Yes, you read that headline right; last week’s three-day Casual Connect Asia event is as close as Southeast Asia is going to get for a local Electronic Entertainment Expo or Games Development Conference. And given more years down the line, we’re damn well happy to relish in that fact.
Some context before I explain thoroughly — a long time ago, there was a Southeast Asian gaming exhibition called Games Conference Asia; this was back in 2008 and 2009. It had a lot of high-profile names such as Ian Livingstone and Peter Molyneux showing up and participating in panels, as well as its own side DICE conference. While a majority of the convention hall wasn’t flooded with exclusive games that haven’t seen the light of day yet, the spirit of a games convention where developers and consumers mingle with one another, attend panels, and even learn from each other, remained consistent.
The convention was discontinued after the 2009 event. While the official news was due to the ‘overall economic climate’, other theories across the grapevine popped up. Maybe the organisation behind it spent way too much in funding, maybe it was the lack of interest from people in Singapore due to the culture (which is an entirely different story for another time and on another type of website).
Or maybe it was the fact that console games will always be nothing more than a means to an end for Asian distributors to keep their economy going as the real players are still the ones residing either in Japan or in Western countries. Yes, this is still true even today. Regardless of these speculations, the spirit of celebrating games together as a business and as entertainment was prevalent.
Fast forward to last year and now, we have a gaming trade show-type event that may have recaptured that essence of an Asian games convention: Casual Connect Asia. It’s one part publishing and mobile games business model educating and networking, and one part Asia-centric (mostly) video game showcasing.
At first glance, the convention may portray some level of soullessness, with a majority of its panels all about analytics, Big Data, and many acronyms focused on free-to-play monetisation. Because of its S$400 (US$320) or so entry fee, the event is tailored for business people, developers, producers and anyone within that category that takes the mobile gaming environment seriously.
Digging a little deeper and opening up your mind, however, will reveal the fact that this is how a semi-private games convention is about. The only difference between the Asian Casual Connect and E3 is how it presents itself. Throughout my experiences with many E3 showcases and every keynote I’ve attended on the spot, its main concern is to showcase bigger and better products that thrive on hype and anticipation. The glitz and glamour of each game publisher’s booth screams of bloated excess that one will get sick of after repeated visits. Though give the trade show credit: the best parts and best previews happen in the meeting rooms where companies big and small present their demos without dealing with the crowd.
Casual Connect Asia takes the humble approach in entertaining and educating, though you have to understand that it’s catering to the current gaming landscape that’s relevant to the majority. Mobile and free-to-play games, like it or not, are the future of the games industry and that mandate is established in Southeast Asia. Games like Puzzle & Dragons and Brave Frontier, Japanese puzzlers and RPGs mind you, are on the top of every mobile gaming chart you’ve seen and heard on a small number of news sites and aggregate blogs.
A majority of game developers in Asia are making games for the iOS and Android, sometimes with the free-to-play design in mind. Why? Because it’s economical in the long run and Apple/Google’s outreach with their App Store and Google Play online stores span worldwide. Its reach and outlook is even further and more open-minded than Microsoft and Nintendo, and most third-party publishers.
First-party game publisher Sony Computer Entertainment made its presence felt with a well-laid booth showcasing locally-made games with potential: One Upon Light and Rocketbirds 2: Revolution. I’ve personally played those games and they definitely can stand out with other indie players at E3 if given the chance.
My points is this: Southeast Asia needs this ‘E3’ type of gaming convention, and needs its audience to champion it hard, loud and proud. This type of annual opportunity, with more public awareness, will keep gaming relevant as a business, as a creative bastion and as an opportunity to enlighten and delight.
This event caters to the business and creative side of the region’s gaming industry to the tee. The panels on business and publishing aspect of games are important for developers, producers and businessmen because at the end of the day, you need to see some semblance of monetary returns to your passion. Nothing is free in life, after all.
There were even a few representatives from Blizzard Entertainment and Tecmo Koei, both companies that deal with triple-A games, attending a number of these talks from Amazon, LINE, Kakao and Google. This shows that at least a few third-party developers do care about breaking away (but not forsaking) the traditional premium model or at least learn some freemium terms and tactics to implement in their respective premium console/PC games in the best way possible.
The game developers, those either on their own or with a third-party publisher, focused on indie content. They were all there to network with potential publishers and show off their hard work in spades. Apart from the aforementioned SCE representatives, there were other studios such as Springloaded (Tiny Dice Dungeons), Kurechii Studio (King’s League: Odyssey) and Mintsphere (Trigger Princess) getting acclaim and adoration from both, peers and passerbys, not just from Southeast Asians, but also from others worldwide — from Japan to America.
At the same time, these developers can learn a thing or two on business and game publishing terms from these panels. They aren’t restricted to just business developers and marketers; game developers and producers were given an opportunity to sit in one of these panels by Google and Amazon, so that they possess knowledge on how to present their games better in the future. Your potential indie-game-of-the-year material may win awards, but it won’t mean jack in the long run if your intended audience does not touch it and continue supporting it.
With these aspects covered just fine (though some improvements can be made with seating arrangements to this year’s games showcase area), Asian gamers should relish in the fact that there is a relevant games convention that needs your attention and support to keep it going. Even if you can’t afford to attend all three days of the event, a slew of word-of-mouth news-spreading and buzz can work wonders on getting attention within the region.
And as much as I’d love to see a console and PC-focused games convention, events like the earlier-mentioned GCA are long gone and may be hard to justify given its probable expenses and low return of investment. And I also mentioned culture differences compared to how Western countries and Japan handle this sort of thing with huge fanfare.
In short, we’ll have to make do with Casual Connect Asia being a worthy ‘E3’ spectacle for Southeast Asia. Revel in it and give it the love it deserves, so that it eventually grows bigger to become something the region can brag about.