PlayMoolah partners with OCBC Bank to teach financial literacy to children

Singapore-based startup PlayMoolah has partnered with OCBC Bank in an initiative to provide account holders withaccess to the subscription-based online game platform.

PlayMoolah is a platform designed to teach financial literacy to children aged between six and twelve years with gamification tools that encourage children take charge of their money, in a fun, engaging and safe manner as well as additional features that allow parents to also be involved in their child’s learning journey.

The joint initiative is called the “OCBC Mighty Savers and PlayMoolah Adventure” and is integrated with OCBC’s existing Mighty Savers program. With a minimum account deposit of $50 account holders can access a Lite version of a PlayMoolah game account, while depositing $1000 provides access to the full version of the game.

This is the first financial institution with which PlayMoolah has partnered and OCBC Bank believe this positive alignment between companies serves an important need for their young customers. “We decided to work with PlayMoolah, as there is a distinct meeting of minds between our Mighty Savers programme and their online platform” said Ms Ng Li Lian, Head of Mass Segment, OCBC Bank. “Both use similar methodologies to encourage good financial behaviour. With Mighty Savers, children can redeem gifts when they make a deposit of $50 or more, and with PlayMoolah, their online platform encourages both online and real-world savings.”

For PlayMoolah, the partnership provides another way to reach out to a wider database of users and more importantly, help boost the financial literacy of more children, empowering them to better manage their money. Audrey Tan, Co-founder of PlayMoolah said, “We founded PlayMoolah to inspire a new generation of young people to develop a healthy perspective towards money. We want them to be empowered by seeing it as a way to serve their dreams, personal growth and happiness, as well as to create value for society, rather than viewing money as an end in itself. Because of this, we are delighted to partner OCBC Bank, to help their Mighty Savers customers develop a positive relationship with money.”

Read more about PlayMoolah and their success to date in a previous blog post PlayMoolah: Gamifying financial system.

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Fruit Ninja Developer Dojo: trade secrets from a global casual gaming success

The casual and mobile gaming scene has exploded in recent years with the success of games such as Angry Birds and Draw Something being held up as shining examples for independent game developers to follow in a chance to make millions overnight. But few know the trade secrets behind such success.

In a rare opportunity, Singapore designers and developers were treated over the weekend to a visit from the team of Halfbrick, one of Australia’s largest game development studios. During the Developer Dojo, with networking and workshop sessions co-hosted by Microsoft and e27, the sold out event provided insight into the company’s background, integrated marketing strategy and framework for technical development.

Although best known for their global success with casual gaming hit Fruit Ninja, the studio has had anything but overnight success. Fruit Ninja may have had over 300 million downloads across multiple platforms but it was in fact the company’s 15th game. Founded in 2001 with just five guys, Halfbrick had very “small and humble beginnings”. However, CEO and Founder Shaniel Deo is confident that the company’s success can be attributed to three key factors.

Halfbrick team with fan: (L-R) Shaniel Deo, Richard McKinney and Phil Larsen.

Studio Vision

Firstly, there was a strong vision for the company from the outset. “When we started we really nailed what we were trying to do,” Deo says. ” Our key was we wanted to be the best at game design. Our peers and other companies at that time were focusing on graphics and technology…  But we thought if we focused on game design we could out compete those guys. People are always looking for something extraordinary… game design lets you to stand out from the crowd and our games certainly embody that”. Deo also notes that companies like PopCap and Nintendo have always been an inspiration.

This focus on design and innovation has been cemented with a non-hierarchal and collaborative management style as well as the introduction of “Halfbrick Fridays.” At this weekly event every employee has an opportunity to pitch and prototype game ideas. In fact Fruit Ninja was pitched during one of these very events.

A second factor of their success has been the ability of the team to learn from experience. Halfbrick got their start by developing games for larger studios such as Electronic Arts, Activision and THQ on various platforms including Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS, Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network before moving on to their own intellectual property.

