Malaysia a potential hub for South-East Asia gaming industry

Magnus Games Studio was awarded the 2017 South-East Asia Best Rising Star Award

By SULHI KHALID / Pic By MUHD AMIN NAHARUL

JUST mention video games, and any avid gamer might just share with you a long list of games from Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto to the latest edition of FIFA football series.

The sheer pleasure of seamless graphics, dramatic sounds and virtual experience would certainly make us wonder how the teams that work behind the scenes could produce such epic “works of art”.

Now, is there any Malaysian video gaming producer, one wonders.

The answer is yes. Based in Bangsar South, Kuala Lumpur (KL), Magnus Games Studio Sdn Bhd is a strong testament to the nation’s ability in producing such high-quality products that could easily challenge other big names in the gaming industry.

The studio was awarded the 2017 South-East Asia Best Rising Star Award and its product, Re: Legend, is now accessible on video game digital distribution service platform, Steam.

In conjunction with the Level Up KL 2019, an event that engages game developers, corporates, gamers and e-sports communities, The Malaysian Reserve had a chat with Magnus Games Studio founder and director DC Gan.

 

Q: Can you share a little bit about Magnus Game Studio?
We actually started as an indie games studio.

Most private investors don’t understand the operational side of running a digital business because it’s a high-risk, high-return game, says Gan

As you know, indie means independent and on a small scale. We started as a two-man team, my brother and I. We got involved in the gaming industry because we have been playing games since we were very young. We used to play cop games. When we talk about games, parents especially will always have that negative thought that their kids will waste a lot of time on gaming rather than studying.

My parents, however, gave us the freedom and this included our decision on what we want to do with our lives. So, we chose to pursue our dreams in the gaming industry.

We started making games 10 years ago, but we failed so many times. Investors who came in eventually pulled out as they felt that the gaming industry was relatively new and not a mature industry.

We were in our early 20s. We were helpless, and so we decided to take a break and went for our studies. I also went to the US, South Korea, China and Taiwan and to many different places to learn more about the industry globally.

My younger brother Wilson, on the other hand, pursued his study in game development.

We wanted to find the missing piece as to why we failed so many times. We finally identified it, came back, regrouped and continued our journey as we’d always wanted to create an impact on the gaming industry.

 

Q: How did you initially get funded?
We aim to put Malaysia on the roadmap in the gaming industry. So, we went to Kickstarter.

Kickstarter is a US-based crowdfunding platform where our games got evaluated.

(From left) Gan, Malaysia Digital Economy Corp VP Hasnul Hadi Samsudin and Kaigan Games CEO Shahrizar Roslan during the Digital Creative Content — Level Up KL 2019 media briefing last month. The govt’s budget has been earmarked to build the digital economy, including the local e-sports activities

Subsequently, global investors would pledge if they were interested in any project.

No one had ever done the approach before in this region, so we were the first one to do so. We wanted to try something else because we believed in the product. We started the campaign hoping to get roughly US$50,000 (RM206,000) within a month.

The best part was…we hit the target within 18 hours! We propelled up to almost US$500,000 (which was about RM2 million) and we ended up as the most funded Kickstarter project in South-East Asia.

It was 2017. That was when we knew that even though we worked with a small team, we could still penetrate the global market.

That was also the point when globally, people started to realise that Malaysia could produce digital games.

Typically, in the gaming industry, we were known as a country that did a lot of great ‘triple A’ outsourcing. Certainly, Malaysia was not known for producing games among gamers. However, we collaborated with big studios to create games like Street Fighters, Final Fantasy and other different types of game. We started to get a lot of funds and interest from the global market and we also got a lot of coverage from the international media as well.

 

Q: Tell us more about your collaborations with other industry players?
We learnt about micro International Market Business. We’d been keeping abreast of the latest developments and talked to a lot of people, until one day, we signed our publishing deal with a global partner from Italy. It was an Italian game publisher and distributor Digital Bros SpA, and the deal was through its subsidiary, 505 Games SpA.

