“I wish to inspire more female and unrepresented founders to join this tribe of challengers”: Interview with Roberta Lucca, co-founder of Bossa Studios games and BAFTA winner

Our interviewee for today is Roberta Lucca, a Rio-de-Janeiro-born, and now London-based, entrepreneur. She has been named in Forbes’ Top 50 Women in Tech, Top 30 Women in Games, and nominated by the Evening Standard as one of the Most Influential in Creative Arts. Not only that, she is also the co-founder and CMO of Bossa Studios, angel investor and keynote speaker on the future of games, entrepreneurship and leadership.

Bossa Studios is a London-based, VC-backed multimillion-dollar video games developer and publisher. It is known best for their category-defining games that are loved by millions of players, as well as the biggest influencers worldwide. Its first game, Monstermind, won the BAFTA award in the ‘Online–Browser’ category in February 2012.

Aside from being invited to speak at conferences and events, Roberta is very active on social media, and especially YouTube, where she gives advice to young entrepreneurs looking for practical lessons on leadership.

Thank you for joining us Roberta! Let’s dive into the basics first, how did you get started in the video games world?  

I started my career in technology and entertainment at the second-largest commercial TV network in the world (Rede Globo). What excited me most about the company was the immense possibilities to trigger people’s emotions – make them laugh, smile, connect with fictional worlds created by some of the best writers, directors, actors. But also, how interactive media can make you feel you belong to a tribe of like minded people who share the same experiences as you do.

After a stint in working in the mobile and luxury industries at Nokia’s luxury subsidiary, I wanted to join the industry that was creating entertainment for the future, future thinkers, future generations. I loved playing games as I was growing up but the games industry lost me for a few years, when games became a “gamers’ hobby”. In 2010 when I started Bossa Studios, games were opening up again to new audiences. It was the moment the likes of FarmVille and Minecraft started conquering people’s minds and hearts.

Bringing my innovation and marketing background to a games company, and joining two incredibly seasoned games makers, was all I needed to jump out of the corporations and venture into the unknown.

Have you seen an increase in the popularity of video games, during the last few months of the pandemic?  

Absolutely. Not only that, I’ve seen how much games are now evolving to become amazing social networks where people come for the game play and stay for the community, and connection. Look at Fortnite bringing a massive Travis Scott show to its players (watched by 12 million people!) or Roblox allowing more and more players to co-create experiences.

The same is happening at Bossa. In August, we’re launching Surgeon Simulator 2, the reinvention of our biggest IP, loved by millions of players and thousands of YouTubers/Streamers. 

In Surgeon 2, you can play and create together. It’s not only about laughing on your own or at your favourite YouTuber anymore, it’s about feeling fully connected with a community of creators making incredible things happen in real time.

What new innovations do you see for the future of gaming in the next 5-10 years, for example regarding transmedia storytelling e.g. video games choices in films?

Bandersnatch, the interactive series, which was part of Black Mirror, gave us a glimpse of how TV and Movies are looking at ways to make their medium more engaging and attractive to new generations. Gen Z are born gamers, they are used to having an active role when it comes to consuming entertainment. When playing a game, you decide what to do next, which bubble to pop, which monster to kill, which path to take to discover the world you’re in. That’s so different from passively consuming a movie. 

So when I look at the future of entertainment, we have to consider how our brains are evolving to desire experiences that make us feel truly connected with each other. Not isolated in a world, but bridging between online and offline in a seamless way. What we’ve been seeing with parties and events transitioning to online during the pandemic, this is only the beginning and a very clunky way to connect still. 

At the same time, in a world where our anxiety levels are increasing, I see games being created to trigger the oxytocin (our “love” hormone), as opposed to dopamine (our “drive” hormone), becoming more and more relevant.

What tips do you have for gaming startups on branding and online presence, especially post-COVID?

Consumers are overwhelmed with content so finding a way to capture their attention is the best piece of advice I can offer. Generally, attention spans are getting shorter so brands need to find a way to cut through the noise, create an emotional engagement and monetise an audience.