But Deo stresses that developing games is not enough – studios must actively learn from that experience. His advice to developers is to “make sure that with each product you release, you learn something, build on it and try to improve… When we started making our own games, we started with smaller titles like Blast Off and Age of Zombies and you can see the progress that we made and how each title gets better and better. In the app space you can do that really quickly… With each iteration you want to be improving.”

With over a decade of experience behind them Halfbrick has had slow but steady progress an approach that also applies to recruitment. “Carefully handpick your team,” says Deo. “Make sure the people you work with complement your skills and bring something to the table. We started with five guys and we didn’t always make the best choices at that stage… You want to choose your partners wisely. As we grew… each person we’ve added to the team goes through a rigorous recruitment process.”

In addition to a strong vision and focus on design, a creative and integrated marketing approach has been crucial in promoting not only individual game titles but also the Halfbrick brand itself.

Marketing Ninja Style

From literally no budget (acting, filming and editing for their first Fruit Ninja video was done entirely in-house) to the slick production values of more recent promotions, Phil Larsen, Head of Marketing gave some important insights to Halfbrick’s approach to marketing casual games, some of which may surprise game developers and marketing gurus alike.

Just as the Deo emphasised learning from development, so too does marketing benefit from analysing what has been done before. Moreover, marketing is not something that happens once the game is completed: quite the opposite. As Larsen states, “It starts with the game. Marketing is not about writing a press release or buying a hundred thousand users. I work with development teams as soon as they come up with the idea.” It’s an integrated approach that allows staff to collaborate on potential design features and seize promotional opportunities.

A lot of hard work also goes towards ongoing communication and maintaing good relationships with external parties such as publishers, stores, retail, media outlets and the end consumer. Moreover all marketing activities are executed under the light of promoting both the current game title as well as the overarching brand. “We want to be known for our game play and our awesome, fun games,” Larsen confirms adamently. This includes successful cross-marketing opportunities with companies such as Dreamworks to develop a version of Fruit Ninja with animated character Puss in Boots.

In a move that may surprise a lot of indie developers, Halfbrick has never had a user acquisition budget. Larsen says that “If [paid user acquisition] fits into your overall marketing strategy then great but be aware that marketing is not just about plugging money into an ad network.” Instead the team looks for innovative and complementary opportunities that deliver high-impact at low-cost. A prime example was the successful leveraging of Microsoft’s global multi-million dollar launch of Xbox Kinect by naming the resulting title: Fruit Ninja Kinect. To coincide with Fruit Ninja’s two year anniversary, the company ran a national competition with a travelling road show to find Australia’s Fruit Ninja Master.

Technical and Cross-platform Development

Just as Fruit Ninja was launched successfully in 2010 into the iOS environment, Deo notes that with the imminent release of Windows 8, “Its an amazing time in apps and mobile… It’s a blank slate and a real opportunity to come in and create a real hit… Sooner or later players crave new experiences and you can do that with Microsoft’s platforms”.

Richard McKinney, Halfbrick’s CTO, explains that Windows 8 provides game developers with a new frontier for gaming with a touch-centric environment, cross-form factors, and Xbox Live integration as well as access to multiple architectures through Metro APIs. “We’re really excited that pretty much everything is based around touch,” says McKinney. “And for the first time we have a store built into the operating system… so there’s greater visibility [for apps] than the desktop environment.”

And there haven’t been any “quick and dirty” ports from the other platforms to Windows. McKinney stresses, “Every platform has its own characteristics and user expectations. We’ve done a lot of work to make sure that each game is a great game for Windows 8.” The development team also highlighted opportunities in the enhanced ability to share across social networks through integrated applications.

The team has had obvious fun in experimenting with Windows 8 features such as live tiles and snapped views, pushing their creative boundaries to create some very innovative and fun game play that has increased the stickiness and re-engagement opportunities of games like Fruit Ninja and their latest release Jetpack Joyride.