They are the largest game publisher in Europe and we are the first Malaysian company to have signed a global deal with them.

So we were very excited.

Indeed, it was an interesting year for us in 2018. This year, we have gradually grown the studio. From a backyard studio, we now have almost 50 people with us.

We have come a long way. When we started, we were basically based in a warehouse.

 

Q: As a local game developer, do you receive a lot of backing from the government?
We are very happy to receive a lot of support from the government and we are excited to see how the gaming industry is going to be like in the future. What excites me the most is that more and more people are looking into premium personal computer (PC) games.

Re: Legend is now accessible on video game digital distribution service platform, Steam

Previously, most gamers focused only on their mobile devices. A lot of naysayers predict that there will be no market for premium PC games because mobile games have been gaining traction.

But for us as a gamer, I believe people who own a gaming laptop will always play games because there’s a reason why they get that type of PC.

Currently, there are about two billion gamers in the world. Initially, we were at a loss because we thought mobile game was everything.

We grew up playing games console like Game Boy and Nintendo Sega. Relating back to our childhood gaming experience, we decided to pursue what we knew best, which is role-playing game, a premium game that is not free to play.

We realised that if we force ourselves into a market that we have totally no control of, then we are bound to fail. People always say that you have to work on things that you know best.

We took a leap of faith and focused on PC premium games, confirming our direction and it turned out to be positive.

We are quite surprised to witness a lot of Malaysian gamers beginning to appreciate our local gaming industry. It’s a good outcome, especially on the gamers’ mindset as previously they did not believe in local expertise and gaming experience.

In fact, more new emerging studios like Bandai Co Ltd and Tencent Holdings Ltd have started to look at Malaysia as a hub for gaming industry in South-East Asia. For me, that is a good start for our local gaming industry.

 

Q: What about private investors? Why are they a bit reluctant to participate in the local gaming industry?
The private sector needs more exposure and education on gaming. As I said previously, the business in Malaysia is relatively new. We are the first batch of game developers in this digital economy that is trying to shape Malaysia into a local Silicon Valley.

The problem is, a lot of private investors want to participate and be part of the digital economy, but most of them do not really understand the concept. They don’t understand the operational side of running a digital business because it’s a high-risk, highreturn game.

If one of our products is successful, there is no guarantee that the next one will replicate the previous success. This is the reality that I think most private investors don’t get.

In terms of our outlook and future plan, we are focusing on Re: Legend as currently, it is only on PC. We are working to ensure that Re: Legend is available on multiple consoles and platforms such as Playstation, Xbox and Nintendo Switch.

As a game developer, we have to service our community, who are the gamers to ensure that they are happy. It is a neverending cycle. We have to create sequel spinoffs and merchandising to establish the game with intellectual property (IP).

We also aim to set up our own academy — a boutique style of academy that will look into industrial quality talents and ensure that they are ready to be involved in the workforce and industry.

On top of that, part of our plan is to help incubate and accelerate different smaller- scale projects. In the next five years, we are looking into not only making our own flagship IPs, but to give back to the digital industry in Malaysia.

 

Q: Do you think that there is a vast potential in the gaming industry, and what is your hope from the government?
The gaming industry is estimated to be worth around few hundred million US dollars.

Recently, Belgian videogame maker, Larian Studio announced their presence in Malaysia by setting up their own studio in the country.

It’s definitely a huge market and good news for the country as more international players are coming in.

The gaming industry is fast as there is a life cycle for a particular game. You can finish a game in three to four months and after you finish the game you will shift to a new one.

So there is continuous demand.

In Malaysia, we can see that each individual developer is working together and trying to promote each other’s product. I’m very proud to see that Malaysia’s gaming community is very strong.

I applaud the recent government’s budget.

A lot of allocations have been earmarked to build the digital economy. Even the Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman has been a strong proponent of the development of the local e-sports activities.

This is something that you rarely see in other countries. I hope the government will continue to support the local gaming industry in years to come.