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Brazilian TRPG designer calls attention to the relative invisibility of games from the Global South

“Here we are, writing games in a second language, swimming against the tide, in the hopes of reaching a larger audience and making ends meet.”

Brazilian tabletop RPG designer Cezar Capacle works within a system that he believes weighs creators on a faulty scale and is one of several individuals hoping to wrench some eyeballs towards analogue game makers from the Global South.

In a September 26th Twitter thread, Capacle (Lisergia, Starlight Riders, The Outcast) attempted to explain several of the hurdles independent designers in regions such as South and Central America, East Asia and Africa must vault in order to begin at the same place as their contemporaries in the US or Europe.

One of the largest of these is a lack of access to crowdfunding platform Kickstarter, whose 25 countries of availability hits the world’s largest economic powers plus a predictable stretch of western Europe. Board games and TRPGs overwhelmingly rely on Kickstarter to fund projects and connect with an audience beyond their local sphere.

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Alternatives such as Gamefound and itchfunding - where a single game hosts an extended “sale” to support development - have begun to chip away at the monolith, but the industry is a far cry from being spoiled for choice. “If you're born in the ‘wrong country’, the platform simply does not allow you to have a creator's account. So we have to make do with workarounds, such as itchfunding, or having a third-party publish our games,” Capacle wrote.

The anthology project Our Shores saw three different Southeast Asian designers band together with American publisher Sandy Pug Games earlier this year to circumvent Kickstarter’s regional restrictions. While technically above board according to the company, the work and trust involved remains outside the realm of possibility for most individuals.

Assuming a designer can successfully finance their game, the reality of producing and shipping physical products - current global freight crisis notwithstanding - can easily devour a potential budget. Western audiences have become familiar with Kickstarter campaigns whose stretch goals are replete with add-on bonuses, merchandise and deluxe editions. Designers in the global South often rely on print-on-demand services - think DriveThru’s network of sites - with no control over quality, cost or dates.

Why target Western audiences? In short, US and European players comprise the largest paying section of players by a long shot. According to market research provider Euromonitor International, the reported $11.3bn value of games and puzzles in 2020 can track nearly a third of that to the US and UK, alone. Capacle illustrated this point using his game-on-a-mug, which he said sold 40 times more in the US than his home country of Brazil.

“Our local markets are more often than not not enough to support us. For me, this is not a side gig, a fun project I do in my spare hours. This is the difference between paying or not my rent,” he said.

Like most systemic problems, clear solutions are both complicated and largely beyond the control of single designers. Game platform remains the largest stage for indie creators, but it suffers from poor discoverability and a somewhat confusing search system. Designer Viditya Voleti has been urging others to tag their games with “poc-made” to increase visibility and offer an easy method of diversifying one’s collection.

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Capacle ended his thread with a collection of non-Western tabletop games available on switch, titling it Tabletop Games by Global South Designers. It includes a bevy of recent and past titles, such as Jamila Nedjadi’s Balikbayan, sourcebooks from Zedeck Siew’s A Thousand, Thousand Islands and Emanoel Melo’s CBR+PNK, a pamphlet of cyberpunk one-shot sessions.

Kickstarter claims it is “working hard” to expand its availability, a process that involves navigating international commerce and fraught politics. In the meantime, smaller designers will have to continue shouldering the burden of marketing to an audience that can’t - or won’t - see them.

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