Halfbrick’s success is probably best summarised by the team themselves.

Deo: “User experience and respecting the user is really important to us. I guess we’d rather make less money and still make sure the user is happy then crank all the levers and extract as much money as we can.”

McKinney: “When users are happy they tell their friends and we probably make even more money that way.”

Larsen: “We’re building long term solutions and long term relationships as much as we can.”

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PlayMoolah: Gaming the Financial System

Although the recent elections in Greece have provided some welcome relief, the Eurozone continues to fight fires throughout the region as borrowing costs rise in Spain and Italy. With the potential for another global financial crisis (GFC) looming on the horizon there’s a strong sense of déjà vu, echoing the financial mismanagement woes of 2008.

It was at that time that Singaporean Min Xuan Lee was studying in the US. With first hand experience of how the GFC mark one affected every day people, Lee at that time asked a very important question: what were the roots of financial illiteracy? Acknowledging that even adults could be uninformed about their own money management, Lee along with co-founder Audrey Tan decided to focus on children. “Our whole team has a great love for kids,” says Lee. “That’s why we wanted to start with kids to nip the problem in the bud. If adults themselves are clueless, what is happening to their kids?”

This approach is the core underpinning behind PlayMoolah, a subscription-based online platform designed to teach children about financial literacy in a fun and effective way. Recently transitioning from beta, the site has registered users from around the world and has been recognised by the startup community for it’s innovation, winning Echelon 2011 and Innotribe 2012 as well as obtaining funding from investors in Sillicon Valley and in Asia. PlayMoolah has also just released Coin Catcher, a fun app for the iPad designed specifically for younger users.

PlayMoolah introduces children to financial concepts through a virtual world with game elements. However, the founders did not initially set out to create a game. Instead their journey started with exploring what interested and engaged children. Lee says, “We started from a background of behavioural technology, persuasive technology. We didn’t set out to make a game from day one. We saw a problem and asked, ‘what’s happening in that space’? So we looked at kids’ games and what they were exposed to at different ages…. Club Penguin. Webkins. That was what kid’s were playing.”

With complementary experiences (Lee’s background is in business and finance while Tan studied new media, games and education) the founders have undertaken hundreds of interviews to inform the design and development of the platform, speaking to educators, parents, teachers, financial experts, behavioural economists, bankers and of course the end users: children. A typical day for Lee has a very wide spectrum starting at 7.30 in the morning sitting down with kindergartners through to meeting bankers in the afternoon.

Screenshot from PlayMoolah.

Although the design started with real-world behavioral tools, the founders soon added a game layer because they learned that “It was the best way and known way for kids to understand and engage in the financial concepts, and then discover the real-world layer to extend their knowledge into practice. There’s a real learning process as the child journeys from what they already know to the unknown.”  PlayMoolah allows children to create an avatar, explore the Dreamverse, learn about careers, complete games with learning activities and earn a virtual currency called Moops. Parents have an option to be closely involved, where they can monitor and track their child’s learning journey. But behind the super cute graphics and NPCs (non-playing characters) is a fundamental philosophy regarding money. “Money should serve you and your personal goals, and create even more wealth,” says Lee. “We hope more people would be empowered to take control of their money and not be a slave to it.”

Game testing using paper prototypes. (Image courtesy of Play Moolah)

However, during development the founders realized that the game structure could also serve as a vehicle for encouraging positive real world action. “It’s not really about curriculum or knowledge or vocabulary like interest, inflation, or savings and what they mean. We can cultivate real habitual change or nurture behavioural results… [We asked] Could we take the virtual world and turn it around and actually reward kids for good behaviour like delayed gratification, actually saving money or investing money and not just consuming? So we created a system for that… our curriculum is focused on action!”

