Entering mobile gaming markets in Southeast Asia

In contrast to other countries in the rest of Asia, Southeast Asian nations can be easier targets for mobile gaming companies. With ongoing expansion of high-bandwidth access and smartphones priced at affordable levels, the region’s young and internet-savvy demographic offers a segment worthy of attention. Add the facility — and even preference — for English in markets such as the Philippines and Malaysia, along with the same distribution channels as in the West, and the region appears even more attractive.

That being said, each of the 11 countries — Brunei, Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam — are unique in terms of their cultures, history, languages, socioeconomic  levels, and local government and business practices. However, there are many private and governmental sources that can help speed up your decision-making process, several of which we list throughout this article. In addition, ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, is in the process of implementing the AEC or ASEAN Economic Community, a European Union-type trading agreement. Companies based in countries outside of ASEAN will soon have access to 630 million consumers, with 256 million in Indonesia alone, tariff-free, as part of a homogeneous trading bloc.

Mobile users

Mobile generated nearly half the gaming revenue in this region in 2015. Newzoo, a company that researches the gaming market, estimates that mobile gaming revenues worldwide will grow to $35.5 billion in 2016 and $44.2 billion by 2018. Though no country from Southeast Asia ranks in the top ten nations worldwide in terms of mobile gaming revenue, the region as a whole grew by 69% in 2015 over 2014 to $1.8 billion. This compares to $6.5 billion for China, $6.2 billion for Japan and $1.9 billion for South Korea.

Indonesia claimed the most mobile players in 2015, with 30.7 million, followed by Vietnam with 29.6 million (Flappy Bird, anyone?) and the Philippines at 25.1 million. Almost half of the players in Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam spend money on mobile games. Thailand (13.8 million players), Malaysia (13.5 million) and Singapore (2.7 million) are the top three revenue-producing markets. Internet cafés have morphed into entertainment centers and gaming clubs in urban areas in the region. And more and more gamers are going mobile as high-speed connections become commonplace.

Around 40% of people on the planet are now on smartphones, with Ericsson predicting 6.1 billion smartphone users worldwide by 2020. Myanmar, for example, was among the top five countries adding mobile subscriptions in 2015, with five million added in the third quarter of 2015 alone.

Three tips for entering the market

Most Western gaming companies focus first on the top six mobile gaming markets in the region: Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Here are Common Sense Advisory (CSA Research)’s three pointers to get you started on your analysis of whether one or more of these markets belong on your expansion list:

1 Define gamer profiles for each market you’re interested in. Begin with the personas that you’re catering to in your domestic market. Sketch out their profiles based on app store analytics, as well as your own. For example, review game types downloaded, length of time played each day and inline purchases. Then analyze how these characteristics may differ for gamers in Thailand, Malaysia or the Philippines.

For example, the most popular mobile game genres in Southeast Asia are racing, strategy and action games. You may not be aware that 80% of mobile users own smartphones in Malaysia, and Vietnam had as many smartphone users as Germany by 2014. Some markets resist shelling out for premium games, but are open to paying for games as a service. In other markets female gamers are willing to pay more than their male counterparts. Make sure you understand local payment systems, including mobile payments and game cards in markets in which credit and debit cards are less popular.

Still not sure where to start? Spend time on Google Play and in the Apple App Store to review what gamers are downloading in this region and what your local, Japanese and Chinese competitors are up to. Check out analytics on mobile websites and third-party app stores run by handset manufacturers and companies such as Baidu, Huawei and Xiaomi. Talk to expat gamers and your current local fans in these markets who already play your games. Pay for a few hours of consulting expertise from language service providers (LSPs) that specialize in game localization.

2 Learn to recognize when to adapt versus when to localize. In contrast to China, you will find many Western titles on the top 20 lists, especially in countries such as the Philippines, Singapore and Malaysia — and played in English. Therefore, the requirement to heavily modify storylines will appear much lower on your to-do design list than for other regions. However, take time to research language requirements among your target audiences. For example, you may find it a competitive advantage to localize into Chinese in Malaysia, rather than into Malay. Localization is a must in Thailand and Vietnam where you will be competing against elegant, locally produced interfaces.

Still not sure where to start? Join the International Game Developers Association (IGDA). Hang out in local game developer communities, such as the Game Developers Association of the Philippines (GDAP). Many developers in these countries are bilingual in English and their native language. Again, you can hire an LSP to monitor these sites and mediate your participation. Contact universities in the region — many of which offer courses, or even majors, in game development.

3 Prepare to take advantage of social media. Southeast Asia is known for its love of social networking — Indonesia and the Philippines still rank in the top ten countries on Facebook. Gamers expect to engage with you on that platform as well as via Instagram, KakaoTalk, LINE, Twitter, WeChat and local social mobile gaming platforms such as onClan in Vietnam. You may also profit from delivering a mobile messaging version of your game through KakaoTalk, LINE, Twitter and WeChat, in addition to Tango and Viber.

Still not sure where to start? Reach out to hard-core local gamers who participate in eSports via YouTube and Facebook. Again, work with local fans and LSPs to keep you on track with local messaging and engagement tactics.  [