BIG Festival Becomes BIG Digital: Brazil’s Independent Games Festival Goes Online

Gaming article by Alyssa Wejebe on Tuesday, May 12, 2020 - 10:00
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Topic(s): Coronavirus, Feature

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While Japan and the United States publish a wide selection of games, the Spanish-speaking world has been expanding their own reach within the industry. MiniBoss, a studio of Brazilian artists, created the art in the hit games Celeste and TowerFall. The critically acclaimed GRIS was the debut title of the Barcelona-based Nomada Studio. Stonebot Studio from El Salvador is hard at work on their next title The Last Friend, which is scheduled for a multiplatform release this year. Celeste, GRIS, and The Last Friend have all been recognized by what’s become (debatably) Latin America’s largest and most prominent video game industry event — Brazil’s Independent Games Festival, or BIG Festival.

BIG Festival
There is an official report about BIG Festival 2019.

Joining the Crowd

Like many other events this year, BIG Festival isn’t happening due to COVID-19. It’s currently scheduled to return in January, along with its awards show. But the event also follows another growing pattern with BIG Digital, an online festival it’s hosting in an effort to continue forward while helping keep people safe from the global pandemic. BIG Digital will take place on June 22-26 and is currently open for registration. According to Eliana Russi, Content Director for BIG Festival, going online like everyone else made perfect sense.

“Since digital festivals are becoming the new normal for events, the switch was just the natural thing to do to ensure that the game developers, buyers, and international investors were still able to participate in the important business connections made through BIG Festival,” Russi told TechRaptor over email. “We wanted to make sure that the digital edition of the festival delivered the fundamental pillars of BIG Festival — lectures from highly respected games industry professionals and face-to-face business meetings.”
 

BIG Festival 2019
BIG Festival 2019.

To do that, Russi explained that BIG Digital will offer two days of free webinars to people registered for the event. For a fee, they can also use the event’s matchmaking platform to arrange meetings between developers, publishers, buyers, and sellers. This digital matchmaking system actually existed before COVID-19.

“We are heavy users of remote working and all our events have strong digital features to support the highly international nature of the industry,” Russi explains.

Digitally Opening New Doors

The rise of online festivals can potentially be a silver lining in today’s world. Without the costs of travel, events once tied down to location can become more accessible to potentially anyone.

“It is indeed more accessible, and we are excited to give members of the industry who may not have had an opportunity to attend the physical event, a taste of BIG Festival through BIG Digital,” Russi says. However, she also advocated for “the valuable personal networking” of in-person events when they return.

“During a physical tradeshow, business is done on another level than formal one-on-one meetings,” Russi shares. “In our industry, the informal exchange of ideas is vital.”

Even when large in-person gatherings can return, they may be different. Chris Wright, an organizer for the digital event LudoNarraCon, wrote in an article for GamesIndustry.biz that returning physical events will “need to lean into what makes a physical event unique” and feature “a renewed focus on community and connection.”

BIG Festival

Spreading More Ideas

When asked if BIG Festival will feature any changes due to COVID-19 once it returns to a physical venue, Russi explains that travel will actually continue to be reduced. She hopes elements of BIG Digital can be used to help industry professionals who have trouble with travel.

“We will have more participants without traveling (usually we welcome around 120 international decision-makers to BIG Festival). By using BIG Digital as a platform to grow from, we will take elements of the digital festival and embed it as an addition to BIG Festival in January,” Russi says. “This will be great — we will open the festival more widely to the world, and people can attend without the limitation of commuting! More business can be done and more ideas can spread out!” 

Celeste BIG Festival
Celeste - Finalist for Best Gameplay at BIG Festival 2017.

A Game Festival Versus an Animated Film

Gustavo Steinberg, Director of BIG Festival and BIG Digital, looked back on the event’s growth.

“When we started BIG, we had around 20 Brazilian game studios in Brazil and the B2B meetings generated $1 million (USD),” Steinberg says in an email. “Now we have more than 400 studios in Brazil and BIG generated more than $65 million (USD) as a result of the B2B meetings that took place.”

GRIS BIG Festival
GRIS - Best Game at BIG Festival 2019.

At the same time Steinberg started BIG Festival in 2012, he also started making Tito and the Birds, an animated feature film that was later nominated for an Annie Award. When asked how directing an event compares to directing a film, Steinberg explains they had similar challenges: “how to put great professionals together and how to find the money to make great things happen.” But he found Tito and the Birds riskier than BIG Festival.

“BIG happens every year, so you can see it growing, evolving, bringing more people, more companies.... Whereas with the film, after eight years in the making, it could be successful or not,” Steinberg says. “In the end, it was quite successful, but it’s a lot of adrenaline when you release a film after such a long time.”

The Last Friend BIG Festival
The Last Friend - Finalist for Best Latin American Game at BIG Festival 2018.

Gaming in Brazil

BIG Festival clearly grew along with the gaming scene in Brazil. According to Russi, “Brazil is the fourth largest consumer market in the world,” and as a market for games, “Brazil is the largest and most important in Latin America, after Mexico.” She added that since 2014, the country’s game industry has almost doubled in size.

“As the 13th largest video game market in the world, our studios have contributed work to some of the biggest international brands, and produced global hit, award-winning games such as Celeste, Dandara, and Pixel Ripped 1989,” Russi says. “We have lots of talented people, great studios, a multicultural society that gives us the full spectrum of creativity, and very hard-working professionals.”

BIG Digital 2020

Are you interested in checking out BIG Digital? What do you think of more events going online? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.

About the Author

Alyssa Wejebe

Alyssa Wejebe

Staff Writer

Alyssa Wejebe writes about games, reads about games, and plays them too. RPG, hack-and-slash, and fighting games are some of her favorite genres. She loves nonhuman characters. One of her earliest gaming memories center around battling her grandmother and younger brothers in “Super Bomberman 2” on the SNES.