PlayMoolah features a strong emphasis on what children can actually do with their money: earn, spend, save, invest or give. It’s a radical approach: focus on the role of money in society and the actions that one can take rather than accumulating wealth for its own sake. But its something the founders believe is crucial for children to learn. “It’s not ‘Here’s lessons one to ten of how money works in society’ but rather what you can do with money. We want the child to think, in what way shall I use it towards my end goal which is my happiness or personal growth.” Consequently PlayMoolah helps children to manage their real world allowance, set personal financial goals (like buying a book or music) and concrete actions (save $3 a week).

The founders with some keen testers (Image courtesy of PlayMoolah)

The team also believes in sharing that wealth with those less fortunate. Under the “give” component of the game, children can donate their money, time or talent to charitable organisations with whom the company has established partnerships. PlayMoolah also provides free subscriptions to families from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Although the business keeps the team extremely busy, Lee hopes that PlayMoolah could one day grow into something that also assists children and families in developing countries.

PlayMoolah has received positive feedback from not only parents but also financial intuitions around the world. As the company looks toward the future they recognise the growing importance and demand for mobile access, and are moving towards a multi-platform approach with web as the central platform. The team anticipates that what children learn today can have a real and tangible impact on their ability to create and manage wealth in a way that helps them to achieve their life goals. Lee also hopes that “Kids will inspire their parents. We really hope that this new generation of kids will think of money differently.”

Perhaps parents will begin to realise that not all games are the same and that some have the potential to create a positive impact on the lives of their children with benefits that reach far into the future.

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Serious Games in Singapore

Serious Games Conference (Image courtesy of Asia Events)

It was a real pleasure to attend and speak at the third annual Serious Games Conference in Singapore last week. The third instalment of this annual event was well attended by a variety of speakers and industry representatives from across the globe and local Singapore developers were out in force. A range of speakers including designers, developers and domain experts shared their experience, current developments and where they believe serious games are heading. Companies included Crytek (South Korea), Digitalmill (US), Eduwealth (Singapore)Littleloud Studios (UK), MOH Holdings (Singapore)National Institute Education (Singapore)Playware Studios (Singapore), Ranj Serious Games (Netherlands), Rockmoon Pte Ltd (Singapore), Serious Games International (UK) and yours truly from Hummingbird Interactive.

Education, e-learning and training were popular topics as always, however there was a particular interest in serious games applications for health. Several speakers including Ben Sawyer (co-founder of Serious Games Initiative and DigitalMill who also recently spoke at Games for Health 2012 US) and a representative from MOH Holdings both noted that the health sector is experiencing a major paradigm shift.

Day One Panel (L-R): Michael Bas (Ranj Serious Games), Tim Luft (Serious Games International UK), Dr Koh Noi Keng (NIE), Natalie Marinho (Hummingbird Interactive), Jun Magata (Rockmoon). (Image courtesy of Asia Events)

Instead of focusing primarily on treatment and disease management, health care providers are looking towards prevention and a more holistic approach to health and wellness. Some surprising statistics were mentioned including the fact that the percentage of Singapore residents with diabetes aged between 18 and 69 years old has increased from 8.2% in year 2004 to 11.3% in year 2010 (National Registry of Diseases Office, 2011). Obviously there is huge potential for serious games to contribute to behavioural and attitude change with regard to awareness and prevention of chronic disease such as obesity and diabetes, as well as in the area of mental health.

Having fun while learning about financial literacy through a participatory exercise during Dr Koh’s presentation “Serious Games as a Powerful Pedagogical Tool for Learning”. (Image courtesy of Asia Events)

Gamification was also hot topic, mentioned in several presentations besides my own and it was encouraging to hear that other delegates believe there are potential applications beyond points, badges and leader boards that are most common at this point in time. After describing the current landscape of gamification and its relationship with serious games, I enjoyed some very healthy and enjoyable debate during the networking drinks! However, I strongly believe the future of such games lies in encouraging real world action and participation. Specifically, integrating the game world with the physical world through alternate reality games and rapidly evolving technology in the mobile and augmented realty spheres.

