Video Games in Cuba: Development

Rebuild a controller? Sure why not! Build a game? Why, there’s so many to chose from!

In December 2014, Barack Obama and Raul Castro gave simultaneous speeches to their countries announcing that the United States of America and Cuba would, after decades, finally be normalizing relations. We jumped at the chance to see how video games exist, if at all, in the island nation that’s been, at least legally, so cut off from American cultural influence. We bring you LoreSabueso.

There’s absolutely no doubt about the core aspect of my childhood that led me into the world of software development, information systems and project management. It was the  subject of this here very community, video games. Growing up in an age of pre-Steam world of .INI edits (aka modding), massive retail boxes and computers that cost a small fortune meant that PC gamers had to either know a fair amount about hardware and software or have a friendship they could abuse. My older brother had little interest in learning and friends tended to stick with consoles. The activity fell to me. It put me into the tech industry right in adulthood eventually leading to actually contributing to successful video games. Sweet, right?

In Cuba, this didn’t remotely happen.

I was incorrect about nearly every expectation I had for Video Games in Cuba. From games that they’d play to how they’d manage to play to how they’d get the entertainment, I struck out as easily as I would against the Cuban National Baseball team. Despite their general ingenuity Cubans had seemingly no interest in pursuing a career in video games. This struck me as incredibly odd based upon everything I had learned from the group and their extended members. Tinkering, innovating, tweaking, making things better with what they had was in their DNA. Why not focus your efforts on something that already entertains you so much? Why not tinker with mods? Why not, when you’re such a well-educated nation, simply start from scratch and make your own?

The more this topic stewed the more obvious the reasons. Frankly, they can’t. There’s no infrastructure to support such an endeavor. The very idea is essentially anathema to the government. Let’s not forget that video games are illegal in Cuba! This obviously hasn’t stopped rampant consumption. Following that thread the community doesn’t even realize they could make their own entertainment. The couriers focus on what’ll make themselves money, game engines, like CryEngine, idTech or Unity, that a fraction of their customers would be interested in.  Lastly, they may not simply want to develop games. Video games, even today’s indies, take tons of manpower, are incredibly stressful and complex undertakings. Why spend all that time and effort to earn the same meager portions as everyone else? It is a foreign concept to the communist community.

Here’s to hoping the artistic side of Cuba, one that flourishes in other avenues, drives a burgeoning culture for the culture has so many interesting stories to tell.