Digerati50: Baking and switching on the Malaysian games industry
By Tan Jee Yee July 18, 2020
- Latino American entrepreneur, Alexander Fernandez is bringing on the heat
- Love for creativity, business and technology sees birth of exciting original IP
Digital News Asia (DNA) continues its series that profiles 50 influencers who are helping shape Malaysia’s Digital Economy, from Digerati50 2020-2021 (Vol 4), a special biennial print publication released in July 2020. The digital version can be downloaded from the sidebar link. For information on customised reprints email [email protected]
[Ed: In the print version of this article, we wrongly referred to Alexander as a Dutch entrepreneur. The error is regretted.]
One might say that Alexander Fernandez, CEO and cofounder of Streamline Media Group, is a little ahead of the curve.
When he relocated his games co-development studio from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur in 2010, the games development industry in Malaysia was barely sprouting. The decision to relocate was one of necessity – the global financial crisis of 2007-2009 has put Streamline in a bad position, and a more cost-effective environment was needed.
But it was also a decision informed by talent. “Streamline came to Malaysia because of the vibrancy and talent of the people. When we arrived, we saw the ingredients were there to make something incredible happen and decided that it would be a great place to invest our knowledge and capabilities into building something memorable,” Fernandez says.
“More than a decade later, we're happy to see everyone's hard work and efforts paying off.”
This raw talent in the region, combined with Streamline’s experienced, battle-hardened veterans ended up being a potent mix. Streamline would be in the front lines of Malaysia’s games development industry. The studio has their hands in co-developing some of the world’s most prominent games, including the likes of Gears of War, Street Fighter V, Final Fantasy XV and Bioshock Infinite.
Now, they’re diving deeper into developing their own Intellectual Property (IP). Their latest game, Bake ‘n Switch (pic) (which just recently completed its Kickstarter run in May 2020), is in many ways a bun long in their ovens. “We don't believe anyone grows up dreaming of being an outsourcing company. They grow up wanting to make products and to see their combined efforts realised,” he says.
“We love creativity. We also love business and technology. [An] original IP gives us access to many of these things and other aspects that aren't immediately clear to others, but that we're excited about.”
Streamline has been making games since they started in 2001. The company was founded after the release of their mod-gone-retail product, the Gunman Chronicles, released during an era with no digital distribution and indie revolution – an ecosystem, as Fernandez puts it, controlled by “large monolithic publishers that guarded the gates.”
To finance their games, Streamline started selling their capabilities as services. “We just happened to be very good at it and built a reliable business,” Fernandez quips. Their efforts with AAA titles like Bioshock meant that they could continue with their own titles like HoopWorld, Axon Runners and Night Stream.
These years of running a business and making games across Southeast Asia, Europe and the United States has taught Streamline to communicate and work with diverse groups effectively. “How to build teams, overcome differences, and understand what each other's uniqueness brings while incorporating them into our plans,” Fernandez explains.
“Bake 'n Switch wouldn't exist if it wasn't for our talented team of game developers and support of all our business divisions: Streamline Studios, Streamframe, All Pixels, and Day Zero and shared business units. We all came together with focus and dedication to make this possible.”
Working on games isn’t the only thing Streamline does. The company has developed and released Streamframe, their proprietary cloud-based project management platform designed specifically for video game development.
Streamframe, Fernandez says, proved vital to help the company get through the Covid-19 pandemic. “We've been fortunate to have been building an external development platform for remote collaboration and work for close to a decade. Streamframe allows us to work with relative ease, remotely, with our team and customers, all in a secure setting in the cloud.”
The Harvard Business School graduate believes that the games industry has reached its apex moment of western influence, with more participants from developing regions – Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa, in particular – making their presence known.
“It is an exciting development as the stories, experiences, and gameplay will be different and offer games something they've not had before,” he says.
“For opportunistic market game developers, it means the chance to create great businesses and governments a chance to invest in their people's human capital,” Fernandez notes, adding that he believes that the industry is turning into a global force for change and economic mobility.
Fernandez, who describes himself as an “optimist realist and pragmatic to business in general”, states that it’s still an industry that is “the same harsh, brutal, unforgiving sector that it has always been.”
“It's also the most incredible in terms of social-economic mobility, relevance, and innovation. This duality means that you've got to stay sharp and understand the development, creative, and business process and how to interact and work with global talent,” he says.
Fernandez believes that for entrepreneurs to be in the video games industry, they would need to develop their soft skills – empathy, leadership, communication, and accountability being important traits. They would also need to have a high VUCA quotient: volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity
“Also, you have to come to terms with, that like most industries, video games is a cut throat business. At the risk of sounding dramatic, there is a lot of backstabbing, sabotage, and espionage. There are people and organisations in the industry that are willing to do anything to ensure that they make a profit. You don’t have to be one of them to succeed, but you have to be willing to get your hands dirty and fight for what is right and stand up for your team,” he elaborates.
“Being able to operate within that will prepare you for a career in video games.”