It was energising to meet with so many passionate designers and developers working in the area of serious games and I look forward to more exciting projects being launched out of Singapore in the near future.

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Competitive Casual Gaming Is Already Here

A few posts back I wrote about the competitive gaming scene (PMS Asterisk*: Girl Gamers of Singapore) and pondered whether casual and social gaming would ever reach competitive status and attention from sponsors and players. Well ponder no more!

All those hours spent dancing in your bedroom may pay off…

Xbox 360 Singapore, Dance Central Championships 2012

Over the past two months Xbox 360 Singapore has hosted its inaugural Dance Central Championships with the finals taking place on Sunday, April 8. Developed by Harmonix, Dance Central is a game played using the Xbox 360 console and Kinect motion sensing input device. The sensor tracks players’ movements as they imitate dance moves on-screen, scoring points for timing and accuracy. Combining popular dance tracks with well choreographed routines, Dance Central has been well received by critics and players alike. Moreover single-player and Dance Battle modes make it a popular inclusion at parties, perhaps overtaking karaoke as the best way of making guests part of the night’s entertainment. (As I can attest from personally rocking Kylie Minogue’s Can’t Get You Out Of My Head  at a NYE party two years ago.)

Audience at Dance Central Championships 2012, Plaza Singapura, Singapore

The Dance Central Championships 2012 is the region’s first national dance competition utilising the Kinect for Xbox 360 and considerable prizes were on offer. The winner of specific categories received cash prizes including Solo (SGD2,000), Doubles (SGD4,000), and Junior (SGD1,000). The Ultimate Dance Champion, Sarah Dane Camongol, walked away with a trophy and prizes worth over SGD2,000 from a range of sponsors including Xbox 360, Starhub, CK Fragrances and LG. Although the event was not televised, the semi-finals and finals drew in a considerable live audience to Plaza Singapura, a local shopping mall.

Speaking from experience is does take a certain skill level and practice to achieve the high scores in Dance Central. Moreover, dancing in front of a crowd certainly requires additional prowess. With a massive screen and a fantastic set of speakers, the event definitely generated a lot of interest, toe-tapping and smiles from spectators. Not to mention the number of Xbox/Kinect bundles I saw purchased on site. I think the event was a great example of how to take casual gaming from the living room to a public arena. Other developers and publishers may need to take note soon…

World Cyber Games

Thanks to a tip-off from a reader, I was directed to a post on eSports blog Cadred reporting on an alleged leaked letter from the World Cyber Games (WCG) indicating that the “organisation will no longer be running traditional games tournaments and only supporting mobile phone games.” Although the news has not been officially confirmed by WCG, if the news is true, it represents a huge shift in competitive gaming highlighting the increased presence and acceptance of the casual gaming market.

WCG currently supports e-sports such as StarCraft II, Counter-Strike, World of Warcraft and League of Legends. Despite the popularity and lucrative nature of current eSports, the letter points to financial motivations. Excerpts from the letter are included below.

“In the current status of gaming and IT industry, one of the most remarkable information to us was the mobile shipments have exceeded the PC shipments…. We made a hard decision that we should bring the mobile, new key sector in the game industry, in our event concept. Hence WCG decided to start the Mobile Game-Based Festival… There will be no longer present event modules, such as Pan Championship, and PC-Based National Finals. And the official game titles of WCG will consist of mobile Games.”

Reaction to the leaked letter has been mixed, some expressing disbelief while others are welcoming the move. If the transition does eventuate, it will represent a massive shift in the competitive gaming landscape. Stay tuned… you may well have to sharpen those Fruit Ninja and Draw Something skills.

