Level Up KL 2016: Quality education fundamental to nurturing videogame talent
By Ajith Ram November 22, 2016
- Malaysian universities taking videogame education seriously
- SEA videogame market growing faster than any other region
EVERYONE DNA spoke to agreed that Level Up KL 2016 was a resounding success. In addition to increased attendance, the event also featured more talks from international speakers and tutorials from videogame middleware vendor, Unity Technologies.
DNA posed some questions to Hasnul Hadi, Director of Creative Content & Technologies Division at Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) for his post event thoughts on Level Up KL, on the pressing talent challenge and the role universities are playing. Hasnul also shared MDEC's plans around Level [email protected] and shared that the bold move to extend this year's event to five days from last year's two-day conference was "spot on".
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DNA: How do you rate this year's Level UP compared to the last one?
This is the second time we hosted Level Up KL and while we had about 400 participants in 2015, I’m happy to say we really busted our numbers this year with over 600 attendees from all around the region, in addition to 40 very experienced industry speakers who were generous to share their knowledge and insights with our attendees.
Back in 2015, Level Up KL was only a two day conference. But we know there is much to share at a leading regional event such as this. So for 2016, we extended the event to five days and judging from the feedback we received, the decision was spot-on.
DNA: Alexander Fernandez in his keynote talked about investing in people to grow the company. Do you see that happening in Malaysian game developers?
We have seen an increase in both quality and quantity of our talent within the last few years, with more local universities and institutes of higher learning (IHLs) like the Multimedia University (MMU), the One Academy and KDU University College, offering game-related courses to a growing number of students.
We are also thankful to the people from the games industry in Malaysia who are eager and driven to help develop the ecosystem through knowledge-sharing, mentorship and partnership programs.
We can also attribute this increased interest to programs like MYGAMEDEV (a program under an NKEA (national key economic area) for education represented by both industry and academia which specifically focuses on quality of talent and opportunities.
Of course, MDEC along with other industry players and government agencies like FINAS, MaGIC, and GameFounders, also play their part through providing the people with the right platform and opportunities to develop their skills, increase knowledge and build the network that would help them in the future.
DNA: Do you believe that the syllabus taught in Malaysian universities is rigorous enough for the games industry? It is generally agreed that institutes like DigiPen in Singapore offer the best courses for aspiring game developers. What can be done to bring Malaysian institutes to that standard?
We recently published The Southeast Asia Game Industry Talent Report 2016, which looked at the current educational environment in SEA for games education. It also surveyed most of the major SEA countries for talent output, quality and industry participation. You can download this report from the MDEC website.
As the report highlighted, IHLs are ramping up their focus on the games industry and we are seeing a number of our own local graduates becoming serious players in the industry.
We have various IHLs in Malaysia already offering game-related courses and they have produced many figures that are now important to the industry. To name a few, we have Wong Cheng Fei, the CEO of Lemon Sky and Ng Aik Sern who founded Passion Republic. Both graduated from The One Academy. We also have Wan Hazmer who graduated from Asia Pacific Institute of Information Technology (APIIT) and is now the Lead Designer with Square Enix.
The challenge we see however is for these IHLs to maintain a high standard for their courses. This is partly due to the lack of experienced teaching staff and often due to budget constraints.
At the same time, we are aware that the lack of awareness from parents and students on the potential of the games-related industries are also making it difficult for IHLs to promote their courses effectively.
With this report, MDEC will work with the local institutions to look at the current gaps to fill them and push the quality of the talent and opportunities. It is also MDEC’s goal through initiatives like Level Up KL to help them understand better the opportunities present in the gaming industry.
DNA: Do you see any increased interest from Malaysian investors in the local games industry?
Certainly! As we have often said, the SEA games market represents about 4% of global consumption and is expected to grow faster than any other geographical region.
There is much potential for the region given our youthful population, growing middle class and easy access to technology. Obviously, investors are aware of this tremendous room for growth as well.
With Malaysia, we have shown how our talent and companies are capable of delivering world class games and content that are recognised at the international level. So many of these talented companies like ACE EdVenture (creator of chemistry based RPG ChemCaper) and Passion Republic (who helped to produce the widely acclaimed Uncharted 4), are doing wonderfully and I dare say major gaming companies are paying closer attention to Malaysia as a gaming and content creation hub.
Another example is the likes of Media Prima, which has partnered with Level Up KL to run the SEA Game Jam. They are invested in looking for new talent and companies in the games industry whom they could look at later in publishing and collaborate with. For the SEA Game Jam specifically, Media Prima will be working with the winners to go through an Alpha Startup program to create new games companies and businesses.
DNA: Is there a requirement for more incubators/accelerators like Gamefounders in Malaysia?
As we continue to grow our investment in the talent pool, no doubt, we will need to provide them the space to also grow in the industry. To date, we are happy to share that there are existing incubators programs under MDEC including the Creative Incubation Centre (CIC) at KL Sentral and MAC3 (Malaysian Animation Creative Content Centre) incubator in Cyberjaya.
Of course, I would want more in the future. As it happens, we have recently signed a MoU with UOA Holdings for a joint effort to set up a game incubation center in Bangsar South.
DNA: Does MDEC have any plans to promote the teaching of game development in schools?
I am glad to say schools today are more open to considering implementing technology in the classroom. We have also seen schools taking up coding as part of their curriculum – either as part of a computer science subject or beyond the pedagogy of teaching. We hope that this will also signal the possibility of including game development as part of our education syllabus in the near future.
MDEC is also now working with Unity to run Level [email protected] where we give opportunities to secondary school children to create games. We have been going to different regions to work with schools and universities.
We are also trying to encourage children to go from consumers to producers of content. Unity has been behind us to ensure that we give these kids the best educational content to master the tools for games development. We are now planning to bring these games later to a national level competition.