With a small focused team fuelled by impressive successes, Kurechii is ready to go big
Says the Malaysian game development sector has developed significantly since it started
AFTER graduating from The One Academy in 2009, Yiwei P'ng (pic) knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life – create video games.
“But it was hard to get a job with a game company at the time -- there weren’t many in Malaysia to begin with, so we had to create our own jobs,” the founder and director of Kurechii Studio recalls in an interview with Digital News Asia (DNA).
So P’ng roped in two of his former classmates and the trio decided to forge ahead with creating a game of their own.
It took them eight months of development to complete their inaugural offering, Reachin’Pichin, an action arcade game which follows the adventures of Pichin – a failed lab experiment who works hard to prove his worth.
The team also decided to take part in the MSC Malaysia Intellectual Property Creators Challenge (IPCC) organised by the Creative Multimedia Division of the Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC).
Their browser-based flash game took first place in the IPCC 2009 Computer Casual Game Category, which gave the team a much-needed boost in confidence.
“We’re all multimedia graduates and used all the skills we learnt to come up with the game. We had the advantage in terms of the artistic aspects of game creation, but our technical skills were a bit thin so we had to pick up the skills we needed to complete the project,” says P’ng, adding that the team also reached out to as many flash game portals as they could to garner feedback.
Things didn’t end there for Reachin’Pichin, and the team submitted it for consideration at the MSC Malaysia Kre8tif! Digital Content Conference and Awards in 2010, emerging with the top award in the Best Casual Game category.
US game publisher Kings.com, the creators of Candy Crush Saga, also opted to pick up the game for distribution.
Converting hobby to fulltime careers
After a successful outing with the first game, P’ng wanted to do more, but at this point, all the team members had day jobs.
“It was hard to convince my team members to take the jump into developing games full time. So I decided to come out on my own first and do another game,” he says.
P’ng quit his day job as a lecturer at The One Academy and got to work on the prototype of what would eventually become Kurechii Studio’s flagship title – The King’s League, a flash browser-based simulation strategy fantasy game.
“It took one month to build the prototype and another six months to complete it, polish it up and get it published,” he adds.
The game was picked up by American game publisher Armour Games for distribution, to P’ng’s surprise, and managed to do quite well in the United States. It racked up two million players in two weeks, in contrast with Reachin’Pichin, which took a year to garner one million players.
“I was surprised. It was a daring idea at the time, to just go fulltime and develop a game. I didn’t have much confidence after working on it after six months, with no one to talk to or discuss issues with,” P'ng says.
The success of The King’s League (pic) was enough for P’ng to convince one of his original teammates to jump back on board fulltime with Kurechii Studio while the third member helps out with the copywriting but still maintains a full-time job.
But the initial rush of success soon led to some trying times for the Kurechii team, with P’ng admitting that they started “being greedy.”
“We started doing a lot of games at once, handling multiple projects and being unable to complete them,” he says.
The years 2011 and 2012 also marked the outfit’s transition to the mobile industry, moving from flash browser-based games to mobile games because that was a growing market that they wanted to have a presence in.
“We really struggled because we came from an arts background and had no technical expertise, it was a challenging time. Diggonaut, a game about an astronaut exploring a mysterious planet, was our first iOS attempt and the performance was not on par with our other games.
“After a year, we decided to revamp the entire thing with a new engine, and it’s still a work in progress," P'ng says.
But things got better with the sequel to their most popular title The King’s League: Odyssey, with the flash version being released in April of 2013 after a year of development.
“Because of the established fan base, we got about five million players in a month, and also licensed the game to online portals. We were also contacted by publishers even before we launched the flash version, wanting us to develop the iOS version.
“I went to Singapore for a games event to meet with parties interested in picking up the game as a publisher to negotiate the deal. Back then, opportunities like this didn’t come up very often and we just took the first deal and didn’t really compare, choosing to rely on other parties that had more experience with mobile platforms,” he adds.
