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Interview: Why Singapore Wants The Game Biz

With branch offices from companies like Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, LucasArts, and Koei, Singapore is trying to position itself as a hotbed for video game development in Asia - Gamasutra spoke with Linda Sein of the country's Economic Development Board to f
Singapore's Economic Development Board aims to attract international business and investment to the Asian island. To that end, the EDB specifically targets the video game industry as well as other fields, reaching out to game developers to open branches or conduct business in the country. The country's ability to give tax breaks and other incentives to companies has led to some notable wins in recent years, with LucasArts/LucasFilm setting up a major studio in Singapore, as well as Electronic Arts setting up a branch office in the country. For perspective on Singapore's game development industry, Gamasutra spoke with Linda Sein, executive director of infocommunications & media for the Economic Development Board. "The digital media industry is a dynamic and growing part of the Singapore economy and the EDB intends to continue to support this industry as part of our drive to develop Singapore into a knowledge-based economy. It is a promising new growth area," said Sein in summary. The EDB hopes to make Singapore a "capital" of digital media development. Specifically, it projects that its domestic digital media industry will create 10,000 new jobs and boost the economy by $10 billion by 2015. A more recent win for Singapore came in February 2008, when Ubisoft announced its plan to open a Singaporean studio that will eventually grow to employ a staff of 300. Japanese publisher Koei also opened a studio in the country to develop its Romance of the Three Kingdoms Online. To attract development, Singapore is said to offer various government benefits and grants, although such programs are likely to be handled on a case-by-case basis. On that topic, Sein only stated that benefits "range from development incentives to an international manpower program to build up the necessary capabilities for the industry." Though a number of publishers have established teams in Singapore in recent years, the country has not had a long history with the industry. "The games industry in Singapore is relatively still a young one," said Sein. "Just less than a decade ago, there were hardly any games developers in Singapore." "Many of the local companies started with the staple of mobile and online casual games," she continued, "but with increased investor confidence in the market here and support from the government agencies, more are now able to set the their sights on bigger, full-blown game titles." In many ways, this could be argued to be the major stumbling block for Singapore to attain a truly global profile - a major title with worldwide profile has yet to be developed solely in the country. In addition, the depth of local talent in the country is still being worked on. However, if one is to take the example of Shanghai, where early talent leadership from studios like Ubisoft Shanghai has resulted in a rapidly burgeoning game development business using talent spun off that initial studio, it may be that this situation could create similar effects. Right now, local studios tend to produce titles more geared towards casual or mobile, although the scene is growing. Nabi Studios has gained notice for its debut effort Toribash, which was a finalist in the 2007 Independent Game Festival. Mobile-oriented Mikoishi is now moving into Nintendo DS development. In an interesting historical note, Sein points out that Mikoishi's Dropcast will achieve the milestone of being "the first made-by-Singapore Nintendo game."

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