In the industry of videogame, no one doubts that Barcelona is a
European reference, next to London, Berlin, Paris or Helsinki. Whether due to the large number of companies, large and small, the talent that comes out of the universities or the holding of congresses or, rather, all at the same time, the Catalan capital has become an attractive place to invest and work.
Here are multinationals like the British King, the Japanese Bandai Namco, the french Gameloft Y Ubisoft, the Russian Zeptolab, the South Korean Smilegate or the americans Scopely, Tilting Point O Take Two (Social Point). They are the most colorful part of the industry but it would not be explained without the existence of a fabric of studies indie spread over the city. In total, large and small, there are about 150 companies, employing more than 3,000 people and billing more than 400 million. These are data from Acció and the Llibre Blanc de la Indústria Catalana del Videojoc, relative to 2019, (latest data available). The relevance of the territory can be calibrated by comparing data at the state level. Catalunya – thanks to Barcelona, which accounts for 92% of the activity – is the main engine of the industry in Spain, with 53% of sales and 28% of companies.
Large groups, small studios, congresses and universities form a robust ecosystem
Barcelona has come here not by chance but thanks to 20 years of work aligned between the public and private sectors as well as a commitment to mobile gaming instead of the console and the PC, which were – and continue to be – more entrenched in Madrid. One of the pioneering entrepreneurs, Xavier Carrillo, founder of Digital Legends, remembers that making his way was not difficult. “Despite the fact that in the 1990s the entire industry was in Madrid, in Barcelona there was awareness of the strategic importance of the sector. This was precisely what prompted me to leave my job in the Spanish capital to found my company in Barcelona ”.
Professor Antonio José Planells, from the UPC Tecnocampus, comments that the interest of teleoperators in entering the video game industry as a strategy to diversify investments also influenced. This factor, added to the creative and cultural tradition of the city, as well as the nascent technological sector, led to the emergence of small studios, such as Abylight or Novorama, now consolidated brands in Barcelona. In 2005, the first congress was created, the GameLab, which now receives more than a thousand attendees. Other events such as NiceOne or the Mobile World Congress also helped to internationalize the Barcelona brand.
Another key was the interest of the Generalitat, back in 2010, in promoting university studies tailored to the industry. “From the cultural sphere it was given a lot of importance. A work team was formed with members of the collective and degrees and masters were promoted to train specialized talent ”, recalls Planells. Currently a dozen centers have academic offerings: the Escola de Noves Tecnologies Interactives of the UB, the Tecnocampus of the UPC, the UPF, the UOC, the UAB or the Salle Technova are some examples.
At the business level, the focus was on mobile gaming. “It was cheaper to develop because it saved the cost of console licenses. In addition, the business was more scalable: it could be launched globally easily through the application store. Now it turns out that what was a barrier to entering the world of the console was an opportunity to enter the business that grows the most in the entire industry ”.
For Barcelona, the great turning point was the arrival in 2012 of King, the first large multinational in the mobile industry to bet on the city. Manager Oriol Canudas explains that the firm was looking to expand its team beyond London and Stockholm and chose Barcelona for its talent and quality of life. Currently, 500 people are working in the city developing their popular game Candy Crush. The company also collaborates with small studios and contributes to energize the ecosystem.
Since then, and especially in the last five years, large multinationals have landed. “Barcelona has technological talent and is a pole of international attraction, that’s why we settled here,” says Javier Ferreira, co-executive director of the North American Scopely. Another relevant operation was the acquisition in 2017 of the Barcelona firm Social Point by Take Two, an operation valued at 250 million.
The new challenge for the city is to create large independent companies with global impact
After 20 years of boiling, no one doubts the solidity of the industry in Barcelona. As in the rest of the world, the pandemic has accelerated its growth and now, the ecosystem faces a new challenge, that of creating large independent companies with global impact. Planells maintains that “there is well-prepared talent, which has been trained in leading firms” and that it would be a waste of opportunity to leave it in the hands of foreigners. “Too much multinational can end up killing the rest, you have to find a sustainable model,” says Carrillo. In addition, he says, you have to leave Barcelona as it is starting to be very saturated. The Vallès has its appeal.