Even though the video game industry is rapidly shifting away from physical goods and expanding into digital realms that know no boundaries, the game industry still doesn't exist everywhere. Take Portugal, for example. The game industry in the Western European country is still in its infancy. But rather than expanding as more game developers sprout up, Portugal's game scene appears to be just as invisible as it ever was. There's a bigger picture here, though: The Portuguese game industry was becoming a force to be reckoned with up until a few years ago when it started crumbling. Those studios that are still around are now picking up the pieces. Paulo Gomes is CEO of Bigmoon Interactive Studios, and he's watched the Portuguese game scene pop up, show promise, expand, wither, and then all but die -- in fact, he's been an integral part of attempting to keep it afloat. Before 2004 there was no Portugal game development scene, he tells me, and most computer science graduates in the country were software developers and university teachers. "In 2004, the first Portuguese studios began with e-Works and Move," he explains. "e-Works split into RTS and Ignite Games in 2005. In the same year, the majority of the game developers, game professors, and students created the Portuguese Game Developers Association (APROJE) in 2005." It was as part of the APROJE movement, a movement that Gomes helped found, that the first game development training courses began to pop up in the country, and Portugal even got its own game conferences, albeit rather small affairs.
The GameInvest team in 2012
2006 saw the founding of GameInvest (again, with Gomes involved), a company that offered investments for start-up video game studios, and for a short time, the Portuguese games scene seemed about to finally kick off.
"Many game developers started, like Seed Studios, Camel Entertainment (today Camel101), MadPuppet, Bigmoon Studios, and even GameInvest with an internal dev team," notes Gomes. "With all of this in movement, some employees and investors left GameInvest and created other studios, like Biodroid. We could say that we had a revolution."
Flying Turtle Software is another Portugal-based indie trying to make a name for itself. The team recently released platformer A Walk in the Dark, and has found that most games coming out of Portugal are being met with low success.
"But I've started to see companies that are able to self sustain themselves and make game after game," the studio's Paulo Silva says. "I would say that we have a good potential to be a successful industry, but we are not quite there yet."
So what is it like being a new studio in a low-key part of the industry? Is it difficult for Pina, Silva et al to get themselves worked up without support from other studios around them, or do they see an opportunity to put Portugal -- and their studio -- on the map?
"This is an interesting question because I have been in this situation before, but this time it is a little but different," Pina explains. "Three years ago I was working on Under Siege as producer [at Seed Studios], and we were leading the charge as the first studio to get a game on PSN and PS3 in Portugal."
"Nobody did that before us and nobody has since, and we got ourselves on the map with that one," he continues. "We were all over the news and it was quite a ride, that unfortunately ended with the game coming out when PSN was attacked."
Now Pina is tempted to do it all over again, except this time around he's working out of Lisbon, where most of the country's smaller studios are all based (Seed Studios had been based in Porto, all by itself with barely any other studios around it).
"To explain how different it is, just last Friday I went for drinks with around 20 people from different companies and studios," he says. "So, in short, yes, it is difficult to get pumped when you don't have that many people working around you to look up to."
Pina mentions a group called The Lisbon Studio, a collective of individuals and small companies that works on comics and illustrations for Marvel, Darkhorse, Boom! and many others. Nerd Monkeys is officially part of the group, and all the better for it -- "a work day is always extremely rewarding since we get input from all sources," he says.
And Silva reiterates the point that being part of such a small community means that everyone knows everyone else, and each team finds itself equally enthusiastic about the projects coming from their friends around them.
8 MIN READ
Portugal: The rise and fall of a video game industry
Even though the video game industry is rapidly shifting away from physical goods and expanding into digital realms that know no boundaries, the game industry still doesn't exist everywhere.