Malaysians are marching to the beat of success in the mobile games market.
IN 2010, we played an interesting mobile game that changed our perspective. Game
Dev Story by Kairosoft was a game about making games, and it opened our eyes to the fact that running a successful game development studio is no easy matter... even on a mobile game.
While most of us will only venture this far when it comes to building games, many Malaysians have set up studios to tackle the burgeoning mobile games market.
In fact, Malaysia is no stranger to game development — since early 1990s many local studios have been doing outsourcing work for big publishers worldwide. However, in the last four years, the local scene has changed thanks to a proliferation of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets which have lowered the barrier for making games.
We talked to independent developers like Kurechii Studios, Tomato Animation, Wigu Games, Undercover Entertainment and Spacepup Entertainment who are paving the way forward.
Money in mobile
App analytics platform Distimo reports that nearly half of the top 400 highest grossing apps on the Apple App Store and Google Play are games.
Revenue from mobile games is growing at an astonishing rate — the US mobile games market hit US$3bil (RM9.98bil) in
2013, according to the Games Market Sector Report: Smartphone & Tablet Gaming 2013.
Closer to home, the Asia Pacific region raked in close to US$6bil (RM20.1bil) in revenue last year. It also happens to be the region with the largest pool of mobile gamers with 412 million players in more than nine countries.
“Malaysia is definitely in the right region and now is the right time,” said Bikesh Lakhmichand, founder of 1337 Ventures which runs the 1337 Accelerator programme for funding local game developers.
“By 2016, the global mobile gaming market is estimated to be worth US$23.9bil (RM79.6bil) so there is definitely a lot of money to be made in this sector,” he said.
Big step forward
Most Malaysians are passionate about games but only a few like Richard Sun and Joyce Lim who have made the leap to make one. They started up Wigu Games studio (which stands for When I Grow Up) and are working on their first game, Doctor Life.
Both Sun and Lim are relatively new to game development — neither has a technical background in programming or game design but that did not stop Sun, a former investment banker, and Lim, a former lawyer, from pursuing their dream.
“Having legal and finance backgrounds was a great advantage when starting up the company but as we are relatively new to the game industry we had to build our network from the ground up,” said Sun.
“Initially, we had difficulty recruiting the right people for the job. Fortunately, we met some very helpful people who recommended programmers, artists and designers whom we eventually employed.”
Malaysia is a great starting point because there is a growing pool of talent to choose from, as more colleges and universities are offering game design courses, he said.
“It is also cheaper to start a game studio in Malaysia. For instance, hiring senior programmers in Australia will cost as much as the entire budget to make a game here,” he said.
But the initial leap is the most challenging, as Shaikh Zhafri, one of the founders of Undercover Entertainment, found out.
“It takes a lot of guts to move away from something stable and pursue something that can potentially fail,” he said.
A graduate in game design, Zhafri is a big fan of stealth games, particularly Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid series.
“I have always wanted to play the classic Metal Gear Solid games on my smartphone but as there are none, I wanted to develop my own games. So, I gathered a few of my friends and we made a prototype which eventually became our first project, Agent RX,” he said.
“We are aiming to deliver a classic topdown stealth game with a simplified control scheme that will allow players to control the game with just one finger,” he said.
While another studio, Spacepup Entertainment, is working on a horror game called Tell No One but with a Malaysian twist.
The founder, Yuen Wai Leong, is a big fan of games like Silent Hill, Fatal Frame and Amnesia, and wanted to make a game that would highlight Asian ghost stories.
“A lot of horror games are based on Western culture, so I thought it would be cool to make one that tells the ghost stories of South-east Asia,” he said.
Tell No One is currently being developed for the PC but the developer did not rule out the possibility of making a mobile version of the game.
Making it big
Malaysia is definitely not short on talent, said Jeremy Choo, one of the founders of Undercover Entertainment.
“We have access to the same tools, software
and talents as any studio overseas. In fact, we are selling and competing in the same market as them,” he said.
Many independent developers in the West are self taught with no background in game development, so there is nothing to stop us from doing the same, he said.