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PMS Asterisk*: Girl Gamers of Singapore

From Angry Birds and Bejeweled to CityVille and Words With Friends, the rise of casual and social gaming has brought video games to popular mass culture. The low friction point and minimal cost required to play these types of games has resulted in not only an increased number of people who play games but also a wider demographic. According to a 2011 report released by the Entertainment Software Association, the average gamer is 37 years old, 29 percent of players are over 50, and women represent 42 percent of gamers. However, in the world of hard-core gaming, the traditional stereotype still abounds: a male in his late teens or early twenties, single, socially awkward and living out of his parents’ basement. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Many hard-core gamers successfully hold down full-time or multiple jobs while also balancing social and family obligations. In fact, they are often masters of time management! Further, although a large proportion of women gamers play casual and social games, a growing number play console and pc games and consider themselves to be serious or hard-core gamers. Far from being individuals with no lives who lock themselves away from the world, these girl gamers are social, ambitious, professional and successful. In fact their commitment and passion for competitive gaming is something mainstream society should value, support and encourage.

Team Asterisk*

Defense of the Ancients (DotA) is a mod for the real-time strategy game Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos and its expansion Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne, from the Word of Warcraft franchise developed by Blizzard Entertainment. Played online in teams of five, where one team versus another, the format appeals to players who seek a definitive outcome over a shorter time period than that offered by most MMORPGs. The game is strategic relying on tactical selection of heroes and items rather than resource management and base building as seen in traditional real-time strategy games.

On stage at Sendi Mutiara Multimedia (SMM) in Kuala Lumpur against (L-R) MiTH-Jinny, PMS MsJovial*, PMS furryfish*, PMS kimchi*, PMS pinksheep* MiTH stands for made in Thailand, and they also have their own team, for which PMS furryfish* played in Wuhan, China for World DotA Cup 2011. Photo credits:

Team Asterisk* is a Singapore-based all girl competitive gaming team specialising in DotA and is in fact, the world’s first all-girl DotA team. The two founders met by chance in 2004. Tammy Tang, aka furryfish*, had been playing games competitively for several years when she was introduced to Dawn Yang, aka pinksheep*, by a mutual friend. After playing a competitive show match organized by the WCG (World Cyber Games), the pair decided to set up a girl’s team. However, both founders admit that recruiting girl gamers at that time was a very difficult task. As Tang recalls, “One of the girls I found on a mailing list. I was like, there’s a girl’s name!” After several months of networking and utilising word of mouth, team Asterisk* was born, the name demonstrating how different players can work together to produce a stellar performance.

In 2008 team Asterisk* joined Pandora’s Mighty Soldiers (PMS), a US-based clan affiliated with over 800 teams worldwide across all gaming platforms. As PMS’ own website states, it is the “First all-girls clan in the world catering a safe and fun environment for gamer girls in both competitive and casual gaming”. The collaboration allows Asterisk* to benefit not only from the clan’s well established reputation in international gaming circles but also management and sponsorship opportunities. The team currently consists of five players, one trainee and two inactive/honourary members who no longer play competitively due to work commitments. The team’s LAN homebase in Singapore is the Colosseum@Iluma.

Tang, leader of team Asterisk* and Esports Team Manager at Razer, recalls how she started playing video games as a child. “My dad has always been tech savy. He was free with letting me play with the computer… I started with Pacman, Alley Cat and Pinball. When I went to my cousin’s house I’d be playing with their Nintendo console… I started serious PC gaming when World Of Warcraft 2 came out.” Yang remembers her first video game experiences fondly. “My first game was Bobby Is Going Home on Atari. When I was a kid I used to watch my cousins play Prince of Persia, Heroes of Might and Magic and things like that. I was very interested. I’ve always been quite imaginative and liked reading books, so I think gaming is another outlet for me where I can explore worlds.” But what started as a hobby for both gamers has evolved into a serious competitive activity that requires a significant time and cost commitment while allowing them to travel the world and represent their country overseas.

The world of international competitive gaming

Competitive gaming is a serious business. Events such as Major League Gaming, Global Starcraft II League, World Cyber Games, Dreamhack and World Games Championship, provide cash prize pools often consisting of millions of dollars. In 2011, DotA2: The International had a first prize of USD1million and prize pool of USD1.6million.

