The business of playing

Thailand's first game accelerator, MSeed, to help Thai developers reach level two

Many of the world's experts in game design and production praised the game concepts and art of Thai developers as unique and brilliant at the beginning of Thailand's first startup accelerator for game developers, MSeed, last week.

This quality made the Thai developers excellent candidates to enter the international game industry, according to Adrian Crook, the former producer at Electronic Arts and MD of social and mobile game design and production consultancy Adrian Crook+Associates (AC+A) and Jordan Blackman, executive producer and game designer consultant, who were leading the first two-day workshop in the three-month long MSeed bootcamp.

"We saw game concepts and art that was unique and brilliant and demonstrated a knack for creating compelling content. We look at game concepts all the time for our clients so it's encouraging to see new ideas, even though we've seen hundreds of concepts from the West already," said Crook.

Even though the game consultants said that not all games they saw would be suitable for the global market, they did see several games that could easily find audiences outside the Southeast Asian region. Crook noted that the mechanics and subject matter in some of the games were universal and could therefore be possible candidates to have their games exported abroad, following just "a bit more attention to detail". Crook and Blackman are well placed to offer such suggestions as helping developers adapt games to suit new markets is what the consultants do fulltime.

One of the major differences in games created by designers from the West and the East, Crook believes, is that Eastern developers are often willing to take creative risks whereas Western developers are not.

"The difference is not as profound as it once was, but there are still concepts we see coming out of Southeast Asia that Western developers would never have created. It's encouraging that we don't all think alike. When we're consulting with developers and publishers abroad, we often have to be mindful not to give them feedback that would needlessly homogenate their game. It's important to us that we help developers maximise the compelling nature of their games, to make them more profitable, without decreasing their intrinsic uniqueness."

Blackman who has been working in the game industry for more than 10 years for studios like Disney, Zynga and Ubisoft pointed out that one of the best things about events like MSeed was that it encouraged developers and designers to not be too secretive and to share knowledge, information and ideas so that all can learn together. This is something that is imperative, believes Blackman, in order to build the culture, community and knowledge for game developers to achieve success in the global marketplace.

Today the world's game market is estimated to be worth around $70 billion and is projected to exceed over $100 billion  worldwide in 2015. The game industry is no longer confined to hardcore console gamers, but now a combination of casual gamers, social gamers and serious gamers who use a variety of PCs, consoles, handheld consoles, tablets and smartphones. Although mobile games is seeing the fastest growth in the market, the computer and console sectors still represent about 65% of the entire revenue of games.

Blackman added that last year was the first time that smartphones outsold regular (low range) mobile phones and tablets outsold laptops. Mobile games are still expected to continue to grow but will probably slow down at the second half of this year.

As the mobile games market has been tightening up for two years now, what Crook and Blackman have both had to do in their consultancy work is get more technical in their approach. "We brought on a freemium games [a free download app that uses in-app purchases] economist, for example, so now we can dive very deeply into freemium economy analysis to ensure our clients' games are profitable."

Developers need to adopt the same approach and embrace the monetisation of the game in the product development stages of the projects. Too often, Brook said, he sees independent developers building their "dream game" but thinking about monetisation as an aside, or too late in the process. His recommendation, therefore, is to treat game design and monetisation design as the same thing, with the same high priority.

Developers also need to build a business that can sustain itself as long as it takes for games to find its niche or particular market after launch. Furthermore, building games with good viral lift (the ability for a game's users to invite their friends) is more important than ever, because paid user acquisition costs (the marketing costs to attract new users) are often prohibitively expensive.

To make a game profitable, therefore, Crook said it could depend as much on a company's overall business plans, as well as product development. One of the reasons freemium games are so popular, explains Crook, is that it provides an opportunity for developers to employ different and unique strategies to attract attention and acquire new users. The Freemium model is the most popular way to target a large base of users, in order to attract a smaller subset of paying users.

Besides marketing, Blackman notes that the game developer's commitment to the success of the team is also paramount to achieve key results. Understanding the business, therefore, is really important in order for the team to adapt and realise that quite often they need to be flexible.

Everything is interrelated, says Blackman. For example, as the mobile game market is growing very fast and the console market is quite mature and very healthy, what's going to happen is that some of the innovations, strategies and designs that were pioneered in online PC games and on social and mobile games will start to make their ways to the console. In the coming years, therefore, it is likely that the freemium game market will open up on the console platform.

Wearable devices such as Google Glass and smart watches will also inevitably carve out a place in the gaming market and will probably flow seamlessly with the other platforms in the future. "You'll get the same notifications to play the game, from tablet, phone and laptop and have the kind of gaming experience that will follow you wherever you are."

Crook, who has been designing and producing games for more than 20 years now, believes that it's a great time for those who wish to enter the gaming industry.

"The best advice I could offer is to know what you want out of the industry before you get into it. If you want to make your dream game and see your creative output in other people's hands, then this is likely a very different goal than building the most commercially successful product possible.

"It's a big industry and while it's very competitive, you need only find a small niche to make a living, provided your goals and needs are in sync with one another. Run lean as long as you can, build and release products as often as you can and embrace failure because it's the only way you'll learn. Just try to give yourself enough room to fail a lot, rather than going out of business the first time your game fails to meet its sales projections".

Jordan Blackman and Adrian Cook.

About the author

Writer: Sasiwimon Boonruang
Position: Writer for the Life section