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Game Changers | Gonzalo Banki Martínez

We talk to the co-organizer of Level UY Game Dev Summit about his efforts to support and uplift fellow game developers in Uruguay

GamesIndustry.biz Game Changers is a series of profiles on the groups and individuals going the extra mile to make the games industry a better place. These interviews encompass folks from around the world helping to improve conditions and attitudes towards diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility, mental health and more. You can read more Game Changers interviews here.

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Like so many nations worldwide, Uruguay has a burgeoning games development scene striving for recognition from the rest of the world. In recent years, that scene has become more organized and prominent, with more support offered to developers — thanks in no small part to Gonzalo Banki Martínez.

Martínez says that he pivoted to a career in game development in 2016 and began working to support his fellow game markers shortly after that. Based out of Uruguay, Martínez explains to GamesIndustry.biz that his work to help local developers grew from necessity.

In 2017, a colleague asked him to co-organize the Level UY Game Dev Summit, regarded as one of the key events for the Uruguayan games industry. Its goal is to highlight the projects for developers seeking publishers.

Run by the Uruguayan Chamber of Video Game Developers (CAVI), Level UY also spotlights the local games industry for international interest and future business partners.

Martínez explains that this work is essential because the country's size makes seeking business partners and publishing something of a challenge.

"A problem that we have, and not just with Latin America, [is] we are small," he explains. "We're smaller than Argentina and Brazil, with a population of three million. So that makes it harder to find publishers interested in coming to events or get funding for local developers.

The main issue we have is that it's very expensive to travel to events. For example, [going to] GDC, we would need to pay three months' salary

"Even finding [local] volunteers is difficult because there are only so many of us. Getting people to international events is the main challenge that we have."

Martínez adds, "The main issue we have is that it's very expensive to travel to events. For example, [going to] GDC, we would need to pay three months' salary. The language barrier [is another challenge that we have]."

He and his colleagues have spent years addressing this challenge helping to fund travel and maintain a booth for the Uruguayan game creators at global events - with one in particular a source of pride for Martínez.

"Two years ago, we started this Uruguayan booth at GDC, where we have a delegation of 10 studios who go with their projects and pitches to get publishing. That's something that we never thought we could accomplish. But we did it thanks to the help of Uruguay XXI and we are very proud of that," he explains.

Martínez expounds further, "We are so small, it's expensive for a publisher to come here and meet 10 or 20 game developers when they can go to Argentina and meet 50 or more game developers.

"There's a game developers expo called EVA in Argentina during September. There will be a lot of publishers at that event. When we want to bring publishers to us, it's more difficult. They'd prefer to travel to Argentina because they have more potentially more developers."

We created [this program] where ten studios have a month of workshops with experts to prepare their pitch and presentations

It's not just attending events and attracting publishers that Uruguayan developers have problems with. Martínez has also been instrumental in offering guidance and mentorship in a number of other areas.

"We created [this program] where ten studios have a month of workshops with experts to prepare their pitch and presentations," Martínez explains.

"We then contact publishers globally via zoom, and all the studios pitch their games worldwide. Without the problem of game publishers not coming over here. We've done this for three years and will continue this year."

His work to support Uruguayan game developers involves wearing multiple hats while juggling his own game projects. Martínez explains that it's a full-time, year-round job and understandably requires a lot of work.

He notes, "I usually work from nine to six, but sometimes I have meetings in the middle [of the day] with the ministry, government, or Uruguayan Game Developers Association. Sometimes I have to work at night because I've had a difficult day at my studio. I think it's a lot of time, especially when we're close to the end of the year."

However, these efforts have been fruitful and yielded results for developers, both new and old. As a result, grants and funding have become available for game creators in Uruguay to assist their careers.

Martínez notes, "We have two grants. One is $30,000, and it's given to two companies to make a vertical slice of their game project, provided by Uruguay's Ministry of Industry."

We work hard to keep these grants alive every year for the game industry

"The other is for $6,500, and it's given to four people just starting. So they don't need a company to apply for the grant."

He continues: "We work hard to keep these grants alive every year for the game industry. We keep trying to improve this amount. We know that $6,500 is nothing to make a game, it's a very small amount of help.

"Every meeting with the government takes time. We also usually have one of the board members of the Uruguayan Game Developers Association to make an assessment, so they have to play all the games, which takes a lot of time."

Thanks to the Latin America Video Games Federation, they also award ten scholarships to attend GDC annually.

Regarding the demographics of Uruguayan game developers that he helps, Martínez explains that they range from students to long-time game makers.

"There are people of all ages," he says. "For the Uruguayan Game Awards, we have a category for students. If someone is making a game, they can apply for the award and get a prize of $1,000 to keep working on the project.

"I started in game development in my 30s, so there's no [specific] age to start. However, I know people that are older [who are also] just starting. We have a few careers here that teach game development, and that's a good way to get into the [industry]."

We aren't focused on that language barrier. We always help those who can't communicate with intermediating

Martínez also highlights another hurdle developers in Uruguay face: language. He admits that speaking English would help with courting publishers but notes there are people who assist studios and game creators with communication.

He expounds, "We aren't focused on that language barrier. We always help those who can't communicate with intermediating. For example, if there's an event here in Uruguay, if the speaker talks in English, we translate, we use translators, and so forth.

"We usually encourage people to learn English. Even if you know English, I speak English, but when I start to talk, I get nervous, and I may have trouble remembering some words. It's difficult to translate your ideas into another language. I can sell my games way better in Spanish than English."

Looking ahead, Martínez says he aims to increase support and visibility for game developers in Uruguay.

"I would like more travel opportunities for delegations to go to events like Gamescom. We just started working on figuring out how to do that. [However] we don't have resources for that yet," he says.

"So, more initiatives would be great. But we should work harder to help developers who want to finish their projects this year."

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Jeffrey Rousseau avatar

Jeffrey Rousseau

Staff Writer

Jeffrey Rousseau joined GamesIndustry.biz in March 2021. Based in Florida, his work focused on the intersectionality of games and media. He enjoys reading, podcasts, staying informed, and learning how people are tackling issues.