video games

What will it take to produce Southeast Asia’s first triple-A video game?

Jessica Bonifacio

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What will it take to produce Southeast Asia’s first triple-A video game?

SONY AND MICROSOFT. Attendees walk past a Microsoft Xbox sign opposite a Sony PlayStation sign at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, in Los Angeles, California, United States, June 16, 2015

Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

'I believe that we need one success story to inspire everybody else to say that it's not impossible to do it,' says Malaysian game developer and general manager of Virtuos KL, Mufizal Mokhtar

High-impact, high-quality, and high-budget – AAA games are the darling of major gaming publishers, hooking a global player base and raking a chunk of the worldwide US$184-billion gaming revenue generated in 2023.

For Mufizal Mokhtar, general manager of Virtuos KL and art director of hugely successful titles including Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, the creation of the first homegrown AAA title from Southeast Asia can inspire the emergence of major studios from the region. 

“But that’s just a vision,” he says, “The plan is, number one, to make people understand that this is a serious industry.”

The seriousness of gaming is backed by its economic weight. A report from Niko Partners, a market intelligence firm focused on the Asian and Middle Eastern gaming industry, estimated US$5.8 billion in Southeast Asian video game revenue last year. This number is projected to reach upwards of US$7.2 billion by 2027. In the Philippines, the growth of players largely stems from the rising accessibility of mobile phones and internet services.

The Philippine government has shown its support through the years – from allowing professional esports players to secure athletic licenses to the Department of Trade and Industries kickstarting the country’s first GameDev summit in February 2024. The summit, conducted last February 15, was attended by participants and companies from 32 countries.

According to Mokhtar, summits provide a platform in which game developers can foster new connections and find solutions to move forward as an industry.

“We’ve got Indonesia, who’s a powerhouse in art and animation. We’ve got the Philippines, also a powerhouse in art and animation. We’ve got Vietnam. We’ve got Kuala Lumpur. We’ve got Singapore, Japan. We’ve got a lot of talents over here. We need to figure out how to come together and create something that is resounding in the industry.”

For him, utilizing the strengths of Southeast Asia can help realize its remaining growth potential. A synergistic team will be invaluable in achieving the goal of a local triple-A title.

“There are more players playing, there are more developers developing and there are more people tackling bigger and bigger and more expensive games. So the growth potential is definitely there, [but] there are some challenges that we still need to look at, for example, understanding cultural differences between Western and Eastern developers,” says Mokhtar.

He zeroed in on Asian cultures placing emphasis on respecting authority and the elderly. 

“Sometimes, people don’t voice out their opinions to their superiors,” he says, “That gap is slowly closing because we see a lot of cross-pollination of talents coming from the West and cross-pollination of talents coming from the East, and the world is getting a lot smaller and smaller.”

Mokhtar also talks of the importance of governments and companies investing in “unpolished gems” – what he calls “raw” talent.  These are game developers with high skills who do not have the opportunity nor the exposure to shine in the local game development scene.

“The industry needs to invest in schools, indirectly investing in talents, so that they have the right education, they have the right exposure to the right tool sets for them to learn the right fundamentals.” He is a manager at Virtuos Kuala Lumpur, which works closely with schools to upgrade their curriculum and technologies to align with industry requirements.

Public and private investment will not only result in better games but also improved technology across the board. Gaming has historically pushed the development of graphics processing, which has found applications in medical imaging and virtual reality. Even generative AI, mentions Mokhtar, would not have been possible without the impact of the gaming industry in graphics.

“We make games for people, for people to have fun, but the work involved in creating those games is serious work.” He says, “There are a lot of thoughts that go into it. The amount of brain power that goes into making a game is probably not that far off from people trying to launch a rocket, for example. So what we need to do is we need to start creating teams that can work together.”

“Creating a complete cycle games team is the path into creating a major triple-A title coming from Southeast Asia.”

This game, according to him, does not have to be original. It could be a remake or remaster of an already existing title. It is his vision for the short term.

“For the far future, I would love to see big studios emerging from Southeast Asia, multiple big studios emerging from Southeast Asia. But before we get that, I believe that we need one success story to inspire everybody else to say that it’s not impossible to do it. Let’s do this.” –

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