The bulk of the video game industry is based in the United States, but for Xavier Carrillo-Costa and his Digital Legends Entertainment company, Spain is a great place to play.
Its Medieval warrior fighting game Kroll was a big hit for Apple's iPhone and the iPod Touch, and is on tap to generate more than $1 million in revenue this year. Carrillo-Costa has deals with Finland-based Nokia for a new mobile dance game and South Korea-based Samsung for a high-definition version of Kroll, both scheduled for later this year. And it's working on a new game it hopes to have ready for the iPhone by the end of the year.
"Being in Barcelona, I have to travel to meetings more often," says Carrillo-Costa, 36, founder and CEO of Digital Legends. "The closer you are to your publishers, who tend to be in the United States, the easier it is. When we have a meeting, we have to take a plane and cross the ocean. But that's OK. Because we are in Europe, from a creative perspective, we bring something different."
The mobile industry has long been more advanced in Europe and Asia, taking advantage of faster, more powerful networks. Carrillo-Costa says U.S. publishers know this, and look to small firms such as Digital Legends for advanced graphics and technology.
Reviews for Kroll — which won the People's Choice nod from the International Mobile Gaming Awards — raved about the look of the game. Gaming site IGN.com called it a "visual stunner," while blog PocketGamer said it "established a new visual standard."
Carrillo-Costa last week slashed Kroll's price to 99 cents, from $7.99. "We want everyone to play it," he says.
Bucking the downturn
The global downturn is said to have hurt Spain worse than anywhere in Europe, with 20% unemployment, but Carrillo-Costa says it hasn't affected his company dramatically.
He currently has two employee teams in different offices on the fifth floor in a building in Barcelona's Eixample district, but intends to move to a larger facility. "We work in an industry that is growing, and there's a huge demand for what we do," he says.
Still, video game publishers are "traveling less, so we have to travel more," Carrillo-Costa says. "And their decisions take longer."
Along with much of the gaming industry, Carrillo-Costa will be visiting the U.S. next week, for the big E3 gaming conference in Los Angeles. It was nearly a year ago, on another overseas trip, that Carrillo-Costa introduced Digital Legends at Apple's developers' conference in San Francisco, to offer a sneak peek at an early version of Kroll.
Apple executives in Europe had seen his team's work. They asked him, late on a Friday afternoon, if he would be available to chat with Apple executives in California later that evening on the phone — 3:30 a.m. Barcelona time.
"Of course I said yes," he recalls. "Apple could have called someone else, and we wouldn't have had the opportunity."
Apple asked if he could be on a plane the following afternoon, to go to headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., for a week — with no guarantee that he would be able to present his game at the conference.
He and programmer Unai Landa Bonilla boarded the flight, and Apple liked what it saw. Carrillo-Costa released the game in September, and it made back its investment in three weeks, he says. Appearing on stage with Apple brought "huge visibility," he says, and several big meetings with U.S. companies.