Expectations vs. Reality - Being a Game Developer in Singapore

By Desiree Yang

Say you grew up with video games – be it gunning for the enemy or building a virtual city – and your love for these games led you to toy with the idea of becoming a game developer. Now that you’re an adult, you still harbour ambitions to develop and design games – you’ll be a digital artist and enthrall gamers the world over – and you don’t see why you shouldn’t give it a shot.

Those around you are far from encouraging, and they say that you will be underpaid, undervalued and stuck in an underdeveloped industry.

This might be a familiar scenario for many aspiring video game developers in Singapore, but the camp is probably divided as to whether there are actually good prospects for game developers.

So which is it, and what does the video game industry really hold in store for game developers?

(Not so Realistic) Expectations

Let’s admit it – video games are cool. Some people would then assume that developing these games would bring an extra magnitude of thrill and blitz to the table. You’ll also be entering an industry that’s been around for more than 40 years and has developed into a lean, mean money-making machine. In 2013 alone, it was estimated that the worldwide video game revenue was US$93 billion, and one could hardly be blamed for assuming that the people who make these games are rolling in cash as well.

(The Very Real) Reality

The truth is – even with 40 over game companies in Singapore – the games industry is still relatively young here, which essentially poses a great challenge for local game companies that are trying to break into the international market. There are of course names from abroad, big players like Lucasfilm and Ubisoft, who have set up branch offices here. Take Grand Theft Auto V, which was developed by British video game developer Rockstar North as an example.

Within 24 hours of its release, the game generated more than USD$800 million in sales worldwide, setting six new Guinness World Records, including one for the best-selling video game in 24 hours. In comparison, Reign of Heroes, developed by homegrown game company Daylight Studios, took six months to grow its player base to just over one million users in 170 countries.

Furthermore, game developers earn an average of S$44,400 annually in Singapore (according to PayScale), so you’re probably in the wrong line of work if you hope to use those earnings to get your hands on a fancy crib or ride. Not to mention, game companies tend to hire developers on a project-by-project basis, which means that developers can find themselves out of job at the project’s completion, creating a job market that lacks stability and security.

A More Rosy Future

As young as the game development scene is here in Singapore, when Gamespot interviewed Gio Corsi, the executive producer of LucasArts Singapore on the future of the industry back in 2011, he said, “[Singapore is] well positioned for the game development industry given its solid infrastructure and the ease of communication and transportation.” This potential for growth is recognised by seed-stage venture capital firms like Red Dot Ventures, which provided Daylight Studios with a round of funding worth S$839,000 last year. The Media Development Authority is also eager to support the growth of the game development industry here, with initiatives like GAME+ which was launched in 2010, aimed at catalysing the local development scene.

In addition, Singapore is now home to DigiPen’s first international campus, a college offering the world’s first Bachelor’s degree in game development. Despite the current hurdles, perhaps all Singapore needs is a little more time, investment, and support before our games industry can fully mature and offer fulfilling and stable careers to the majority of aspiring game developers out there.

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