In Singapore, gaming is becoming serious business

A young boy watched the proceedings of a live gaming tournament.
Much has been said about the negativity of video gaming: obsession that borders on unhealthy, declined social interactions, reduced amount of sleep…  The list goes on.

Even with this supposed bad reputation, there are signs that the ubiquitous hobby of our wired generation is slowly making headway as a more respectable past time. For some, it might be even a career option.

Gaming is big business. According to the Entertainment Software Association, consumers spent US$25.1 billion (about S$31.6 billion) on video games, hardware and accessories in 2010.

The trend is also evident in Singapore. On 9-11 September, more than 100,000 video game enthusiasts flocked to the Games Xpo 2011 (TGX 2011), where more than 30 exhibitors including developers, publishers and hardware makers showed off their wares.

Gamers got into the action too. TGX 2011 was held in conjunction with the World Cyber Games (WCG) Singapore qualifiers, where 1,200 top gamers from all over the country gathered to battle it out for the opportunity to represent Singapore in the global finals in Busan, South Korea, at the end of this year.

Hopes are high for our gamers at this year’s WCG, after a local team called Scythe.SG made history in August when they were placed third at the International Dota 2 Championships held at Gamescon in Cologne, Germany.

For players of the highly popular game League of Legends, Singapore-based game publisher Garena is offering to sponsor their winning WGC gamers to the finals in Korea with a generous S$20,000 sponsorship that includes air tickets and accommodation.

In addition, an upcoming League of Legends tournament has been confirmed to offer a staggering US$5 million in total in prize money. The date for this tournament has not been finalised at the time of writing.

To 25-year-old Lionel “Hammy” Lee (who has been participating in semi-professional gaming since he was 12), these are signs that gaming is gaining momentum as a legitimate career option. Citing growing prize pools of 5-6 digit figures, he likens e-sporting careers to physical sporting careers.

 “It’s still discouraged by parents, but gaming is a viable option to sustain a decent living,” he says.

But parental approval shouldn’t be a problem if one considers getting into gaming as a developer.

Take 21-year-old Hoong Boon Wai, a recent Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP) graduate who is already running his own game development company, Dark Potato Studios. They aim to release its first PlayStation Portable game to market within the next 6 months.

Dark Potatoes (left to right): Remy Boicherot, 23, Hoong Boon Wai, 21, Guillaume Nasi, 23, and Marcus Lee, 19.

Hoong and his peers are the beneficiaries of a tight partnership between Sony Computer Entertainment Asia and NYP’s School of Interactive and Digital Media. The partnership provides assistance to the school’s PlayStation Development Community – a collective of local game design companies that focus on building games for Sony’s PlayStation systems.

For one, Sony is allowing these students priority access to development tools for their upcoming handheld console, the PlayStation Vita.

 “If a particular student-made game shows promise, we can also provide marketing and sales support to help students bring the product to market,” said Tetsuhiko Yasuda, president of Sony Computer Entertainment Asia.

The success of the partnership has prompted Sony and NYP to renew their commitment earlier this month for an additional 5 years. This means that students like Hoong can continue enjoying the support of one of the largest game console makers in the world.

Gaming might still be considered by many as a frivolous activity, and it will take time to turn perceptions around. But trailblazers like Hammy and Hoong are setting the path for future aspirants to take up the mantle and, together with the support of companies like Garena and Sony, help Singaporean gamers and game developers “level-up”.

“It has been a tough journey, but rewarding. I can feel myself growing as an individual,” said Hoong.

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