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video games

Game On: Are we ready to join the gaming wave?

Last March, almost every mainstream media in the country covered and talked about the hottest Filipino-developed RPG that’s currently in the works: Balete City: The Video Game

The premise is simple. The 27-year-old creator, Niley Bacolcol, wants to create a 100-percent Pinoy-made open-world RPG that screams Filipino—from concept to graphics, music, and development. So far, we only got a glimpse of the game’s concept, graphics, and gameplay, but we couldn’t help but get excited. This is what gaming is. This is what we are capable of. Niley can actually do it!

But, of course, as we know, talent isn’t everything. At the end of the day, if you want to accomplish something this big and this grand, you have to have the thing that matters the most. The passion? Nope. The money. 

Balete City is currently being developed as an indie game funded through Patreon. As of this writing, Niley has 31 patrons earning him $257 per month, which goes to paying the artists, programmers, and marketers. Is it enough? Well, if you’ve seen some of the footage of Balete City—you have kapres, aswangs, and you can buy suka from a street vendor—you’d agree that it’s beautiful and complex enough to join the ranks of many AAA games. And that costs millions.

 

But then again, isn’t the problem with many Filipino products the budget? We have decent films here and there, but most of them indie, handicapped by their production limit. We have plays and musicals that are ready to fly, but could not be brought to bigger theaters because of lack of marketing funds. 

Do we lack the talent to produce Hollywood-level films or video games that are big enough to be ported on the PlayStation and Xbox? Of course not! Ubisoft, for one, has established headquarters in the country, with hundreds of programmers and artists working on their upcoming title, Skull & Bones. The problem is, even in the video game industry, outsourcing has become the standard—Filipino talent but international budget and audience. While this brings in employment, we are stuck at this level where we will forever be slaves to foreign companies who have the money and the guts to greenlight major projects.

Balete City is certainly not the first Filipino developed game. We’ve seen Anito: Defend a Land Enraged back in 2003. We have casual games like Streetfood Tycoon, which was so successful it was downloaded four million times. And then we have internationally acknowledged games like Pretentious Game, which was awarded the Director’s Choice Award at the Casual Connect San Francisco 2013. 

Ubisoft is not the only developer in the country; there are companies under the Game Developers Association of the Philippines. So we have what it takes, and we have the market for it. We just need to start believing we can do it. And we have to start the ball rolling.

As a gamer, I would really love to see Filipino culture and Filipino talent on the spotlight. The video game won’t go anywhere as an indie title being developed on donations. At best, it can be completed X years after its prime, when the interest has waned and its specifications left behind by time. Someone needs to fund Balete fast, and hopefully jumpstart a new age of video game development in the country.

This column was originally published in Speed Magazine’s May 2019 issue. Words Jovi Figueroa. 

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