It took another six months to complete the iOS version of The King’s League: Odyssey, which was released in November of 2013 after some technical issues delayed proceedings.
“With the iOS version we were very worried about whether it’ll do well. Especially since it was a paid title amidst the trend of everyone going with a freemium model. There was a lot of competition as well with a similar game being launched the same day as ours,” says P’ng.
However, his concerns were laid to rest with the game garnering positive reviews from a variety of gaming portals. It was even selected by TouchArcade, a popular iOS gaming site, as the Game of the Week, giving the title a nice boost in market awareness. It eventually went on to nab the website's Best Action Game of 2013 award.
“Chart wise, it’s our highest ranking title to date hitting the 24th spot in the game category and was even a featured game on the iTunes store,” P’ng says.
Last year also marked another milestone for Kurechii Studio, alongside the increased pick-up and awareness of its creations, the team had acknowledge their limits and hired three programmers to help in development.
“We beefed up our team and are now focused on doing one thing at a time while trying to sort out all the other things. We’re now keeping to our aim of releasing one game a year,” P'ng says.
He intends to keep the Kurechii team a small one, with current staff count numbering seven, believing in the maxim of “quality over quantity.”
King’s League: Odyssey was largely self-funded and any profit made gets pumped back into the development of new titles.
“Right now, we’re able to sustain the company on the revenue we’re getting from our published titles. If we can complete our current projects in time with no delays, or at least minimal delays, we will be able to make a profit,” he says.
P’ng says that the company’s titles also fare well in South-East Asia, especially in Thailand where they claim the top app spot for a week or two every time they run a promotion, and are in the top 10 list for 10 Asian countries in the games category.
“We want to have the top game in the United States one day, that’s what we’re working toward,” he adds, noting that work is already underway on a fresh title.
Kurechii’s goal is to be more independent moving forward, to get to point where the company can handle it all from production to market, with a distinct focus on churning out premium games.
“That’s the direction we want to go into, that’s the vision and I think we have the right experience and people to go through the whole thing,” he says.
A growing and maturing space
When asked for his opinion on how far the Malaysian gaming scene has evolved since he first started his own foray, P’ng notes that things look quite positive today compared with 2009.
“There’s still a lot of room for improvement but it’s a good start; I’m seeing a lot of new people coming in, graduates who are keen to make it a career. And I now have good people to discuss game development with, unlike before,” he says.
While an increase in interest has meant that the potential pool has deepened for game studios like Kurechii to fish for talent, it remains a challenge.
“There’s a lot of talent but finding the right person specifically for game development is a bit challenging, there are lots of great programmers and artists but with no exposure to gaming. We’re still a young industry so many don’t understand how it works, thinking that they’ll get paid to play a lot of games.
“It doesn’t quite work that way and the process can be quite painful. You will get sick of your own game, having to play the same stage over and over just to catch and iron out all the bugs.
“Compared to web projects which take about three months, games can take a year to develop and it’s not for those who can’t quite understand the life, and more so if they don’t have the passion for it,” P’ng says.
It is this need to make more people aware of both the pitfalls and joys of being in the business of creating video games that sees P’ng continue to take an active role in this corner of Malaysia’s burgeoning digital economy.
He actively shares with others in the community, freely discussing what the Kurechii team is trying to achieve in a bid to make more Malaysians aware of the fact that creating video games can indeed be a viable career path.
“It is also to aid them in convincing their own parents. I remember my own challenges trying to convince mine that I wasn’t just making toys for children as a hobby and that it is a viable career. They were initially not supportive, but that was one of the first hurdles we had to overcome, to convince them before we could convince others," he said.
P’ng admits that things got much easier after their titles became available on the iPad. Previously there wasn’t an easy way to show friends and family what he did for a living -- they weren’t that exposed to world of gaming.
“Today I can just show them immediately what my work is all about. And many people who might already be familiar with our work always get surprised when they find out it’s a made-in-Malaysia game,” he said.
Not too shabby for an entrepreneur and creative content creator who’s only 25 years of age.
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