For a start-up that has a hit video game for the iPhone, the new loft-style offices of Ironhide Game Studio are exactly what one would expect — a newly hired staff labors feverishly on software updates not far from a pinball machine and custom-built monster arcade cabinet intended for letting off steam.
But the company, a success in the fiercely competitive field of video game development, stands out from other high-tech ventures in one respect: its unconventional location, which frequently confuses people abroad. “They politely ask, ‘Where is Uruguay?’ ” said Álvaro Azofra, one of the three founders of Ironhide, the company behind Kingdom Rush, a lucratively popular game in the United States that involves a cartoonish kingdom under attack by marauding yetis and ogres.
Squeezed between Brazil and Argentina and long dependent on commodities exports, Uruguay may be better known for its flocks of sheep and herds of cattle. But attention is now shifting to the country’s growing constellation of start-ups that are engineering video games for computers and hand-held devices.
Developers point to a variety of reasons that Uruguay has been able to compete with South America’s larger economies, whether the creativity of its engineers and commercial artists or its relatively relaxed immigration rules and extensive use of computers in schools.
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Gaming studios have also emerged in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s two largest cities, but developers there complain of byzantine tax regulations and labor rules that make hiring employees costlier than in some rich industrialized countries. In Argentina, dozens of game-developing start-ups have been founded in Buenos Aires.
But while Argentina has traditionally had more companies in the industry, some of the momentum is seen shifting across the border to Uruguay as Argentine ventures struggle with abrupt changes in economic policy, including the tightening of currency controls that have complicated operations for exporters.