After 18 months of assiduous effort, Playtropic Videogame Services (Barbados) Ltd launched in Barbados on August 26, 2022. I met with Joel Benton, the visionary behind Playtropic, the first international videogame business in the Caribbean in December 2022. Our chat left me inspired by his passion as a commercial and social entrepreneur, and his deep appreciation for Barbados and our people.
We began with the challenges and highlights of establishing Playtropic, which is an extension of Joel’s other videogame development businesses in the UK and Europe. Reluctantly, he conceded that investors seasoned in the entrepreneurial environments of the UK and North America would notice facilitation gaps in Barbados, citing the opening of local bank accounts as one of the most arduous tasks. Happily, however, Joel recounted that his rich collaboration with BIDC resulted in securing superb premises; and recognized the pivotal roles played by responsive, solution-driven tax, legal and corporate service providers.
Joel also gave his local recruitment experience rave reviews. The quality of well-educated applicants, keen to convert their love of video games into career opportunities, impressed him. This aligned perfectly with his vision for young Barbadians, because some of the global gaming industry’s most successful developers got their “start” testing videogames.
To that point, Joel is convinced that Barbados could become a centre for the creation of games. He is in discussions with the Barbados government and the University of the West Indies about building the requisite skills on island through a Playtropic Videogame Skills Academy, including coding, graphic art, game design and production. He is also germinating a concept for a new game which, backed by appropriate investment, could serve as a fertile training ground for local talent.
I asked Joel about his motivation to work with Barbadians. Is diversity relevant? In response he explained his central philosophy:
“My happy place is joining the dots that other people don’t see.” Expanding on this he explained that although the video game industry is a global phenomenon, it lacks diverse creative input. He believes that life would be richer if we told more stories, and that our Caribbean people don’t yet have a voice in gaming narratives. Joel wants to incubate talent in Barbados, initially through game testing, but ultimately, through game development. He sees his role like this:
“When we test games we provide picks and shovels for the prospectors - but ultimately it is those creators of successful games that mine the deep veins of gold. My superpower is connecting creators to investors… I’d like to connect the educated youth in Barbados who are passionate about gaming industry careers with developed country investors.”
Joel contemplates enormous potential being unlocked in the region, as we participate in a video game sector which has a current market size of US$200 billion, with revenues projected to exceed US$583 billion by 2030.
This sounds fantastic, but are there threats or obstacles to overcome before this industry can flourish and grow exponentially in Barbados? The answer was unequivocal. Yes. In a digital world, fairly-priced bandwidth is everything. Playtropic needs to download multiple unoptimised game builds, of hundreds of gigs each, to be able to test them for clients. Not having adequate bandwidth for these purposes presents extreme difficulties. Apparently, given the dependence upon local internet service providers, this remains a work in progress.
Discussion turned to nomadic entrepreneurs; and wisdoms that emerged from pandemic life. Never before have we put such a high value on having a base from which it is profoundly enjoyable to live, but also efficient to work. I asked Joel to compare Barbados’ attractions as a hub for global businesses with traditional urban centres in the West. Joel chose the UK and Canada as examples, noting they both have established video game sectors and that commuting between each of them and Barbados is easy. He described Barbados as uniquely beautiful, sunny and safe, with decent everyday infrastructure, excellent human capital, competent professional advisors and hospitable people. He distilled his analysis to its essence when he said emphatically, “Barbados is the ideal hub for any business.”
I asked Joel about Playtropic’s goals. He replied with the force of absolute conviction: “to be the best video game testing company in the world, the best employer in Barbados, and to make a tangible and sustainable impact on the socio-economic development of Barbados”.
I’m not a gamer, but as a child I dabbled with Donkey Kong. Borrowing from gaming parlance of that time, I have to say … with Playtropic in our mix, Barbados just levelled up.
* This article may be published by Miller Publishing Company in the 2023 edition of Business Barbados but may not otherwise be reproduced without the author’s consent.