don’t understand it in Brazil yet,” Russi said. “It’s much easier to invest in an app that does whatever than to understand the entire long chain in games.”

The Latin America games industry is set to generate $4.4 billion this year. Brazil is the largest market in Latin America, expected to generate $1.3 billion in 2017 according to market analyst Newzoo.

“We really want to consolidate ourselves as a hub for the independent game business in Latin America. We want everyone in Latin America at BIG. We want to have that,” said Russi. “We really want our studios and companies to make business and help us to continue building the industry. That’s our goal.”

Disclaimer: The BIG Festival organizers covered the travel costs for GamesBeat. Our coverage remains objective.

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