The IDM star rises

By ANIMATION XPRES... | 3 September, 2009 - 12:20

Singapore’s interactive and digital media (IDM) industry is taking off as a growing eco-system draws leading players and global talent to set up shop.

The industry, loosely defined to include interactive applications beyond games and animation and related services, is projected to generate 10,000 new jobs and over S$10 billion worth of value added by 2015.

The line up of games and animation studios with branches here is headed by top IDM companies such as Lucasfilm and Electronic Arts from the United States, Ubisoft and Rainbow from Europe, Southern Star from Australia and Koei from Japan.

Rainbow, an independent production house from Italy, announced last December that will set up its global gaming division global headquarters in Singapore at a cost of S$25 million. It will create a new massively multiplayer online (MMO) game here and employ some 300 staff from animators and artists to merchandising experts.

Electronic Arts (EA), a leading developer and publisher of interactive entertainment, picked Singapore to be its Asia Pacific headquarters and home to a growing and vibrant EA Development Studio with two studio locations around the island. It uses its Singapore base to localise EA games into different Asian languages for distribution throughout the region. It is also rapidly growing the development of new online games for the region.

Australia’s largest independent TV production and distribution group, Southern Star set up its animation studio in Singapore. The Singapore production of a children’s series, Bottle Top Bill, won an award at Digicon, an Asian animation competition.

Koei, acknowledged as a leader in strategy and simulation games and as the innovator of the tactical action genre, has also leveraged on its Singapore operations to develop its MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Game) version of its flagship Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
Behind the big names in IDM are more than 400 start-ups being nurtured by 10 specialised incubators.

A Government fund worth S$500 million is also available. Administered by the through the multi-agency Interactive Digital Media Research and Development Programme Office (IDMPO) hosted by the Media Development Authority of Singapore, it supports projects to exploit 3D virtual and digital media technologies for commercial use among others. One such project is a 3D library map which can give the viewer the precise location of a book and show him how to get there. To date, some 400 technopreneurs, both local and foreign, are already taking their ideas to market.

They are supported by some 60 venture capitalists angels and incubators on one hand and by global infocomm players such as Apple, Microsoft and HP which extend technological and to-market outreach on the other.

Microsoft, for example, has allowed Singapore game developers to publish games online on its Community Games Channel ahead of mature Asian markets like Japan and Korea. Microsoft will also provide its gaming development software, XNA Game Studio, for free.

Currently open only to developers in the United States, Canada and Europe, the Community Games Channel allows amateur game developers, students and individuals to sell and market their games at a marketplace that has 15 million users worldwide, generating about US$2 billion ($2.9 billion) in revenue from downloaded games and content.

Ancillary services have also sprung up. Among them, EON Reality, a leading 3D visual content management and visual reality software provider has set up its Asia Pacific headquarters and R&D functions in Singapore.

The Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) is also taking steps to enhance Singapore’s capability as a global digital marketplace by developing a trusted and conducive environment with capabilities and services for digital media businesses to hub, manage, trade and distribute digital media content through and from Singapore, into the rest of the world. Its Digital Marketplace programme is expected to create 1,000 new jobs by 2015.

The IDM industry can also leverage on growing network of IDM research and innovation centres. Among them is the GAMBIT Game Lab, a collaboration between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the government of Singapore.

The five-year research initiative focuses on building collaborations between Singapore institutions of higher learning and MIT departments to identify and solve research problems faced by the digital game industry. Seven students from the lab beat 7,800 participants from 100 countries to win the first prize in the 2008 Microsoft XNA Dream-Build-Play game development competition.

Other notable joint R&D centres in Singapore include the China-Singapore Institute of Digital Media by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which focuses on language mediation technologies and the Keio-NUS Connective Ubiquitous Technology for Embodiments (CUTE) Centre by Keio University, Japan.
Local institutes of higher learning are also jumping on the bandwagon. One of the latest is the Nanyang Technological University. Last April, it launched its Institute for Media Innovation (IMI) to bring together 100 researchers from a range of disciplines, including art and design and engineering and education. IMI will focus on mega-trends in IDM research today such as next-generation multimedia search, advanced “intelligence” in media, as well as innovative digital cinema and television.

Among the recent projects to train up talent in IDM, the National University of Singapore will set up an $11million Interactive and Digital Media Institute. The US-based DigiPen Institute of Technology, an acknowledged leader in video game technologies, has already opened its doors in Singapore.
Besides media communications, other sectors such as education, healthcare, sports, transport, design and leisure are involved in leveraging on IDM to bring about innovative and exciting services.

Backing the bright future of the IDM industry is a robust physical IT infrastructure. More than one million square feet of data centre space is available to host its operations. With a total submarine cable capacity of 28 Tbps and direct international Internet connectivity of 25 Gbps, Singapore is well positioned as a hub for international capacity. Within Singapore, the Next Generation National Broadband Network will offer pervasive ultra-high speed connectivity by delivering speeds of 1Gbps and beyond by 2015.

IDM in Singapore is ready to bring fame and fortune to those able to ride the star.