Barbados has welcomed its first video gaming services firm (But is this a good thing?)

I must admit that when I saw this headline and video earlier today, I was quite excited. But after a full read and further investigation, my exuberance was replaced by the usual disappointment in our leaders.

Playtropic’s stated objective on their website is “to be the world’s best video game testing service provider.” I am wondering how they expect to do so in a country with a highly immature innovation ecosystem. Latin America and the Caribbean has larger and more developed markets such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, and Puerto Rico, among others. These jurisdictions are established innovation centres, and particularly with regards to gaming. They have substantial pools of local developers, quality assurance (QA) experts, designers, producers, and other key roles. Furthermore, governments are decidedly pro-export, foreign direct investment (FDI) and local venture capital investment are high, and several local game studios have emerged. Chile alone has more than ten (10) independent game studios. Let’s not even mention the emerging and vibrant gaming ecosystems in Africa and Eastern Europe.

Quality Assurance (QA), which is essentially what Playtronic intends to focus on, is a critical aspect of game development. However, game testers are at the lower rung of the QA profession. Many companies hire temporary game testers, or even part-time testers paid by the hour (generally around $14-$17 per hour). Most starting game testers are contract workers rather than salaried employees with low pay and little to no benefits. Game testing can be a way to gain experience in the industry before moving on to a more rewarding career. However, without investment in extensive training and opportunities to become qualified QA Leads or QA Managers, game testing generally provides no marketable/exportable skills and limited upward mobility in a true video game studio. In essence, it’s not a viable element in the creation of a gaming industry or by extension a digital economy.

Developing a gaming industry requires more than a handful of game testers and QA professionals. It requires a multi-dimensional approach, including policy changes, broader awareness, education reform, upskilling and reskilling, venture capitalist and angel investor funding, creation of physical gaming hubs, partnerships with gaming platforms, and infrastructure updates to attract international gaming companies and allow newly created talents to market their skills locally and internationally. The Government of Barbados does not have a plan for developing a gaming industry, and furthermore there is no broader plan to create and innovation and knowledge economy. Hence, my fear is that Playtronic’s introduction into the marketplace will yield no substantial results nor will it truly benefit young IT professionals in the country.

Successive government leaders in my country of birth have only seen it fit to provide our people with low-skilled, low-paying jobs. If it’s not data entry, then it is medical transcription services or the North American farm labour program or the hospitality seasonal workers program. Then there are the numerous debushing jobs or the gifts of weed whackers and lawnmowers to the ‘boys on the block.’ In recent times, there have been a number of Blockchain/crypto busts and the infamous Hyuna International subscription scam, just to name a few. Now it’s low-level play testing with a hollow promise to “make Barbados the centre of excellence for video gaming in the Caribbean and… further the Americas.”

My countrymen/countrywomen deserve much better that empty political rhetoric!

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