Philippine game developers ready for big players?

MANILA–Norman Lee says the Philippines has a problem that many Canadian game designers and developers would love to have.

He’s got game studios knocking at his door seeking looking for artists and developers. But the 30-something coordinator of the game design and development program at the De La Salle College of Saint Benilde said the fledgling sector just doesn’t have enough warm bodies to fill the bill.

“We’ve definitely go the talent, it’s just we don’t have enough of it,” Lee told The coordinator of the Philippine’s first formal game and design program is still three years from letting go his first batch of 30 graduates.

Computer game and animation is the youngest of this country’s business process outsourcing sector. The sector employs less than 700 Filipino developers and artists, said Ranulf Goss, chief technology officer of SunGame Corp.

Goss, 29, is also the president of the Game Developer’s Association of the Philippines.

“We’re the fastest growing industry in outsourcing right now, but definitely we need more manpower,” he said.

According to Goss, the game development sector started out with little more than 50 workers in 2004. That number grew to more than more than 640 by 2009.

Although revenues for 2009 were pegged at a mere $4.5 million, Goss said, there has been a more than five per cent growth year by year in manpower and revenues.

The digital animation sector is also benefiting from decades old alliances with large studios such as Disney which employed Filipino artists to render cartoon characters long before the advent of digital arts.

Now the country is pushing a growing breed of young digital illustrators.

Of the more than 50 outfits in the sector, many are locally owned organizations developing games on their own perhaps apart from an outsourced assignment.

“But we definitely need more trained artists and developers,” said Goss who said there’s a bit of a “chicken-and-egg” situation.

The industry can attract more foreign companies if it has a large talent pool to offer. People with an IT background will go into game development if there’s a possibility of earning big bucks from foreign firms.

It helps, that over here game development and digital illustration is perceived to be a cool endeavor. In fact the majority of cell phone users use some sort of mobile game on their devices. Even professionals are into PC-based games.

“Online multi-player games are very popular in the country because they’re relatively cheaper than store bought software-based games,” according to Lee of St. Benilde.

He said for many developers creating games for the local market sales of virtual goods appear to be the ideal revenue model. “It plays on the user’s desire to excel in the game. In my case, the further I get into a game the more I want my avatar to have more weapons in order to win.”

He said Filipino appear to be averse to putting out a high upfront cost for buying games but are willing to make small payments for virtual goods.

At the moment Lee said, majority of the game developers and artists come from the ranks of computer programmers who are passionate about games and have studied game development on their own.

Aside from St. Benilde’s game development courses, there is not formal game development training program in the Philippines.

“For instance, many of our developers need to develop more skills in C++,” Lee said.

Both Lee and Goss are hopeful that 2010 will be the year when more programmers or computer science students seek out game development training.

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Nestor E. Arellano
Nestor E. Arellano
Toronto-based journalist specializing in technology and business news. Blogs and tweets on the latest tech trends and gadgets.

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