S'pore making waves in console game development

Island-state has taken leaps on journey to become regional games hub, says government. ZDNet Asia finds out how console manufacturers are helping Singapore fulfill its ambition.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Contributor

Having set its sights on becoming a regional games hub, the Singapore government has been pumping funds to fuel and develop local talent in this space. Console manufacturers have also pitched in to help the country achieve its goal.

The Singapore government in 2006 established a scheme to develop mobile games and in 2007 followed up that initiative with plans to develop the country into a regional games and digital media hub. The Media Development Authority (MDA) has since been providing support to game developers through various funding programs.

The latest round of funding was announced in April 2010 when the government agency pledged to set aside S$20 million (US$14.7 million) for the GAME+ program which spans three years. An MDA spokesperson noted in an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia that the funding is not specific to any one game platform and there is no limit on funding given out for any particular platform.

The spokesperson noted that recent market studies indicate declining sales for consoles and standalone console games, while online games--including online console titles--are projected to become the fastest growing segment in the global games market.

MDA believes the Singapore games market is well-positioned to take advantage of this trend, said the spokesperson, who noted that the local industry's main competencies lie in developing casual and online games on diverse platforms.

Consoles driving games hub
Despite competition from other platforms, console games remain in demand. In fact, console manufacturers such as Sony Computer Entertainment Asia and Microsoft Xbox have proven supportive of Singapore's ambition to become a games hub.

Nanyang Polytechnic, for instance, offers Sony-endorsed PlayStation game development courses. In an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia, Daniel Tan, director of School of Interactive and Digital Media at Nanyang Polytechnic said the collaboration is significant because Sony is typically "elusive" regarding discussions about development on the PlayStation 3 (PS3).

"It is not easy for the smaller companies or startups to approach Sony directly for training on the PS3 or PlayStation Portable (PSP) or get their hands on the development kit," Tan explained.

With Sony's support, the school is now able to "bridge the gap" and provide more opportunities for developers to be trained on the PS3 and PSP platforms, he said, noting that the polytechnic's courses are designed for both programmers and visual artists.

He added that the collaboration with Sony also established the Games Resource Centre, launched in April 2009, as well as the PlayStation Development Community in March 2010.

ZDNet Asia spoke to Red Hare Studios, one of the companies involved in the PlayStation Development Community, on the progress of their game development. In an e-mail interview, producer Koh Wee Lit said the company has gained more confidence in developing games for the PlayStation 3 since starting its research at the beginning of the year.

The Singapore company developed iterative proof of concepts for its game based on the PlayStation 3 development kit, Koh said, adding that it is now actively seeking commercialization funding for the game. He expects the game to be ready for publication in the first quarter of 2012.

He said the game will be available through digital distribution on the PlayStation Network, which Sony is the sole approving authority. The console maker also has a strict review policy for games that wish to be distributed on the PSN, he added.

Koh explained: "PlayStation 3 is a very sophisticated piece of technology [and] it is an exciting opportunity to be able to study the technology up close and in detail."

He added that the developer community for the console has also provided valuable support and suggestion for the game design.

Singapore developers well received on Xbox platform
Microsoft's Xbox team in 2008 was also involved in efforts to drive the MDA-Microsoft XNA Initiative. Erik Ford, Southeast Asia senior regional marketing manager for Microsoft Xbox 360, said the program received strong response from the developer community and spawned several Xbox LIVE Indie Games products that received various accolades in the industry.

The MDA spokesperson said the initiative also funded five selected projects and offered local independent game developers the opportunity to create and quickly commercialize their games on Xbox Live. Each selected project was awarded a grant of up to S$50,000 (US$36,670).

Because several of the developers were "very young or new to the scene", he noted, the initiative helped provide Singapore's next generation of aspiring game developers take the first step into producing a full game for major platforms such as Xbox Live.

According to a recent report from local news site, Asiaone, when pit against international players on the Microsoft Xbox Live Indie Games portal, Singapore independent developers have shown to perform well.

The report said 4 percent to 10 percent of gamers who tried out Singapore-made games end up buying the full version, a rate which is higher than the average rate in comparison with other developers.

While Microsoft currently has no further activities planned with MDA, Ford said the company will continue to be "strongly supportive" of the Singapore government's efforts to build the country into a games hub.

In May, Microsoft also invited game developers from Remedy Studios--which developed Xbox exclusive game Alan Wake--to visit local educational institution Singapore Polytechnic and give a talk on the game creation process.

The event received "fantastic response" from the student population with several hundred students attending the dialog, said Ford. "We are happy to see educational institutions like Singapore Polytechnic drive the passion for console game development here and believe the scene will continue to thrive," he said.

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