"Sometimes people play Brazilian video games, but they don't know it."
These are the words of João Eduardo, head of public diplomacy and press for the Brazilian Embassy in Tokyo, who admits that even he didn't realise when playing Knights of Pen and Paper that developer Behold Studios was based in his home nation.
He offers other examples: Aquiris Game Studio's Horizon Chase, Pocket Trap's Dodgeball Academia, Arvore's Pixel Ripped series - all games that have found a global audience, although awareness of their country of origin remains low. In fact, the Brazilian games industry has historically been somewhat underrepresented, something Eduardo and his colleagues aimed to change with last month's inaugural Brazilian Games Week.
The online-only event was organised by folks from three organisations: Brazil Games, an export program operated by local developer association Abragames, Apex-Brasil, the Brazilian trade and investment promotion agency that has a particular interest in esports, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, drawing on support from various embassies and consulates around the world.
"We have some great talent in all parts of game development: good illustrators, good coders, good modellers, all making games for other companies"
Both Abragames and Apex-Brasil have already been working for years at putting local games companies on the map, travelling to major trade shows such as Gamescom to raise awareness of the talent the nation has to offer. And while this has been relatively successful, Eduardo notes that it soon became clear their reach was limited to each event's attendees.
Brazil has hosted games events before, such as the long-running Brazil Games Show and the Brazilian Independent Games Festival, but with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing these to close for the time being, it was decided that a new showcase was needed.
"We obviously took the opportunity that the pandemic gave us," says Eduardo. "That was a good opportunity for us to develop something in the digital world. We tried coordinating with the other posts, with other embassies, other consulates, that also saw the potential of telling a little bit more about the Brazilian games industry to their local communities where they were stationed."
The week was packed with presentations and panels on different aspects of the industry, from an overview of the local market to featured Brazilian-developed games and spotlights on esports, virtual reality and 'serious games.'
The bulk of the activity was aimed at consumers, attempting to shine a light on the Brazilian market and its developers, as well as local esports teams, but there was also a trade element as the organisers attempted to highlight the potential hits being made in Brazil. This was in part because, as successful as some Brazilian games have become, studios still face certain barriers when it comes to entering more established markets.
"One of the things that we noticed is that sometimes it's not easy to find a space, to find markets abroad for your games. In the case of Japan, for instance, or China, Russia, it's difficult to sell games because you need to adapt them to the local language and culture," says Eduardo. "You have to translate them, so you need a good publisher who will be willing to go, 'You know what? This is a good product. I should invest in this, translate it, and do everything [I can] in marketing it in my local marketplace'."
A digital event was naturally the only way to go given the ongoing global pandemic. The impact of COVID-19 has been particularly interesting in Brazil because, while large-scale events have been postponed or cancelled, the country has not implemented strict lockdown measures in the way that so many other territories have. Nonetheless, the Brazilian games industry has adapted in much the same way as other developers around the world have.
"There was this huge debate -- that's still going on, actually -- regarding whether to go into a lockdown or restrict people, or just keep going with business as usual," says Eduardo. "But what happened in Brazil actually wasn't in any way like normal life. There were some times that people [felt] comfortable going to the streets... but in general, I think that everyone knew that something was wrong so people and companies tried to adapt in any way they could.
"There are a lot of people in Brazil nowadays who are playing the most played games in the world"
"As you know, there are a lot of people in Brazil that are poor. They need to go [to work] every day to try to sustain themselves. But for these companies, especially the companies that are working in digital environments already, I think it was easier to adapt a little bit. In general, they tried to use telework, and tried to keep things as normal as they could, but still taking care of business."
The spread of COVID between colleagues was manageable by the fact Brazil has very few large companies. Most are small to mid-sized, Eduardo tells us, and while there are close to 100 or so studios, only 30 to 40 are constantly producing new games. The rest are often indies that have produced one or two titles each.
There's also a number of external development and outsourcing companies in Brazil, with Eduardo adding: "We have some great talent in all parts of game development. So, we have good illustrators, we have good coders, we have good modellers, and all these people are now making games for other companies."
Again, the pandemic had an impact here. During 2020, the value of the Brazilian Real plummeted compared to the US dollar, which made these external development companies more affordable to larger firms from overseas.
"There were a lot of companies trying to find Brazilian talent, because now these guys that used to cost $1,000 were now costing half the price," Eduardo explains. "They would do the same work for less dollars. That made Brazilian prices more competitive and people were looking for more Brazilian talent."
The aim of Brazilian Games Week has also been to highlight that the South American nation is not too dissimilar to other markets when it comes to video games. His experience in Tokyo has shown Eduardo that there are several cultural connections between Brazil and Japan, with pop culture references that resonate just as well in both nations - Power Rangers-style superhero series, for example.
He estimated that close to 70% of Brazilians are gamers, although notes that most of this is on mobile. Consoles and dedicated PC hardware, as well as the games themselves can be particularly expensive in Brazil, so free-to-play dominates the market, but there is still a decent audience for more traditional hits - especially in the competitive multiplayer space.
"Because of the [popularity] of esports, there are a lot of people nowadays who are playing the most played games in the world," says Eduardo. "League of Legends has a lot of professional players in Brazil, as well as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Rainbow Six Siege.
"The companies know that, and they're coming to Brazil to try and better understand the Brazilian market, and trying to offer more stuff there. Garena has recently opened an office in Brazil because Free Fire was a huge success in Brazil."