Conquering new battle arenas in gaming

The Interactive and Digital Media sector, nurtured by the Economic Development Board, is a hub in Asia for the creation and commercialisation of media content for the world. It holds exciting opportunities as demand grows. In the fifth of a seven-part series, Arti Mulchand profiles three people working in the sector.

As Koei Tecmo senior vice-president Raymond Wong battles through a level of Samurai Cats, he frowns.

The Singapore office is developing updates for the mobile and PC game, which is popular in China and Taiwan, but is not available here yet. Mr Wong is locking horns with some features that are not working as they should.

That could be bad news for a developer trying to hit the right buttons with users - the game needs to be fun to keep players hooked and willing to part with real money for in-game purchases.

"Games have changed. The relationship does not end after a customer picks up a game at the store and takes it home," says Mr Wong, 44. "The developer is building a relationship that keeps users coming back for days, weeks, even years."

Market research firm Newzoo estimates global revenue from mobile games will reach US$30.3 billion (S$39 billion) next year, up from US$25 billion this year.

South-east Asia and China are expected to be fast-growing markets this year - expanding 86 per cent from levels last year.

Barriers to entry have dropped, but competition has heated up, so even leading brands have been forced to up their game, says Mr Wong.

He helped set up the Singapore subsidiary of Koei Tecmo in 2004, when it was a pioneer in the fledgling gaming industry here.

The Economic Development Board was trying to grow the sector, and under its Strategic Attachment and Training Programme, Mr Wong did an eight-month stint at the firm's Yokohama headquarters. When he returned, he became general manager of the new office here.

"We had virtually no point of reference as there weren't any other companies around, and we struggled to find talent," he recalls.

"We borrowed some practices from Japan and localised them, and brought in smart people with good potential and trained them."

The going was rough, but thankfully, Mr Wong had always enjoyed a challenge.

An electrical and electronic engineering graduate of Imperial College London, he joined Motorola in 1994, at a time when pagers were new to the market.

After earning his MBA at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, he joined StarHub - just before it took on SingTel in Singapore's recently liberalised telecommunications sector.

He then launched a startup that specialised in knowledge management systems, before deciding to give the world of games a go.

Much has changed in the ensuing decade. There are now more than 70 people in Mr Wong's Singapore-based team, which includes 2D and 3D artists, game designers and engineers. 

They are involved in the creation of up to 30 titles a year, and have played a significant role in those belonging to the Romance of the Three Kingdoms franchise.

Technologies and tastes have changed as well.

"We analyse the data to understand what a customer is doing, and how we can keep people playing. It involves both business strategy and engineering," Mr Wong explains.

Games are also becoming a lot more social.

"It is no longer just you against the machine. You compete with your friends and communicate with them, and invite more friends to play. You become part of a community," says Mr Wong.

Right now, he is gearing up for the next level in gaming - he says games will soon transcend platforms, and could even relate to the player's immediate environment.

"The possibilities are quite endless."

This article was first published on Nov 10, 2014.

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