Teams from around the world participate at these tournaments with serious commitments from international organisers and corporate sponsors. Team Asterisk* have competed in China, France, India, Malaysia, and Thailand as well as local events held in Singapore. The team has had a number of achievements over the last seven years including first place at the 2010 Iron Lady Championships (the only all female competition in the world) as well placing in the top 10 of the Compaq AMD Pro-Gaming League and top 20 at the Electronic Sports Thailand Championship, World Games Championship and Avalon Tournament.

So what does it take to enter the world of competitive gaming? Both Asterisk* members admit to putting in around six hours a day. That’s an incredible time commitment, considering current and previous team Asterisk* members have either full time study obligations or employment in advertising, banking, sales, flight cabin crew and Esports. But it’s about more than just sinking a lot of hours into the game. As Tang notes, “You can be a casual gamer who plays as much as I do or more but if you don’t have the right attitude you can’t go competitive”. Yang agrees, “The attitude is quite different. As a competitive gamer we look to improve and we are committed to it. Sometimes it’s not fun. Sometimes it’s really hard work. But if you regard yourself as competitive then you need to put in the hours and train, regardless of whether you still find it fun or you’re tired. So we take it quite seriously.”

Another factor is the ability to work in a team. “You have to be able to take criticism objectively,” says Yang. “For some casual gamers they don’t really want to be told what to do. But for us, its really important to know what we are doing wrong. That’s a big difference.” The focus of time spent on the game is also very different for competitive gamers. Players must keep up to date with updates for maps, heroes and items, research associated competitive advantages, plan strategies and watch replays from high level gamers as well as playing the game individually and as a team.

Tang has also recently taken on board the commitment of streaming her solo game play. “It’s an industry in itself with websites like, and When you play your game you broadcast online live. People can see what you’ve done previously but the main attraction is that it’s live… I’ve got a base of people who expect me to be there. So that’s part of the reason why I play daily. It motivates me to play.”

With an average age of 24, Asterisk* team members have dedicated a significant portion of their lives to this passion and with that comes significant sacrifice. Tang says, “I have a full time job and family commitments so I don’t really hang out much”. Yang, a copywriter says, “I try to play as much as I can but it’s hard. I work in advertising and the hours can be very long and tiring.”

Competitive gamers as positive role models

The ongoing commitment and discipline required to participate in competitive gaming, is taxing for many teams let alone an all-girl team. When asked if Asterisk* has ever considered adding male members, Yang responds, “All of us have, on and off, joined our guy friends for minor competitions. But the thing that makes us unique or standout from the rest is that we’re all girls. We constantly push the boundaries for what girls can achieve as gamers.”

Team Asterisk* is looking for a manager but currently manage themselves. Team members handle everything from administration and fan management to the logistics of touring, marketing and self-promotion. Tang laments, “I get a lot of comments like, ‘Wow, you always play games. So fun!’ It gets very annoying. They don’t understand that a lot of the time you have to do things you don’t want to do just so the team can improve. Most of the admin stuff like buying tickets and coordinating with event organisers is done by me. Dawn does the marketing side of things like our blog and Facebook page [while] another girl does our game strategy and planning.”

They are active participants in the gaming scene competing in tournaments and attending gaming-related conventions but they are also committed to building the girl-gamer community. Tang says, “Girl gamers in general don’t know what to do. They enter this community that’s full of guys and most of the time it’s because of a guy friend or boyfriend… So they don’t really know the possibilities, what they can do or what’s out there. So the role we play is more of an inspirational role and move them into the right direction for competitive gaming”. To this end Asterisk* recently assisted Philippines team MSki Girls (affiliated with Mineski) in joining the PMS clan as PMSki.

