“It’s a wild wild East”: Southeast Asia’s Game Industry in Focus at IGDX Conference

Hosted by the Indonesia Game Developer Exchange (IGDX) on November 20-21th, 2021, resource persons from Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines, and Australia met at the IGDX Conference to discuss the local and regional game industry status. Even if the general opinion predicts a positive development, there are still enough challenges for game development in the region.

Cipto Adiguno, President of AGI (Asosiasi Game Indonesia), opened the panel by stating that “no country stands on its own” in Southeast Asia. International cooperation and exchange are therefore the keys to successful game development, and this reflects how the panel was put together: chairperson of the Singapore Games Association (SGGA), Gwen Guo, the President of the Game Developers Association of the Philippines (GDAP), James Lo, and Dr. Jens Schroeder, Director of the Interactive Games & Entertainment Association (IGEA). Technically speaking, Australia certainly does not belong to Southeast Asia, but regional integration is justifiable as a direct neighbor.

Game Industries in the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, and Australia

The panel began with a presentation of the game industry in their respective home countries. For Lo, the Philippines are best known for art and animation and supporting large AAA productions abroad. The development of own IPs is still in its infancy, but recently, there has been an enormous boost, mainly expressed in governmental support concerning copyright laws. In our opinion, another factor is the formation of funding programs such as Project PIGI.

Singapore, on the other hand, is distinguished by its excellent infrastructure. For Guo, above all, the superb business landscape, fast broadband connections, and financial stability make Singapore an ideal location for the games industry. In the past, international players such as Tencent, Mihoyo, Bandai Namco, and Ubisoft have found their place in the City of Lions. For these companies, Singapore represents a mix of development opportunities and business hubs.

In a separate presentation, Adiguno already spoke about Indonesia’s gaming industry earlier that day. The country’s extremely fast-growing market is primarily characterized by mobile game development, but a clear shift towards development for PC (and consoles) can be observed. Above all, the religious-political context should not be neglected in Indonesia’s growing ecosystem, and local game studios can help understand it and implement it. Nevertheless, many high-quality games were not recognized by the global market here either.

Australia will undoubtedly benefit from a unique role in this round. As a more western-oriented place, Australia can already look back on a long tradition of game development, which began in the 80s. According to Schroeder, after some ups and downs following the financial crisis, Australia focuses primarily on mobile games development. However, he predicts that big-budget productions will return, related to a recent state tax offset for the gaming industry.

Gwen Guo, Cipto Adiguno, Dr. Jens Schroeder, and James Lo (from left to right).

Four Countries, Various Challenges, One Goal

What do these highly different environments of the game industry have in common? Both Guo and Lo see a cultural bond and a similar work ethic as a definite plus, from which Australia can certainly be excluded. However, Schroeder thinks that Australian game developers shouldn’t ignore the vast Southeast Asian market any longer. A goal that is certainly related to Guo’s appeal to “boost the visibility” of regional game development. On the other hand, Lo can already see that Western shareholders are already looking for new concepts and ideas in the East. “It’s a wild wild east,” says Lo poignant, and means by that the variety of as yet untapped potential in the region, especially in the development of new technologies. 

There were very different views on these new technologies among the panelists, however. On the one hand, they are seen as a great opportunity, especially in the cryptogaming-affine Philippines. However, Guo assumes that the funding for games might become too oriented towards “trendy” topics such as blockchain, VR, or cloud gaming and that “traditional” game studios could go away empty-handed. On the other hand, she also sees the chance that more talents from the technology sector will come into the games industry, thus ensuring more diversity. The topic of NFTs and gaming does not let go of this panel of experts, and it becomes clear that concerns and joy are roughly in balance. Thus, Schroeder, who compares the skepticism towards cryptogaming with the initial rejection of free-to-play models, pleads to keep an eye on how this technology will evolve. 

Challenges and opportunities

What still needs to be done to drive the development of the game industry forward? Long-term optimist Lo exclaims with joy that increasing digitization has already abolished all boundaries. Only to then have to admit that international investors in the Philippines are still struggling. In Singapore, the “VC galore” of Southeast Asia, however, the situation is entirely different. One must avoid losing sight of the small studios and beginners who urgently need a “safety net,” warns Guo. Above all, support from the government is required here. Still, it becomes apparent that the industry can help itself, as private incubators such as the Iterative Collective or Cargo Studios prove.

So much to do for game development in Southeast Asia. In terms of international cooperation, however, at Virtual SEA, we still see some potential. Networking events like the IGDX certainly contribute to this, but a pan-Southeast Asian game association would be desirable so that not every country is left to its own devices. We hope that as technology advances, small indie studios can continue to exist because today, they form the creative and innovative backbone of the Southeast Asian game industry.

About IGDX: Indonesia Game Developer Exchange (IGDX) is an annual event organized by the Ministry of Communication and Informatics in collaboration with the Indonesian Game Association (AGI). IGDX 2021 is a series of activities to increase the competitiveness and publication of local game developers on the world stage. The activities in IGDX 2021 include IGDX Academy, IGDX Career, IGDX Business, and IGDX Conference. Local game developers can show their products virtually through the www.IGDX.id page.

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