How did you start off being interested in gaming and then go on to develop a game studio?
One of my passions is art & design. In fact, initially I wanted to work in architecture, so you could say I liked the idea of building something unique. After studying in 6th Form, I went on to study media at university, and that’s when I discovered programming. At the time, I was also really into gaming – going to cybercafes most nights with my crew and playing online games – one of the very few girls to do so. One night I had this kind of eureka moment when waiting for the game to load. I thought, “I could actually build this kind of thing!” I love to do design, I like 3D modelling, and I know programming, so why couldn’t I? For our final school assignment my group had to develop something, so after a lot of discussion with my project team, we decided that a game would be the best submission. And that’s how it all got started.
So exactly how did you develop your final year project into your company’s first product?
We were very fortunate that, at that time, the Brunei Economic Development Board (BEDB) partnered with the University of Technology Brunei (UTB) to help develop any final year group project and help market it as a product. It was a real eye-opener to learn business and planning aspects from them. The competition is basically called “IGNITE Business Plan Award Competition” hosted by BEBD and iCentre in 2012/2013. Then later we won BICTA Awards hosted by AITI and later awarded as the first batch to receive Start-Up Brunei Grant from BEBD. We did product testing with some schools and realised that gaming can also be educational. That’s basically what led us to “edutainment” (educational entertainment) as our main focus for the Brunei market. And with an E-learning focus, we’re also about bringing something back to our country, rather than just making another pure entertainment game – plus we’re excited about the opportunity to showcase something about Brunei to the outside world.
Be pro-active, find your own resources and look for any opportunities
What would you say are your main challenges today, especially considering your unique position as a pioneer in Brunei?
It’s pretty challenging to be the first game company in Brunei because there’s no benchmark to follow, even more so because it’s rare to see a woman running one. But the main issue that our home market is really pretty small. Margins are really low on mobile apps so you need volume to make money, so you really need to look outside of the country to a larger audience for more opportunity. In the short term though, we are focused on what could be successful here in Brunei. E-Learning was our focus initially, so we continue to provide applications for the government. We have developed such games for the Ministry of Health, for example, teaching the dangers of smoking and how to eat healthily. Our latest game is all about drug awareness, where we combine engaging gameplay with social awareness messaging. We still hope to develop the business internationally too. In 2013 and 2014, we actually had an opportunity to showcase ourselves abroad at the Tokyo Game Show.
How was the experience getting your first international exposure for a Brunei gaming company?
The Tokyo Game Festival is one of the biggest in the world! As the only company to represent Brunei in the ASEAN Pavilion, it was pretty overwhelming. But it was also an amazing experience to meet with other developers and game studios to share ideas and talk about the industry and it’s challenges. We even met with the large Japanese publisher CapCom, famous in the industry for over 25 years for distributing many successful games like Street Fighter, Resident Evil and Monster Hunter. They have offered to publish our products abroad.
So what does the future hold on the development side for ItsyBytes?
We continue to focus on developing compelling storylines and accessible and fun gameplay, because no matter the technology, this is always the most important aspect. If you engage and inspire people, you can build a whole universe around a game – just think about something like Angry Birds and its spin-off merchandise. Obviously VR (Virtual Reality) is the future of gaming, so we have really been looking into this opportunity to see how we can develop strong storylines and captivating experiences within a VR game. Ultimately, as a pioneer we would love to be successful enough that we can then afford to mentor other start-ups in the industry in Brunei and help develop a whole ecosystem of future games development.