Vietnam Launches Low-cost, High-Quality Video Game

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

The creative economy offers huge opportunities to the countries of the global South. With the proliferation of new technologies – mobile phones, digital devices, personal computers with cheap or free software, the Internet – the tools to hand for creative people are immense. This begins to level the playing field and allows hardworking and talented people in poor countries to start to compete directly with those in wealthy countries.

One case of this dynamic at work is the computer and video games industry. Once, they were only created by ‘first world’ nations like Japan, the United States and the United Kingdom. And then came South Korea, as its prosperity increased through the 1980s and 1990s. And then China got in on the game. And India.

And now innovators in Vietnam are using the medium to make money, and tell a story from a distinctly Vietnamese perspective. And that story is the long-running Vietnam wars that engulfed the country, from the 1950s through the 1960s until 1975 when the last of the United States’ helicopters left Saigon, then the capital of South Vietnam.

Emobi Games (http://emobigames.vn) from Hanoi, unified Vietnam’s current capital, uses the motto “Enjoy challenges.” Launched in 2011 by founder and director Nguyen Tuan Huy, it has created 7554, a game that places players in the shoes of a Vietnamese soldier during the independence war against the French. Cleverly, it also comes at a competitive price: US $12.

The game’s name refers to May 7, 1954, the day the French army in Dien Bien Phu surrendered to the Vietnamese People’s Army. This led to the end of the European colonial power’s occupation of its Indochinese colonies. The high death toll and sacrifice from the wars with France and the United States still resonate in the country, and the game reflects this.

A young team of 20 developers worked on the project for three years. It cost the company an estimated US $802,748 to complete. It was extensively researched to ensure historical accuracy.

“Dien Bien Phu is a great victory that we are proud of. That day, 7th of May 1954, is a symbol of our strength,” Huy told Ars Technica (http://arstechnica.com).

“I think it is similar to what Americans feel when they celebrate July 4th. Independence is very important and something worth fighting for. It is also something worth honouring.”

The game is the end product of an intense struggle to prove critics and sceptics wrong. Many doubted the company could deliver a product that could compete with the more established players. The video game market for firstperson shooters – where the player uses a weapon to engage in first-person combat – has been transformed in the last decade. Many games are highly sophisticated products akin to major films. The Call of Duty (callofduty.com) franchise is a good example. These games have elaborate graphics and story concepts, often use professional actors and come with high-cost, high-publicity marketing campaigns to back up game launches.

The money at stake is significant: the global video games market is estimated to be worth US $65 billion in 2011 (Reuters). Game makers Activision Blizzard, makers of Call of Duty, had an annual revenue of US $4.8 billion.

On its website, Emobi proudly takes on the doubters: “We are a very young company in Vietnam, currently we focus on one task: Building a successful PC Video Game for the Vietnamese. Most Vietnamese don’t believe that Vietnam can produce (a) PC Video Game.

“We, the young people, think about this as a challenge, and want to overcome that. Maybe we will fail, maybe we will succeed. But that’s not important. (It is) Important that it must be time for the Vietnamese Game.”

Huy admits it was a struggle to make the game.

“Video games, films or any kind of entertainment in our country must adhere to certain standards,” explains Huy. “Entertainment must not be too violent or too sexy. Our government policy is stricter than other countries, especially when compared to Western countries.”

Vietnam regulates gaming in various ways including limiting how long people can play online and the opening hours for Internet cafes.

Out of a population of over 86 million people (World Bank) it is believed Vietnam has 12 million video gamers: a substantial market in the country alone. They play games from around the world and increasingly are willing to pay for legal licenses. This is a key development, since getting gamers to pay represents a revenue stream. With revenue, players in the global South can contribute to the building of their home-grown businesses to become big players.

“The video game industry is just in its infancy,” said Huy. “We only have four studios that develop major games. Most work on online games. There are not many people who work in game development. Those that do are self-taught. There are no universities that provide education in games development. We learn by doing, failing and doing it again until we get it right.”

Viewing warfare through non-Western eyes is part of the game’s unique selling point, Huy says.

“American gamers have not been exposed to many war games where they play as a soldier who is not of American or British background. I think some may find this perspective refreshing.”

Huy said that “7554 may give some gamers a new perspective. But what is most important is that we create a game that is fun to play.

“We think we have created a game that FPS (first person shooter) shooter fans will enjoy. The price point is low so that will hopefully allow more people to play the game. I think gamers understand that a good game can come from anywhere in the world. I think gamers are willing to experience different cultures through games, so long as the experience is enjoyable.”

The 7554 game is scheduled to be launched in the United States and France in February 2012 for personal computers.

In the future, the company hopes to raid history for more battle scenarios to create new games.

“Unfortunately there have been many battles fought, so we have a full history to pull from in order to create games,” Huy said.

Resources

1) Animation Xpress Asia Pacific: A website packed with interviews and resources for the animation community.Website: http://www.axapac.com

2) How to make video games: An online website with step-by-step resources to get started. Website: http://www.make-video-games.com

3) Changing Dynamics of Global Computer Software and Services Industry: Implications for Developing Countries:A report from UNCTAD on how computer software can become the most internationally dispersed high-tech industry. Website: http://www.unctad.org/templates/webflyer.asp?docid=1913&intitemid=2529&lang=1

4) Southern Innovator: A new magazine launched by UNDP’s Special Unit for South-South Cooperation. The first issue’s theme is mobile phones and information technology. Website: http://www.southerninnovator.org

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