Eva Gaspar, CEO of Abylight, was invited to an episode of the Debug View Podcast, to chat with Arturo Cepeda and Litos Torija about the industry and the past, present and future of Abylight.
Debug View is a podcast in Spanish where professionals talk about the video game industry. Eva was the guest on this occasion and was able to share some wisdom and anecdotes from Abylight’s long career.
A studio that reinvents itself
Abylight was born at the beginning of the 21st century and in the world of video games many things have changed since then: Mobile platforms, digital distribution, indie phenomenon…
You don’t reach almost 20 years of existence in an industry as complicated as the video game industry, in Spain, without being able to reinvent yourself and adapt to the changes. In Abylight we have done it on several occasions, most recently with our latest rebranding. We have differentiated and given prominence to our different “heads”: Development (Abylight Barcelona), Publishing (Abylight Studios) and retail (Abylight Shop).
Abylight Barcelona is currently developing One Military Camp, a strategy and management game for PC, to be published by Abylight Studios. This is an IP of our own, in contrast to Prison Tycoon: Under New Management, which is a new installment in an existing franchise for another publisher, Ziggurat Interactive.
If you’re not willing to adapt, to change, to learn to reinvent yourself… if you’re not aware of that, I think you’re in a bad place in this industry.Eva Gaspar
Almost two decades of history
Although officially, on paper, Abylight was founded in 2004, the truth is that our activity began in 2003 and is already on its way to its twentieth anniversary. Actually, our origins go back to Bit Managers, a studio located in Santa Coloma de Gramanet, where the founding team of Abylight spent a good part of the 90’s making a lot of games for Nintendo, specifically for Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance…
Abylight was born from the ashes of Bit Managers, and started making games for cell phones, which at that time were very different from today’s smartphones. In 2007-2008 the studio received a commission to make a game called Elite Forces: Unit 77, for Nintendo DS. For the team, it was like a return to their roots, to making games for a Nintendo console.
For Nintendo you had to make engines and it was very complicated and very expensive.
That’s why I’m very happy with the direction we have now in Abylight Barcelona and Abylight Studios, developing for a platform like the PC, which is an open platform.
And I am also realizing that it is also perceived completely different by the developers, by the consumer. Even though developing for small machines is extremely complex and requires very, very specific skills, it’s not as valued as making games for PC.Eva Gaspar
From 2015, the studio focused its activity on publishing and was able to sign with Locomalito and Heart Machine.
You have to reinvent yourself. We started as developers, which is what I always say in our publishing side, that we are publishers but with the heart of developers… In fact, we are still developers.
That gives you a different point of view and a different perspective of the projects and the industry. Different than the distributor or someone who just comes from publishing or an investment fund….
We are not here to just cash out on a big hit. We want to leave our mark. At the core of our approach there’s always the people.Eva Gaspar
The team, at the center of everything
The eternal question… Are video games art? Eva’s answer is clear: yes. They are art, although they also have an industrial component, but above all they are the result of a collective effort, of a team working together in the same direction to realize a vision.
A video game is not an individual work. It is a work of art. And here everyone can have more or less considerations of what the video game is, but it is a work that is made by a group of people.
It is not an individual work, although there may be a leader, a structure, but there is a group of people who contribute to make that video game.
There are even videogames or videogame creators who present themselves as “solo developers”, and then, when you really analyze or when they tell you how they have done it, they have had contributions from other people.
The “solo developer” is a nice myth, a nice label that, depending on who, helps them sell their story and through selling their story, they sell their games. But really, my vision, or how we develop videogames, is through a collaboration of a group of people.
That’s why it’s important that the team shares the vision, that the team is cohesive, that they understand each other, that they work together, that they feel they are part of a team and share a vision. For me that is fundamental. For me it is the main thing to create good projects, to create good videogames. To pull all of us in the same direction.Eva Gaspar
Of course, it is also necessary that the team has a structure and leaders with a global vision of the project, so that the work goes ahead and we don’t get into eternal discussions about the next steps to follow.
On this subject, Eva has an anecdote related to the development of Prison Tycoon: Under New Management:
The Creative Director said: we are going to make a system whereby the player can speak to the microphone and then the voice is played over the prison’s PA system.
The rest of the team members didn’t like the idea. In the end it was executed, obviously, because that’s why he’s the Creative Director and he was leading the project. And when the game was released, everybody, all the reviews, mentioned how cool the PA system was. And if it had been a collective vote, it would never have been done.
So what’s the deal? The Creative Director had a much broader vision, because in the end he’s the one who eats breakfast, eats dinner, sleeps, wakes up, breathing the project he’s running.Eva Gaspar
What should be taken into account when setting up a studio?
It is something more and more common, especially now that the specific college degrees for video games have more presence. A group of students finish university and decide to set up their own studio. They have knowledge of programming, art, design… but do they really know how to run a company and everything that goes with it? Accounting, invoicing, human resources…
The moment you sign those documents, you are an entrepreneur, you are going to have to know about business. Therefore, if you don’t know, you are going to have to learn a lot before, during or after… And if you don’t feel you are capable because you are not good at it, you will have to look for someone who does.Eva Gaspar
Being trained in Digital Marketing is one thing that Eva feels is extremely important nowadays. After all, if you are a professional who wants to make a living from your video games, you will have to sell them.
I would totally recommend having a good knowledge of digital marketing. I mean, how do you present yourself? How do you communicate? Where? Why? What is the goal? What do I want to have?
This may sound silly, but whoever you are, whatever you do, you’re going to need it, because we’re in the information society and in the information society, information is what you share, what you store or what you search for or what you generate.
If you don’t know how to do that, you are practically out of society.
In videogames, besides making the videogame, you need to sell it, if you want to make a living from it. If you do it as a hobby, you don’t need to sell it and then it doesn’t matter if you are better or worse at it.Eva Gaspar
Another important point for Eva is to get experience first by working for others, before taking the leap to found your own business venture.
Your dream project
Your dream game is something that always has to be a few steps ahead.Eva Gaspar
What’s left if you’ve already fulfilled your dream? The dream game is an ideal to always aspire to. After all, the work is never finished in any creative process. We could go on iterating ad infinitum (that’s why it’s so important to have a producer!).
So at Abylight we have it clear. The best is yet to come. And right now our dream game is One Military Camp. We can’t wait for you to get your hands on a playable version. In the meantime, don’t forget to add it to your wishlist on Steam 🙂