S'pore govt, Razer unveil games R&D lab

New US$21 million initiative aims to mentor local game startups and allow them to learn from, and exchange ideas with global game powerhouses.

SINGAPORE--Interactive and digital media (IDM) startups including game developers in the country, can now access expert advice and get help to take their innovation overseas under a new collaboration announced Thursday.

Razer, a global manufacturer of games peripherals, and the Interactive Digital Media R&D Programme Office (IDMPO) of Singapore's Media Development Authority (MDA), launched the Razer IDM Lab to support research and development (R&D) efforts in interactive games technology and platforms, as well as the creation of game interfaces. The lab will also mentor game developers and help them learn from, and exchange ideas with leading games companies worldwide, including hardware and software creators and publishers.

Singapore's acting minister for information, communications and the arts, Lui Tuck Yew, announced the initiative at the opening of the Games Convention Asia (GCA) 2009, an annual exhibition and conference that gathers local and foreign players involved in the game ecosystem.

S'pore games growth 'encouraging'

In his address at the opening of the GCA 2009, Singapore's acting minister for information, communications and the arts, Lui Tuck Yew, said the local games industry has undergone "encouraging growth" in recent years.
To date, there are nearly 30 home-grown games development companies, with some locally-developed titles earning global recognition, Lui reported. For instance, CarneyVale: Showtime, developed by a group of Singaporean students from the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab, was the first made-in-Singapore game published on Microsoft's Xbox Live XNA Community Games Channel.
Citing a PricewaterhouseCoopers report, Lui added that the Asia-Pacific video games market will expand to become the world's fastest-growing region over the next five years. The market is expected to be worth US$24.7 billion by 2013, on the back of a compound annual growth rate of 9.4 percent.
At the GCA 2009, the minister also launched a one-year pilot initiative to promote and showcase Singapore-made games to local players. The Singapore Game Box by the country's Infocomm Development Authority and MDA, is parked at Orchard Cineleisure, a retail mall along Singapore's renowned shopping belt. The space allows gamers to play local titles for free and also serves as a platform for potential publishers to meet game developers.
Held over four days, the GCA 2009 is expected to attract 120,000 local and overseas visitors.

The IDMPO and Razer will over the next several years pump in S$30 million (US$21.1 million) to upkeep the lab. Both entities declined to reveal their monetary commitment, but ZDNet Asia understands that Razer has a bigger share of the investment.

Tan Min-Liang, CEO of Razer, told ZDNet Asia that unlike the company's current R&D facilities in Singapore and San Francisco, the IDM lab will focus "a lot more on Asian-based games".

The company intends to file "multiple patents" out of the new lab and share its expertise to help local games companies reach "the next level".

"We're not just paying lip service in terms of R&D," he said. "We will focus on research, but we will also concentrate on the 'development' [aspect]. There's been a lot of research…but rarely do you see Singapore [game] projects take off."

According to Tan, projects have been kick-started but results will take time to see fruition as a typical development cycle stretches one to two years.

Michael Yap, the MDA's deputy chief executive and executive director of IDMPO, said in an interview the collaboration with Razer would "add buzz" to the industry and offer local companies opportunities to work with the international games community.

The drive to develop more games in Singapore will not only mean that local gamers can "get first crack" at these titles, developers here will also play a more significant role in an evolving IDM sector.

Alvin Yap, CEO of local game developer Nexgen Studio, said government initiatives such as the Razer IDM Lab would "help a lot".

In an interview with ZDNet Asia, Yap shared that he has been learning from a French game consultant since he founded the company seven years ago, at a time when the games industry in Singapore was still in its infancy. Advice from a "big brother" can help put startups "in the right direction" and minimize hiccups, he said.

"Overseas players can look at local companies, and work with them to trial and experiment new concepts. Local developers can benefit from the foreign companies in terms of [games] publishing," he noted.