[Jamie Stowe is co-founder of Just Dandelion an independent game studio based in UK and Malaysia. Previously he was Level Design Director at Ubisoft Singapore and listed in 2012’s Develop 30-under-30.]
With a number of big British studios closing in the past few years, many developers have started to look overseas for their next role. Although Canada and Western Europe are still the preferred destinations for many British Expats, the industry in SE Asia is growing rapidly. It has a lot to offer and many more British Developers are starting to consider Asia as a viable career move. Having lived and worked in the region for the past four years and recruited for Level Design roles at Ubisoft's Singapore studio hopefully I can shed more light on what it is like to work there and dispel common misconceptions many still hold.
South East Asia is a sub-region of Asia located between India and Australia - comprising of countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and The Philippines. Located around the equator the weather is hot all year round, the food is spicy and the beaches are great.
I like beaches, tell me more
You may be more familiar with the region from tourist brochures than the games industry and there are plenty of budget airlines that can give you a relaxing weekend away in Bali, Phuket or Langkawi. It is also not too far to travel to countries like Australia and Japan making it a great base to travel around this part of the world.
The food across SE Asia is fantastic, varied and cheap, sharing similarities with Chinese and Indian cuisine, yet very unique to this part of the world. Dishes like Pad Thai (Thailand), Nasi Lemak (Malaysia) and Chicken Rice (Malaysia/Singapore) being some of my personal favourites. The climate is 30 degrees hot and humid every day! There are no seasons so it is the same all year round (which can be awesome or boring depending on your perspective).
Isn't the work all outsourcing though?
The most common misconception prospective employees have about working in Asia is that they'll just become a manager of an outsource team, and this couldn't be further from the truth. At Ubisoft Singapore we developed the Naval Combat in Assassin's Creed III and although supported by the Montreal studio we were the core developers of this feature. Ubisoft Singapore is also responsible for Ubisoft's F2P push with Ghost Recon Online, which was entirely developed in the studio.
There are plenty of other studios too; LucasArts have their only other studio outside San Francisco based in Singapore, working on Games, TV and Feature films, but it's not all triple-A development though. Rocketbirds (PSN, PS Vita) developer Ratloop Asia are based here along with quite a large number of independent studios and the award-winning Digipen school has a campus right next to Ubisoft in Singapore.
You may have noticed that all of the studios I mentioned are based in Singapore and although it is the smallest country in the region it definitely has the most established games industry. Other countries like Malaysia and Indonesia are catching up and following Singapore’s example, but a combination of incentives for the games industry and strong cooperation from the government are keeping it ahead.
OK. I'm interested how do I get a job?
The other main misconception I’ve encountered when interviewing applicants is that the overall talent level is low and that a developer from the west could easily walk into a senior or lead role. This may have been true five to ten years ago, but certainly isn't anymore. There are many incredibly talented developers with decades of experience from all over the world working in this region, and the junior graduate talent helped by the likes of Digipen is getting better every year. You need to show you are very good at what you do, but that is only the start.
Probably the most important skill you need regardless of job role is communication. Although the working language is nearly always English across the region, it won't normally be most of your colleague’s first language. Being able to communicate your ideas as clearly and concisely as possible is key and demonstrating this in an interview is a must. It's definitely going to be tougher if you have a strong accent or use a lot of slang in your vocabulary. In the past I was disappointed in myself that I never took the time to learn a second language, yet now I have realised being able to understand every variant of English is a skill in itself.
An important thing to remember is that an employer is taking a big risk and expense to relocate you, so they need to be absolutely sure they are getting the right person. They need to be convinced that you are going to be able to settle here and not get homesick in a few months and quit. Having visited the area before, or having friends or family in the region is normally a big plus, but just doing basic research on the area and whether it would be a fit for you is enough.
So where’s the catch?
Working on the other side of the world might not be for everyone. It is a 13-hour flight back to London, so it's unlikely you'll make more than one or two trips back per year, if at all. Combine this with the eight-hour time difference and keeping in touch with friends and family can be difficult.
You also need to factor in the cost of living as it varies dramatically from country to country. Although we like to complain about services in the UK, costs for things like education and healthcare can come as a bit of a shock when you aren't used to paying for it.
School costs in particular could end up more than your rent, and although most employers should cover the basic medical care, there will be plenty of things that aren't covered if you happen to fall sick. Whether you are coming alone or relocating your entire family it can make a huge difference.
There are smaller things too, if you like to party or even just enjoy a pint after work it could cost a small fortune out here with the cost of alcohol in the region and catching sporting events like F1 or football can be difficult due to the time difference.
Personally having the chance to work in this region of the world has been a fantastic experience for me and I would definitely recommend it if you are looking for something different.