The good news (for Bossa at least) is that companies who lead with authenticity, with the ability to adapt and iterate content, can swing their sails to catch the winds of trends in the attention economy and really succeed!

When you were little, did you ever think that you’d be between the Top 50 Women in Tech and amongst the Most influential in Creative Arts? What does it mean to you aside from being an incredible career achievement? 

The word that my parents and cousins used to use to describe my behaviour as I was growing up is ‘challenger’. My motivation to start new companies, start a YouTube channel, a podcast or become a better keynote speaker or leader was never to win a prize but to provoke change, spark new perspectives, new ways of seeing the world. 

I’m absolutely thrilled and humbled to get those accolades. But for me, the meaning of it is about opening doors and ears for people to see you can be whoever you want to be. Everyone can challenge the rules of the world and how society wants us to behave. It’s all about being open to embrace changes, and following your curiosity.

What advice would you give to someone that wants to dive into the video gaming world?  

If you want to be a games creator, make a game. All the tools are free or easily accessible nowadays. If you want to learn the basics of game design, the best book to read is A Theory of Fun, but learning about psychology can also give you so much edge. 

If your passion is to be a games artist or games marketer, pick a game you love and re-create its characters or universe, or make an incredible video or social media strategy to launch that game. Then go to LinkedIn or Twitter and find the studio behind that game. Send them what you’ve got. Showing your work and passion means so much more than saying you can do it.

Having won a BAFTA is an incredible career achievement, congratulations. Do you see awards shows like the Golden Globes or the Oscars introducing a Video Gaming section in the future? 

I can’t see why not! When Gen Z becomes the new leaders and directors driving decisions about these awards, I truly hope they challenge the status quo and bring new and adapted-to-the-new-world-categories into these Awards. 

We noticed you run a YouTube channel giving advice to ambitious founders. Could you tell us about the more standout failures/learnings? 

I fail every day. All founders do. We’re half scientists, half artists. That’s how our brain gets wired once you become an entrepreneur. Scientists and artists know that only after hundreds of experiments and ugly paintings you can truly achieve something good or have an ‘a-ha’ moment, or find your unique style. It’s hard, because only a few people see failures or constant change as incredible opportunities to learn. 

When I started my YouTube channel, I was craving to show the world the real behind the scenes of the life of an entrepreneur. I don’t know if all my videos showed that, but certainly the one founders empathised with most was the story of the break-up with one of my business partners in a business I started that I ended up closing after a couple of years. 

These hurdles don’t get discussed and while I went through a massive pain during the process, I was told in confidence by more seasoned founders that this happens more often than we know. 

With my new podcast Hyper Curious (launch on 30th July) I want to unveil the areas we don’t speak about, chew the fat and get to the realities of the life story of those leaders in their industry. I want to demystify the perception of success being someone on the cover of the magazine. It takes lots of hard work and courage and discomfort to fail in order to succeed.

Video games have always been something more directed to the male, white, cis audience. Have you seen a change in that in the last few years? 

Millenials and Gen Z are much more committed to fight the big problems we have in the world – be it climate change, BLM, diversity, sexism, depression, etc. As they enter the workplace or start their own games studio, they want to be on the driving seat of this change. And the leaders of today have the duty to listen to them, to do things differently, and create worlds and characters that do represent the wide range of the 2.7 billion gamers in the world. Games are media, and so we do have an opportunity to shape how people see the world. 

How is it for you to be a female founder in the video gaming world? 

I feel I have a big responsibility to be the role model I never had. My role models are my mom (who’s a massive high achiever) and people like Bjork, David Bowie and Maya Angelou. People who dare (or dared) to be original, who found their voice, who influenced millions of people to reinvent themselves. They show it’s possible to defy the constraints of what society expects from you. And I find this so much more inspiring than lots of business leaders in our current world. 

Being the odd one out as I grew in my career and now as a female founder has been lonely at times, required me to develop a really tough skin, and sometimes accept that people will perceive me as pushy (instead of assertive or driven). So I wish I can inspire more female (and other unrepresented) founders to join this tribe of challengers and be brave to create the new world they want to live in.