Both Asterisk* members believe competitive gaming has helped to develop and hone skills that are useful in work and life. “I’m a good leader,” says Tang. “I’m really quite stubborn. If there’s a way where I can see things work out, then I will really make it work out. Most people aren’t very sure of what they want. But I am. It teaches you how to manage people.” Yang acknowledges the importance of team dynamics. “You really have to work as a team in gaming otherwise you can’t maximize the potential of what five [players] can do compared to one… Communication is very important. How you talk to people can create a different outcome.“

Support in an internationally competitive environment

In Singapore most competitive teams are either self-funded or receive some type of corporate sponsorship. As an established competitive gaming team, Asterisk* are sponsored by professional gaming hardware manufacturer Razer for peripheral equipment and other sponsors such as Toshiba, JV and Art of Colour on an event basis. When asked whether the team would seek government funding the team responded that they wouldn’t and that other teams needed the money more than they did. However, they always welcome new sponsors.

Singapore’s Cybersports and Online Gaming Association (SCOGA) recently announced a gamer assistance fund worth SGD20,000. Since 2008, the organisation has assisted gamers to participate in overseas tournaments and held more than 50 public gaming events. Although the fund will make a big difference to self-funded teams it’s only a drop in the ocean compared to the support offered to teams in other countries.

“Thailand’s gaming community is very vibrant,” says Tang. “They have lots of competitions. They even have TV channels for gaming.” In 2011 Thai company Neolution, a computer hardware and software distributor, opened Neolution Stadium in Bangkok, boasting 170 high-end computers and a gaming arena, designed to accommodate boot camps, casual gaming and competitive gaming. Buildings such as this are aligned with the growing popularity of “gaming houses” in China, Korea and Taiwan where professional gamers eat and sleep for free while being paid to play games.

Team Asterisk* believes the Singapore government could provide non-financial support by excusing competitive gamers from school or NS (national service) in order to compete in international tournaments. “Most of the gamers here can only play while they’re young. There’s actually a lot of talent out there. But if they could get excused [from school and NS] it would make a big difference.” At the 2011 International DotA 2 Championship held in Germany, Singaporean all-guy team Scythe.SG placed third in the competition and won USD150,00. To date, it’s the largest prize winnings a Singapore-based team has ever won. However, Ukraine team Na’avi won overall and collected USD1 million. It is interesting to note that two Scythe.SG members were unable to attend the tournament due to school commitments.

There is a notable lack of support for competitive gamers in Singapore when compared to their overseas counterparts. Although the Asterisk* Facebook page has over 13,000 fans (Scythe.SG have less than 2,000) the majority of fans are from overseas with strongest support from Thailand and the Philippines. Corporate sponsors who are willing to support the competitive gaming scene are also thin on the ground despite the popularity of social gaming. “There are a lot of people playing games,” says Yang. “Its been increasing in Singapore. If you ask the person on the street most of them play some kind of game. So I don’t think it’s a lack of [public] interest, I think it’s a lack of commitment from sponsors.”

If companies are willing to contribute money towards competitive gaming, it could stimulate enough interest that people will start playing those games seriously. But is competitive gaming about skill or money, or are the two elements entertwined? Tang notes, “In Singapore we don’t really have big sponsors… [or] local home-grown tech companies who are willing to fork out money to sponsor teams…. and make people believe that gaming is something worth going for… For example League of Legends, I wouldn’t say it’s a really competitive game but they’ve managed to contribute enough money to make it seem like it’s a competitive game. So a lot of people have picked it up… They’re boasting a USD 5million prize pool for the next season.” My gut feeling says that if anyone put up a million dollars to play Bejeweled you would suddenly see a lot of people training and taking the game seriously at a competitive level. The question is, would people watch?

Having competed in their first tournament in India last month at the Delhi Youth and Gaming Festival and with other tournaments scheduled for the year ahead, team Asterisk* is looking forward to what 2012 will bring. With the level of discipline, commitment and stability the team has demonstrated since their inception, Singapore should sit up, take notice and support hard-core gamers who have contributed significantly to the local and international competitive gaming scene… and who also just happen to be an all-girl team.

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