Supercell in the sun? Inside Bandai Namco’s Barcelona studio

 

Small, well-funded game teams with a big sense of ownership and autonomy aren’t only found in Helsinki these days.

Bandai Namco, buoyed by the success of its Dragon Ball and One Piece games, is trying something a little different at its (relatively) new operation in Barcelona.

It has been referred to as ‘Supercell in the sun’ by some: its games team of 17 is split into four small groups working on different prototypes, ones they hope will become the next major mobile game IP. The team don’t have any hard deadlines, people to manage, presentations to make or management meetings to worry about. And they work a four day week.

“The structure is flat,” says BNM game lead Max Bevilacqua. “It works because we we try to bring in people with seniority. We’re trying to build a game that is innovative, and we believe those ideas can come from anywhere in the team. We also want people to be excited, to have a passion and to feel that they truly have this ownership to work on whatever they want.”

Bevilacqua, like his colleagues, has a huge amount of experience. He has run several startups, worked across multiplayer, browser and social games, helped make Tiny Thief for Rovio Stars and most recently was studio boss at GameHouse.

BNM’s office is right on the coast, next to Barcelona’s Port Olímpic.

The BNM Barcelona project began around two years ago when former King tech director Andre Parodi moved over to became the studio’s first developer. Since then, several others have made the switch from King’s Bubble Witch team, and so have folks from SocialPoint, Gameloft, Playtika, Outfit7, Kabam, Voodoo and more.

And the whole Supercell-in-the-sun thing became harder to ignore once Brawl Stars’ art lead Paul Chambers made the jump from Helsinki to Barcelona. But Bevilacqua is keen to stress that while Supercell was an inspiration at first, now the talent on the team is defining its own way forward.

“Due to the seniority we have on the team we can really trust people to be responsible with their time,” says Bevilacqua. “All of their time is dedicated to building the game – there’s no time dedicated to presentations to stakeholders, for example, or, you know, you don’t need to spend time convincing somebody at the very top.”

The studio intends to solve a problem many senior developers have midway through their careers, says Bevilacqua. “As they progress, they become more of a manager or a stakeholder or they are in the middle of the team making the games,” he tells us.

“But they are not really in the trenches making the games, and a lot of people miss that. They want this feeling of shaping and moulding and really spending time talking about what’s exciting, which is building a game.”

Bandai Namco has plenty of IP to play with, but what comes out of BNM will be entirely new.

So what are they actually making? Well, it’ll be a new IP for sure, likely in the midcore space with some PvP or social multiplayer elements, because those are the games the team love to play and are gravitating toward.

But most of all, Bevilacqua and his team want to make something genuinely new. 

“I think usually companies are quite risk averse,” he tells us. “We believe that the market is extremely saturated right now. So we think that doing more of the same is not the reason why people join this studio.”

“Innovation requires time and fortunately here we do have that time,” adds Bevilacqua. “We want people to feel safe and not pressured to get started because that’s when people go for the safer bets. That’s the challenge of it.”