Are you game for it?

Game development artists working on their character designs. — File photo

Game development artists working on their character designs. — File photo

With so much potential for growth, the electronic video game industry should be accepted and promoted in a more positive light to tap young talents.

CALL of Duty Infinite Warfare, FIFA 2014, Final Fantasy XV, Starcraft Remastered, Uncharted 4, Gears of War Ultimate Edition, Dark Souls 3, Street Fighter 5, World of Tanks. Do these titles ring a bell? They should, as they are some of the most popular video games in the world. What’s more, the development concepts and processes of the games involve Malaysian talent.

The electronic game development sector is an industry that is often perceived negatively by people – mostly conservative Asian parents. They believe it is linked to gaming, gambling, cybercafes and video-game arcades.

However we need to remove the existing stigmas as only those with creativity, artistic and mathematical abilities and even a knack for physics, can work in the sector.

The multi-billion ringgit industry is continuing to grow at a feverish pace each year.

It is already creating job opportunities which is set to increase in years to come simply because of the growing number of video games enthusiasts.

Tan (second from left) guiding his students during a game development course in a lab thats equipped with state-of-the-art equipment.
Tan (second from left) guiding his students during a game development course in a lab that’s complete with state-of-the-art equipment.

On top of producing video games that have entertained children, teens and even adults, educational games are also being produced to add value and keep students engaged during lessons.

Video games is one of the biggest industries compared to movies and music. It is also the only interactive medium which is why it appeals to the younger generation,” says Hasnul Hadi Samsudin, the Creative Content and Technologies director at the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC), the government-owned agency responsible for the transformation of Malaysia’s digital economy.

Tan Chin Ike, the chairman of MyGameDev2020, an entry point project under the Economic Transformation Programme for nurturing skilled talents in games development, also wants people to understand that the sector has potential to propel the country to be the leading gaming hub in the Asia-Pacific region.

To many, playing video games or “gaming”, as many call it, is a bad habit or addiction which requires large amounts of time spent in cybercafes and video-game arcades.

Tan adds that game development experts do not fancy the usage of the word “gaming” as it brings an almost negative connotation related to gambling.

“We prefer to use game development for the development aspect of the electronic or video games industry,” he shares.

Venturing into the electronic games sector is more often than not frowned upon by older people and in particular, conservative Asian parents.

They remain sceptical, saying that games and the gaming sector cannot possibly secure young people a bright future.

A game development student working on his game character, which requires him to sketch and create designs digitally.
A game development student working on his game character, which requires him to sketch and create designs digitally.

However, statistics indicate that the gaming sector is growing rapidly, especially in the Asia-Pacific region. Industry players are stepping up their game as they see so much potential and viable career opportunities.

The biggest misconception is that there are a lack of jobs in the sector in Malaysia, but Tan refutes this, saying that there are ample job opportunities.

“What we lack is talent in Game Art and Game Technology, in fact, most countries in the region are having difficulties in recruiting creative individuals as well,” he adds.

Hasnul says that the sector is also short of talents in game client and server programming, monetisation specialists, and production management.

“Talent is always the issue in any sector and the only way to alleviate this is to create awareness of the industry’s growth to encourage interested individuals,” he adds.

To ensure this, MDEC had started running programmes to raise talent exposure and skills development, which include school efforts such as My Digital Maker, Level Up @ Schools with Unity, MyGameDev-KDU industry outreach and Kre8tif!, an industry awareness and knowledge-sharing platform.

According to Hasnul, Levelup – an ongoing programme to get students in selected secondary schools to be involved in game development, reached out to 216 students from 72 schools across Malaysia.

Exponential growth

Many people are not aware that Malaysia is home to at least 50 international game developing studios, local outsourcing studios and independent studios.

While the studios lament at being unable to employ more skilled people, they are happy with their existing local employees and the growth of their respective businesses here.

They include among others, Codemasters Studios, founded in 1986 and arguably one of the United Kingdom’s most successful games developers for over three decades, and Streamline Studios, an independent Dutch outsourcing and game developing outfit.

Hasnul says youngsters can improve their refelexes, critical thinking and problem-solving skills by playing games.
Hasnul says youngsters can improve their refelexes, critical thinking and problem-solving skills by playing games.

Alexander L. Fernandez, the chief executive officer and co-founder of Streamline Studios Malaysia, notes that there is a high level of raw talent in creative, design, and technical fields here.

“This is why we believe we could create a thriving business in this country and I’m happy to report that it has worked,” he says. However, he adds that Malaysia has room for improvement in terms of its experience in the industry.

Codemasters Studios in Malaysia handled many jobs including artwork for Dirt3, Grid2, F1 All-stars, and F1 2017.

Streamline Studios, meanwhile has been providing digital content outsourcing services for established game companies for 15 years including several platinum selling hits like Gears of War, Unreal Tournament and Ghost Recon. Its Malaysian team also worked on franchises such as Street Fighter V and Final Fantasy XV.

Tan who is KDU University College School of Computing and Creative Media head, says Malaysia also has its own local outsourcing studios such as Lemonsky Games and Passion Republic.

Lemonsky recently celebrated its 10th anniversary and has had a hand in major titles such as Call of Duty: Ghosts, Call of Duty Infinite Warfare, Gears of War 4 and Ultimate Edition, FIFA2014, WWE 2K16, World of Tanks and Tales of Zestiria.

