Game changer

Malaysians are march­ing to the beat of suc­cess in the mo­bile games mar­ket.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By CHONG JINN XIUNG bytz@thes­tar.com.my

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.

Help­ing hand

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.

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