S'pore to pump millions in digital media industry

update The US$590 million will be used over 10 years in new content creation, R&D, engaging foreign talent and attracting specialty schools.
Written by Vivian Yeo, Contributor

update SINGAPORE--The Singapore government has pledged to invest S$1 billion (US$590.5 million) over the next decade to develop the country's digital media industry.

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Second Minister for Trade and Industry, said Monday that the investment is expected to create a total of 30,000 new jobs by 2018--6,000 within the digital media industry and another 24,000 in related industries. Dr Balakrishnan, who is also Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, was speaking at the launch of Singapore's first game development and localization facility by Electronic Arts, the developer of popular games such as The Sims and Need for Speed.

The investment, which will be managed by the Economic Development Board (EDB) in two phases of five years each, is a part of the island-state's blueprint for the overall media industry, noted Dr Balakrishnan. The authorities expect the industry to record a value-add output of S$10 billion (US$5.9 billion) by 2018, he added. According to an EDB spokesperson, the estimated current output is valued at S$2.9 billion (US$1.7 billion).

EDB Managing Director Ko Kheng Hwa said in a media interview that the funds will be used in four areas: engaging and bringing in foreign players such as Electronic Arts, grooming local and regional talent through attracting reputable schools specialized in media programs, research and development, and kick-start funds from local investors for local and overseas digital media projects.

The digital media spectrum in Singapore, Ko noted, covers games, animation, special effects, licensing and intellectual property management, and merchandising.

The launch of the Electronic Arts studio, Dr Balakrishnan pointed that, is the latest in a string of developments in the digital media industry. These include the hosting of the World Cyber Games last month, the opening of Lucasfilm Animation Singapore in October, and the setting up of Singapore subsidiaries by global game developers Seasky Netjoy and Koei in November and February, respectively.

The minister said this was an indication that Singapore is gaining momentum in the digital media sector.

"We've got a sequence and series of great developers coming in one after another…and now we've got critical mass," said Dr Balakrishnan. "Singapore has great ambitions in the digital media industry, and we're going to have great stakes in this fast-moving, dynamic industry."

Ko added that the country's digital media industry has gone "past the infant stage", and is now "poised for growth". However, he stressed, to get to the stage where a blockbuster game is produced in Singapore, more must be done to nurture local talent, bring in foreign expertise and encourage both local and foreign investors to fund locally-made projects.

"One key challenge facing us in the coming years is training and grooming enough local talent, and attracting foreign talent to complement them, because this is after all a talent-driven industry," said Ko.

Electronic Arts Asia has already begun work on localizing titles for the region, according to Irene Chua, the company's vice president. The studio currently employs 16 developers from seven countries, and will be looking to increase its headcount in the next 12 months, she said.

Chua told ZDNet Asia that China, Japan, Korea and Singapore are key markets for the company. The games will be available in five languages--traditional and simplified Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Thai--for now, but may be translated into Bahasa Indonesia, Hindi and Tagalog in future, she added.

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