What is it like running a game development studio on Curaçao, a small island in the Southern Caribbean with a total population of 150,000 people?
When you think of game developers or software houses, your mind immediately leaps to a dark office in North America or some grey urban area of the UK. It’s hard to believe, then, that there are people seriously investing in game development on Curaçao, an island known for tropical beaches and blue liqueur. Who would want to spend hours and hours behind a computer screen, isolating themselves from that perpetual summer?
Okay, let me explain from the beginning. My name is Ivano and I am a programmer as well as the co-founder of SoloWeb N.V. Studios. After a successful decade developing and marketing software and websites from the Netherlands, we decided it was necessary to move on and dedicate ourselves to the growing market of indie games.
We couldn’t change our focus without changing our daily view, though. We were fed up with the cold and rain outside our windows, so we did what anybody sensible company would do. We decided to move the team to Curaçao, a tropical island in the ex-Netherlands Antilles/Southern Caribbean.
I would be lying if I told you that we picked Curaçao for the climate and not the rather convenient tax regime, but as soon as we started to work, we knew we had made the right choice for more than just financial reasons. Waking up every morning with the sun shining gives you a positive attitude towards both your work and your life. People are friendly and keen to help, and being the only game development studio in the area, everyone is curious about our jobs and our products.
About nine months ago, we started work on Aero’s Quest, a 2D puzzle-platformer and our biggest project yet. Although the game is set in a fantasy/sci-fi world full of cyborgs and evil robots, the fact that we are developing it from this warm Caribbean island has had a huge impact on both the game and our development process.
Every day, the positive vibes of the island are pushing us to do our best. If we need a break, we can quickly recharge our batteries by the office pool (every building here has a private pool), or take a walk, eat some local BBQ and listen to the local bands playing salsa. It is difficult to get stressed or angry here, so we never see people burnt out in any kind of business. Whenever I have difficulties with code or an issue with anything, night or day, I just take a walk on the beach and when I return to my desk, everything fits back into its place.
One night, I was talking to Travis (our lead artist from RavensEye Studio) and we both agreed that the volcano level was missing something. It was kind of empty, static, so I decided to step out to get some fresh air and noticed a group playing music around a fire. Before I was invited to be part of the party, I noticed embers rising up into the sky from the fire, creating a stunning natural show. All of a sudden it clicked: “Embers!” As a result, the volcano level now has realistic flames at the base of the screen and animated embers rising in the background, not to mention Caribbean-influenced music.
I probably have a story behind every single level, game, app or piece of software we’ve created here – how about the local street dancer who helped me solve cross-platform networking problems in the multiplayer mode of an old mobile game? It turns out he used to be an engineer who decided to give up his stable and wealthy life because it was too boring!
The positive impact of a place like Curaçao far outweighs any logistical issues we might encounter working from such a remote location. We have been working around the clock and will continue to do so, but when Aero’s Quest was greenlit on Steam, we threw one of the biggest parties the island has ever seen and half the community came out to support us. There truly is a sense of unity and pride here that helps us cope with all the difficulties of developing an indie game.
That is what we love about working, living and being part of Curaçao. We hope that once you play the final version of Aero’s Quest you too will feel a little bit of that heat, pride and culture of this small island that has embraced Central America’s first game development studio.