The global video games market reached US$99.6bil (RM426.8bil) in 2016 and is expected to grow by 7.8% in 2017. It is likely to reach US$118.6bil (RM515.5bil) by 2019.

Figures from Newzoo, the leading provider of market intelligence covering the global games, e-sports, and mobile markets, show that a total of US$89.4bil (RM382.4bil) in game revenues was generated by 20 countries last year.

Hasnul points out the substantial figure from only 20 countries accounted for 89.8% of total global game revenues.

Tan believes the sector has the potential to grow further, creating even more job opportunities for talented youth.

“Malaysia ranked 18 on the list, ahead of Netherlands and Thailand, with a game revenue of US$539.5 million (RM2.3bil),” he says.

Tan says that Southeast Asia represents around four percent of the market, which is forecasted to grow at a staggering compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 30% from 2016 to 2018.

The Asia-Pacific area is the largest single region with China alone predicted to generate US$27.5bil (RM117.7bil) – a quarter of global games revenue.

In total, Asia-Pacific countries will generate US$51.2bil (RM219bil) – 47% of the global total in 2017.

“Even without China, Japan and Korea, the rest of Asia is expected to be the fastest-growing region in the world in the coming years, with total game revenues growing to US$10.5 bill (RM45bil) in 2020, up from US$4.5bil (RM19.3bil) last year.

“The Malaysian video games market reached US$293mil (RM1.2bil) in 2015, an increase of 30.9% from 2014, making Malaysia the 26th largest games market in the world and the third largest in Southeast Asia,” Tan says, adding that total video game development and sales revenues are estimated to grow at a rate of 20.9% CAGR by 2018.

Getting started

A successful career does not require one to be a doctor, lawyer, engineer, or accountant.

Sadly, many parents and even their children, have been brought up to think that they can be successful only if they are professionals.

However, this isn’t the case anymore in today’s technological era since many young people are digitally savvy and have the potential to use their skills in coding, gaming and design.

KDU University College, Multimedia University, Limkokwing University of Creative Technology and The One Academy, are just some of the tertiary institutions offering various IT courses to cater to this market.

To tap one’s potential in the field, it is good to first try out coding or art before signing up for a full-time course in game development.

“Most parents think that taking a course in the field is all about playing games but it is an extremely challenging course with tight deadlines.

“It takes a lot of passion and hard work to develop games,” Tan says.

Game development students, he adds, have to play games as part of their research.

Tan says that game development consists of three disciplines – game art, game design and game technology.

“Game artists specialise in the creation of everything visual in the game, from characters to the interface.

“Game designers are in charge of crafting the game experience and transforming the idea into a reality, while game technologists manages the strict and complex lines of codes which govern how each game functions,” he explains.

Hasnul says a thirst for knowledge, persistence, and passion are important requirements for students hoping to succeed in the field.

“This is because the industry is a cutting edge one that is constantly evolving. There will always be something new to learn on a daily basis throughout a typical 20 to 30-year career,” he shares.

He notes that students who venture into the field will get opportunites to create their own “intellectual property” and work on the better-known game titles in Malaysia.

Fernandez points out many have the impression that creating a game is easy, which is not really true as this industry is one of the only fields that combines art, design, engineering, and maths together, to produce a product.

He says: “It is highly complex and requires high levels of critical thinking and abstract thought”, and adds that being a skilled gamer doesn’t mean you can create games.

He says game development studios are often on the lookout for candidates who are keen and have the ability to learn quickly.

“Not only do they need to be concise in their communication, they also need to have critical and abstract thinking skills, as well as the ability to adapt quickly to situations,” he says.

“We want people who will keep trying to achieve their goals despite failure and setbacks,” he adds.

Games in education

Today’s new generation of learners have grown up parallel with the emergence of digital technology and have spent their lives using hand-held devices, smartphones, computers and digital entertainment.

Getting millennial students engaged in any lesson could be a challenge, especially if it is uninteresting, hence the emergence of serious games and the concept of game-based learning (GBL). It is a type of game play that has specific learning outcomes.

Tan suggests teachers should not approach education solely from a traditional learning model anymore, nor should they just use technology alone to simplify education.

“Video games possess the innate ability to create engaging learning experiences through immersion, narration and interaction.

“They provide learners with an opportunity to act in a virtual and interactive environment, which might also foster active learning, or learning by doing,” he says.

Tan describes GBL as a balancing act between a subject and using immersive problem-solving applications to retain and apply the subject matter in the real world.

“Games in general also involve gamification which is the process of taking existing things like a community, online website, event, seminar or classroom, and then integrating the principles of game mechanics (badges, levels, points, high-scores, competitions) to promote loyalty, engagement and most importantly, participation,” he says.

Hasnul shares Tan’s sentiment, saying engagement is a core element in a successful game.

“Educational games have a clear and achievable objective that provide internal motivation to the players,” he says.

He also points out that youngsters can improve their reflexes, critical thinking and problem-solving skills from simulation games, like Sim City, Civilisation and Assassins Creed.

“Games do not need to be academic-based for students to pick up skills,” he says.

However, Hasnul believes that the negative stigma towards playing video games has started to change.

“I’ve noticed some parents entering game shops with their kids to buy the latest games.

“This is a positive move as they are getting more involved and engaged in their children’s activities and interests,” he shares.

Fernandez notes that everyone is able to learn through games.

“Games teach critical thinking, problem solving, innovation, and persistence. When games are applied in education, it reinforces real world skills that will grow future opportunities for generations to come.”