Tap to start: A look into PH’s gaming industry, and where the devs are headed

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/20 September) — Psychedelic graphics of console titles and mind-bending mechanics of mobile puzzle games would make anyone think that the gaming world (and the business behind it) is alive.

They’re right. It is as alive as Chun-Li on a level three X-Factor in Marvel vs. Capcom 3. There is so much going on from the drawing boards to meeting rooms.

In 2013, Games In Asia, in a story, cited a report that counted over 4,000 professionals currently working in the industry; this manpower is strewn across 60 companies.

“Five percent of the people are working on console games. Fifteen percent are doing quality assurance (QA), game design consulting, and community support. The remaining 80 percent are focusing on mobile and social games,” Games In Asia writer Xairylle said in her story.

But as it turns out, the numbers are not enough.

“The biggest problem that the growing game industry in the Philippines is facing is that there are not enough talents,” said Game Developers Association of the Philippines (GDAP) president Solon Chen.

During his visit to Davao, he said that there’s a lot of business going on behind the illustrious world of gaming. “There are lots of chances and opportunities for all of us but there are simply not enough qualified people to do it.”

A potential solution to this is to devise a specialized education program that could address the lack of gaming manpower.

Not Einstein’s EMC

That’s exactly what GDAP has been working on with the Commission on Higher Education (CHED). A bachelor’s degree in entertainment multimedia computing (BS EMC) has long been in the works and is now CHED approved.

“The field of Entertainment and Multimedia Computing is a relatively new but dynamic field,” the CHED memorandum order (CMO) 02 of the program said. “It includes the areas of Digital Animation and Game Development. It is the basis for these two sub-sectors of the Philippine Information Technology industry. These are promising areas where the local industry is experiencing fast growth and where the potential to capture a bigger slice of the global market is quite high.”

“It’s basically game development,” said Chen. “It’s a BS degree dedicated to teach students how to build a game.”

BS EMC came into fruition after seeing that IT and other computing related courses are not enough to produce game developers.

Chen said that there’s a common notion that the people behind the gaming industry are those who studied IT or computer science. He dismissed that, saying that IT courses are not enough for game developers

The reality is that only 10-20% of the core courses in IT or computer science are needed for game development; these cover basic programming and coding.

“Somehow, IT and computer science courses are related to game development, but they’re still very different,” Chen said. Graduates from those courses don’t necessarily become game developers easily; it takes a lot of time and resources to train them so they can jump ship.

Chen said that in game development, students need to learn how to draw and to use 3D software. They are required to have background knowledge on visual art and game physics (how in-game objects react to force); they are taught how to apply these two into programming.

There are no schools that teach BS EMC at the moment because it’s still new. Institutions are still trying to come up with a program that’s compliant with CHED guidelines.

Going mobile

Chen said that what’s keeping the industry ticking right now is the advent of games for mobile platforms like iOS and Android.

“To make games in console platforms requires a very high investment and high level technical skills,” he said, answering where the Pinoy games are for PS3 and Xbox. He added that there are imposed limitations in the Philippines in terms of access to tools and developer kits. Such can’t be imported and used in the country legally because game companies believe that certain laws in the Philippines are not comprehensive enough to protect intellectual property.

“So right now if you want to develop a game for Xbox or PS3 consoles with their dev kits, you can only do it in Singapore legally,” he said.

Game developers in the Philippines focus partly on outsourcing arts for big game publishers like EA, Blizzard, Capcom, etc. These artworks have ended up in action adventure games Uncharted and The Last of Us.

The actual game building opportunities are in mobile platforms where there are no developer kit restrictions.

He said that it’s promising right now because there are a growing number of mobile users, and telecommunications companies like Globe are putting in resources to make purchasing these games easier. “It allows people to actually pay, and in return developers make money,” he said.

“Mobile also enables us to build our own IP (intellectual property) easier,” he detailed. “Back then without mobile, our only chance to make games is to outsource. And the end products are not exactly our games.”

Anino Games CEO Niel Dagondon said that iOS and Android platforms changed the varying difficulties of making games for console and PC platforms. “Imagine porting your game to 12 different resolutions, 200 handset families multiplied by 10 languages while having to pass the QA of at least 6 telcos in US and Europe. The iPhone, Android smartphones, the App Store (and to a degree, Google Play) changed all that. Now any developer can go direct to market and earn revenue for his or her game,” he said.

Marlon Danlay, junior test engineer in Klab Cyscorpions said that gamers and developers started turning to mobile in 2011 (perhaps after the huge success of Angry Birds) and the arrival of more iOS and Android game devices. “More game developers were inspired to make games for the mobile platform,” he said.

Mark Dan Raboy, graphic artist at Outblaze.com, said that producing games for mobile devices made the whole process more personal since users can instantly buy games at the touch of a button; there’s an element of instant gratification in easy downloads too!

The developers echo the flip side to mobile publishing in unison. Christopher Cubos, founder of Davao City-based independent game design and development firm NinjaStop Games said that there’s a marketing challenge on how to constantly keep users excited with new titles. Rio Rosa Magpayo, game artist at App Droids Inc., said that the quality of iOS and Android games is also something that hasn’t reached the “premium level” of console and PC games.

“The business behind gaming is still relatively new but it picked up pace when mobile came in,” Chen said, hinting that the future looks bright for games and developers.

Just don’t forget to charge your batteries before you say “game on!” (Jesse Pizarro Boga/MindaNews)