Thai game developer Smoltlab is an outstanding example of a start-up that cleverly uses cultural familiarity to create digital products.
All of Smoltlab's games are based on Thai and international culture and traditions that have been expanded into the new platform.
From The Nutcracker to likay, the start-up adapts basic stories and cultural elements to accommodate the tastes of the new generation.
Water Girl, for example, is based on the local temple-fair amusement known as Sao Noi Tok Nam in which players throw a ball at a target that releases a woman sitting over a pool into the water below. In the game you're the water girl who has to escape the balls, keep the target intact and collect stars _ all by just tilting your phone.
"Water Girl was initially done in English only, but when we made it in Thai, the number of players increased greatly and today it is our most popular game with 300,000 downloads," said Monthol Karnjanolarn, Smoltlab's founder. Monthol actually did not play computer games, but realised the potential of developing mobile games aimed at smartphone and tablet users.
"I then turned my telecom network experience into developing mobile games by combining my primary interest in music, art and culture," he said.
Another Thai showpiece that Monthol applies to mobile gaming is Likay Boy, a traditional performance that demands actors to act, joke and improvise through a long stage session. Monthol took all these aspects and put it in the game. The story is set in a theatre that is out of power, but the actor puts on a good face, improvises the story with funny poems and lights up the stage with fireflies as he plays around with the audience and picks up rewarding garlands.
With the Loy Krathong festival approaching, Moonlantern is another game that focuses on Thai culture. The game is about a little girl who prepares herself for the lantern festival in the night sky. The game showcases the beauty of the festival in general while highlighting Lanna culture. In a fusion of sound, serene Lanna music is replaced by Beethoven's piano sonatas.
Smoltlab also goes beyond local culture. The Nightingale was inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's fairytale of the same name, a beautiful folk tale which serves as the game backdrop and provides an intimate feeling for players. And The Nutcracker game was based on the ballet which the developers had a great time watching at a live performance. Though they understood only a bit of it, the movements inspired them. So they kept the dance figures and Tchaikovsky's music and retained E.T.A. Hoffmann's original story _ little Marie's fantasy of the seven-headed mouse king and her fondness for her little nutcracker doll.
"We tap into Thai and international art, music and culture because players can easily identify with them," said Monthol, adding that 70% of the games' players are Thais.
All the games currently run on Android, while the iOS platform will be available early next year.