MeXbox Rising: Mexico’s Gaming Industry Turns Into a Monster

“A great science fiction detective story” – Ian Watson, author of The Universal Machine
Luck and Death at the Edge of the World

Days until the election: 106

I’m used to writing fiction in a traditional format.

I don’t mean on paper, but I do mean in a linear story, like my book Luck and Death at the Edge of the World (details here), a novel set partly in Mexico — it was writing that book that first sparked my interest in the future of Mexico, which led to the creation of this blog.

Recently, though, I was hired to do some writing on several videogames, which is a different form altogether from the traditional linear narrative.

I’m already planning a strategy to get Luck and Death into print in Spanish for Mexican readers, so it was natural for me to wonder about the global, multilingual market for games, and in particular to look at gaming in Mexico and where it’s headed.

As it turns out, the design, production, and use of games are all increasingly international activities — a trend that certainly won’t suffer from the fact that SimCity apparently now ships with every One Laptop Per Child computer — and Mexico appears poised to take a prominent role.

It’s not easy to get precise figures, but all of the various assessments available agree that recent industry growth in Mexico has been prodigious.

The site VGChartz, which tracks game sales, wrote in late 2011:

With 110 million people, a strong university system, a trillion dollar economy, free trade agreements with countries housing major video game companies, and roughly half of all people under the age of 25, we at VGChartz believe that Mexico is currently the fastest growing retail video game market in the world.

Below: early signs of growth, the Electronic Games Show 2003 in Mexico City (in English)

According to VGChartz, the Mexican videogame retailer Gamer’s Paradise claims that in a variation on Moore’s Law the Mexican videogame industry is doubling every four years.

The site ProMexico — whose mandate as the Mexican government institution in charge of strengthening Mexico’s position in the international economy could admittedly make it prone to a little boosterism — claims that:

The Mexican video game industry registered an average annual increase of 18.7% between 2004 and 2010. During 2010, the internal market reached a 757 million usd value, which is why in coming years, besides being the largest buyer in the region, Mexico is expected to be one of the world’s most attractive destinations for video game production.

Below: more recent growth, the Electronic Games Show 2010 in Mexico City (in Spanish)

Still, ProMexico’s views are borne out by more detached observers.

Perhaps the most detailed study of gaming markets has been made by game industry market research and analysis firm Newzoo, whose report on worldwide game use in 2011 — inconveniently priced at $950.00 — has fortunately received fairly detailed coverage by leading game news site Edge.

Edge reported in the fall of 2011 that Newzoo‘s figures showed that Mexico’s gamers actually spend money on games at a higher rate than their counterparts in most other western countries.

The report’s conclusions are worth reproducing in detail:

Newzoo’s reports claim that Mexico’s 16 million active gamers’ preferences and spending behaviour is highly comparable to that found in North America. 57 per cent of players spend money on games, a share higher than most western countries.

69 per cent of the total consumer spend in the region goes to console and PC or Mac games, equating to $825 million last year. Direct downloads, both on PC and console, are popular accounting for $155 million and $60 million of the total spend respectively.

60 per cent of gamers time is spent on online or mobile games and MMOG revenues from the region are expected to reach $115 million this year.

“Time and money spent on games in Mexico is much more in line with western countries than other so-called ’emerging’ markets, such as Brazil and Russia,” says Newzoo CEO and co-founder Peter Warman. “Together with the fast-rising internet penetration, Mexico will certainly show strong growth. Good news for the local Mexican games industry as well as Western and Asian companies seeking expansion.”

Fortunately Newzoo does provide a free, fairly detailed infographic summarizing their conclusions, reproduced below.

Newzoo's infographic on Mexico's gamers

Newzoo's infographic on Mexico's gamers

Of course a boom in gaming has also inevitably meant significant levels of piracy as well.  Edge reports, for instance, on the haul from a 2008 raid in Guadalajara:

A 40-man raid operation by Mexico’s Federal Investigations Agency has led to the recovery of 91,200 illicit copies of video games, 130,000 cover inserts and 3,200 empty game boxes. The items were taken from the bustling San Juan de Dios Market in Guadalajara, capital city of the state of Jalisco.

And another in Mexico City itself:

The ESA said that aside from the nearly 30,000 illegally burned videogames found during the course of four raids, the Procuraduría General de la República (PGR) and the Agencia Federal de Investigacion (AFI) seized about 290 DVD/CD burners and over 900,000 game cover inserts. Aside from the four raids on duplication facilities, authorities also raided three separate storage locations.

Below: Video Games Live concert in Mexico City – a Final Fantasy medley gets a rousing round of applause from game fans

With all this growth, isn’t it possible that the Mexican market is tapped out?  Don’t count on it says Gamexpress, long Latin America’s foremost video game distributor.  Only last year its chairman of the the board, Abraham Bautista, said:

“Mexican territories are an untapped market for publishers. Currently, our market estimates reveal that video games sales reach an estimated 40 percent of the total population.  At Gamexpress, we believe that reaching at least 60 percent of the video game Mexican market is more than possible in the immediate future.  Some of our partners who have been the first to invest in this market have enjoyed strong financial results and have built lasting brand awareness within the Latin marketplace.”

What’s next?  As gaming spreads around the world, local players typically start with American-produced games, but this can change over time.

Look for Mexican game developers to start producing games tailored to the country’s market as well as being built for export into the United States, the UK, and other traditional game-producers.

A key player in this process will be Juego de Talento (Talent Game).  As KitGuru Gaming reports:

Juego de Talento (Talent Game) is a company established within the last couple of years, focusing solely on the promotion of entirely Mexican video game production – the “Made in Mexico” video game industry.  The company’s first call for Mexican game developers in 2008 generated a response of 104 projects from developers 30 years old and younger.  Juego de Talento serves as an incubator, honing talented game developers for introduction into the market within a short period of time.  In 2009, the company received projects from over 400 teams in response to a Mexican history themed project for the Mexican Independence Bicentennial.

The future of home-grown games began with “Lucha Libre AAA 2011: Heroes del Ring,” released by Slang.  As reported in AdAge Hispanic in 2010, it was:

… the largest video-game project to be conceived and created entirely in Latin America, and Slang is the first Mexican publisher of video games for the Xbox, PlayStation (PS3, Play Station Portable PSP), Wii and Nintendo DS consoles.

The game opened to mixed reviews, but market forces won’t let the experiment end there.  Expect to see a whole lot more.

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