“Basically, you need an open mind to adopt new ways of thinking and working to learn from other talented developers,” said Choo.
Once they get their game on, the world becomes their oyster. Local studio Tomato Animation, for instance, has found success in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan with its game,
Chinese Zombie Wars 2, in which you fight off hordes of zombies.
The game was launched in May last year and became one of the top five downloaded apps on the Chinese Apple App Store. In Hong Kong and Taiwan it was ranked in the top 25 category for two weeks.
“We localised the game so well that mainland Chinese players didn’t know the game was made in Malaysia,” said Tomato Animation’s marketing director, Nasruna Rahmat.
She attributes the game’s popularity to the team’s extensive marketing and promotion activities on social media.
“Marketing on social media played a big role. In China we advertised through Sina Weibo and ran a Facebook ad campaign for the Hong Kong and Taiwanese markets,” she said. Currently the app is available here on Android, but is awaiting for approval to be listed on the App Store.
Kurechii Studio is another local studio that has found international success with its game,
King’s League: Odyssey, which is ranked among the top 25 paid apps in the United States. It was also the top paid here in November.
“It is our dream to have our game featured on the Apple App Store. It’s the aim for every developer, as it can boost the popularity of your game,” said the studio’s founder, P’ng Yi Wei said.
The early stages of forming a game development studio is the most challenging, as it requires a lot of investment both in terms of time and money.
Most of the cash will go into hiring different types of talent such as artists, programmers and animators, with more needed for assets like computers, software licences and testing devices.
To help studios get off the ground there are programmes such as the 1337 Accelerator which is funded by the Ministry of Finance.
It provides successful applicants with a seeding fund of RM50,000 and access to its game development lab in Cyberjaya.
“The main aim of the programme is to help developers gain more experience and expo- sure by leveraging on our network of partners,” said Bikesh.
“We will assign mentors to work closely with developers over a three-month period, and will even help allocate the funds to be spent on both development and marketing,” he said.
He is confident that the programme will produce a steady stream of developers that will go on to create high quality games.
The Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC), the national ICT custodian, is also doing its part to support budding game developers via its Integrated Content Development Programme (Icon), which enables up-andcoming developers to create world-class applications and mobile content. It offers both grants and training to help developers better pitch their apps.
Last July, it allocated RM3mil worth of grants for the third Icon programme and it says it’s continually exploring opportunities with its creative industry partners to market games regionaly.
Speed of success
Once the studio has been set up, it’s vital for developers to quickly turn their game concepts into actual working prototypes so that they can start marketing their work.
“The trick is to start marketing early, especially to communities and forums where mobile gamers congregate, to build an audience.” he said.
“Show your game to as many people as you can and get feedback as fast as possible. Don’t wait until your game is completed because nothing is perfect,” he added.
There are multiple avenues to promote a game — developers can reach out to users at Indie DB, Steam Greenlight and TouchArcade to build a following.
Some publishers even look to these sites to find the next big game to fund.
“You may get a lesser cut from your game but on the flip side you stand a better chance of being noticed due to the publisher’s marketing strength,” said Bikesh.
Creative vision: Wigu Games’ richard Sun (standing) and Joyce Lim working with the artist to put the final touches to doctorLife’s colourful main menu.
From left, alfred Tay, Luso yong, Shaikh Zhafri and Jeremy Choo from undercover entertainment hold regular meetings to fine tune agentrX’s features.
Manage a team of powerful warriors and wizards in King’sLeague:odyssey.
In doctorLife you are expected to diagnose and recommend the right treatment for patients.
Top: The Kurechii Studio team is excited to get
King’s League on the Google Play Store soon. The game is already available on ioS devices. Left: Wong yee Hsien works on the 3d model of Ghost Girl, the protagonist of hit game, Chinese ZombieWar 2.
as agent rX you need to think on your feet and use your wits to outsmart patrolling guards.
The undead will terrorise you in ChineseZombie War2.
agentrX is a mobile game that aims to deliver a console quality stealth gaming experience.