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20 Aug 2019 Updated 15 Sep 2019

Local game developers go global

The Straits Times Hariz Baharudin

COLOGNE - This week, a group of local video game companies are at Cologne in Germany hoping to take their work to the next level - or level up, to use a gaming phrase - by showcasing them at the world's largest gaming festival, gamescom.

They want to catch the eye of the crowd at the industry's largest event by exhibition space and visitor numbers. Around 370,000 visitors and 1,037 exhibitors from 56 countries attended the show last year.

This year, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) and Enterprise Singapore (ESG) are supporting them officially by setting up a pavilion and bringing the largest contingent, including 25 local gaming studios which are at the Cologne show for the first time.

It is hoped that the exposure would lead to a bigger slice of the growing video games market estimated to hit US$174 billion (S$187 billion) in revenue by 2021, according to games and esports analytic firm Newzoo, which estimated last year's revenue at US$135 billion.


The Singapore companies at gamescom - BattleBrew Productions, Rock Nano Global, Just4fun and several others - are the latest home-grown studios aiming to push made-by-Singapore games further out on the world stage.

More companies are expected to join them next year when Singapore play host to the first Asian edition of gamescom. The STB has said that local game designers will be able to use it as a platform for "business opportunities" and to network, learn and exchange ideas.

BattleBrew Productions founder and chief executive officer Shawn Toh, 34, told The Straits Times: "To have one of the major gaming shows have a presence here will bring even more international notice to Singapore, and we are all looking forward to it."

The four-day gamescom asia will be held from Oct 15 to 18 next year at the Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Mr Toh added: "(For now) we do not have much of a reach (in Europe), and shows like gamescom serve as great regional hubs to gain access to publishers, press and other possible partners in the region we would not bump into (yet) in Asia."

The gamescom first-timer is promoting its mobile strategy games BattleSky Brigade: Tribes and BattleSky Brigade: TapTap.

Singapore's game development scene has been steadily growing and gaining global acceptance in recent years. Local game studios have also shown that, despite lacking the manpower and resources of big gaming corporations like Electronic Arts, Ubisoft and Bethesda, they can punch above their weight.

"In the last few years, we have seen more local game developers emerging with new ideas that are striking a chord with players globally and we have seen Singapore studios that have more than 30 million game installs on the Google Play Store alone," said Mr Vineet Tanwar, the business development manager for Google Play in an interview with ST.

BattleSky Brigade: TapTap from Mr Toh's team has been nominated in a number of international gaming awards, including the 3rd Southeast Asian International Mobile Gaming Awards last year. It also clinched third place in the Big Indie Pitch competition by G-Star, an annual South Korean computer and video game trade show.

Local game studio The Gentlebros two years ago released a whimsical game - Cat Quest - that was mentioned by tech blog MacRumors as one of the top iOS games released that year and was ranked 15th in the top paid iPhone games last year for Singapore, higher than popular games from big studios like Assassin's Creed and Hitman.

Local game studio, The Gentlebros
Local game studio The Gentlebros' (clockwise from bottom left) Mr Desmond Wong, Mr Chen Ding Xiang, Mr Leon Ho and Ms Nursyazana Zainal. Photo credit: ST

The second iteration of the game, Cat Quest 2, is being showcased in gamescom this week by the studio's UK publisher PQube.

Mr Desmond Wong, the 30-year-old founder and CEO of The Gentlebros, said: "Our audience for our games should be the world and not just local. Because of that, we need to try to reach audiences outside of Singapore and shows like gamescom are great places to do this."

But international independent hard hitters mean that these home-grown developers need to stay on their toes and continue to work on getting more people interested in their products.

"We have these milestones we have hit, but there are great developers that have hit arguably better milestones. It is a competitive and saturated market," said Mr Toh.

For instance, in 2015, American Toby Fox released a single-player role-playing game that he developed by himself for 32 months called Undertale. The game was a critical and commercial success, receiving multiple awards and nominations from several gaming publications and selling more than a million copies in less than a year.

Swedish start-up Mojang rose to fame when they released Minecraft, the building and sandbox game, in 2011. The game, which has sold 176 million copies, is considered one of the best-selling games of all time, and Mojang was subsequently acquired by Microsoft's for $2.5 billion in 2014.


The local game development talent scene has been growing here thanks to increased support from the Government, more schools offering courses in game development and shifting attitudes towards game development as a career.

A spokesman for DigiPen Institute of Technology Singapore, which offers bachelor's degrees in the development of video games, said the game development scene in Singapore has been "gaining traction" in recent years in part due to the increasing number of indie studios entering the market here.

According to the Singapore Games Guild, an organisation that promotes and supports locally developed games, over 200 digital and physical games have been launched by Singapore game creators since 2000, with about 20 of them launched annually across multiple platforms in the last five years.

Their figures also show that Singapore is home to over 120 game-related companies, institutions and individuals, with about two-thirds who are in content development.

Newzoo market consultant Guilherme Fernandes said: "Singapore has a thriving startup environment in multiple industries and games development is no different.

"Alongside local offices of some of the largest game developers and publishers in Asia, there are several local development studios of different sizes, that leverage on the technological and economic powerhouse that the country is in the region."

A success story like Undertale or Minecraft could very well come from Singapore, say industry insiders.

Mr Tanwar pointed out that Singapore, just like the rest of South-east Asia, is a "hotbed for creative minds", as reflected in the quality of games published locally on Google Play, which is the company's official app store for its Android operating system.


When asked what more could be done to help local game developers, Mr Wong said more tie-ups with bigger companies and game developers could go a long way.

Google last year launched its first-ever mobile games accelerator programme that aimed to help indie developers in the region find success on Google Play through knowledge-building workshops and mentorship from Google teams and gaming experts. Both BattleBrew Productions and The Gentlebros have gone through the programme.

Mr Wong also pointed out that big game companies like Ubisoft and Koei Tecmo have offices here and they could use independent developers to test out concepts or get new ideas.

He said: "I think there can be a lot that local smaller teams can learn from the big companies and a lot that the tech companies can gain from working with a local indie (developer) as well."


Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.