(STAR)  (AFP)  Welcome to the new world.

Video games on personal computers, mobile phones and other devices are bringing people together in a new community — and Asia is playing a huge part in the fast-expanding sector, industry leaders said as a conference opened here Thursday.

The first Games Convention Asia, which lasted until yesterday, brought together regional industry figures who held a conference, as well as games developers exhibiting their latest products for the public.

“You know this is a high-growth industry. Worldwide we estimated that it’s worth about US$48.9 billion,” Vivian Balakrishnan, Singapore’s Second Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts, said in his opening address.

The Asia-Pacific region contributes about 40 percent of that figure, he added.

“This is the industry that is really able to create a new world, a digital media world... It is also bringing people together,” said Wolfgang Marzin, president and chief executive officer of Leipziger Messe GmbH, who brought the convention to Asia after staging a similar event for six years in Germany.

He said attendance at the European event has tripled while the number of visitors has risen five-fold.

Aroon Tan, chairman of the industry group Games Exchange Alliance, told AFP that Japan and South Korea are contributing “huge amounts” to global gaming revenue.

“And even markets like China — while it’s still hard to go into that space unless you have very strong partnerships — but the revenue being generated in that market is incredible,” Tan said.

He said Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines already provide “quite a strong little market” and the industry is now turning its attention to Vietnam.

The fast-growing country has “very strong middle-class development. The population’s very young, outwardly thinking. Education’s quite strong as well,” said Tan, chief executive officer of 10tacle Studios Asia, a developer of computer and video games.

But why have games gained such a wide appeal across borders and cultures?

“It’s actually a new kind of fellowship,” Tan said in the noisy exhibition hall where the latest games fought for visitors’ attention. Some featured medieval-looking animated characters. A game called Need for Speed Pro Street gave players the feel of a nitro-fuelled road race, while Medal of Honor Airborne featured World War Two-style urban warfare.

“It’s actually a part of belonging to a common group where your physical strength or your appearance doesn’t have to matter so much. You can be yourself in an online and interactive experience,” Tan said.

In China, online games have the further appeal of being an alternative to state-controlled media, Desmond Lu, of Shanghai-based Shanda Interactive Entertainment Ltd., told the conference.

Internet cafés and their online games provide a rare form of cheap entertainment in the country, said Lu.

“It’s a culture for people to go there and it’s a kind of social occasion,” said Lu, whose Nasdaq-listed company provides online games.

The Games Exchange Alliance chaired by Singapore’s Tan was initiated by the city-state’s Infocomm Development Authority (IDA), the body that aims to cultivate the industry locally.

“This is an alliance which will help games... companies to cross the last-mile commercialization hurdles to place game titles into the hands of Asian gamers,” Balakrishnan said.

At the conference opening ceremony, the Alliance signed a memorandum of intent with representatives from various regional game associations to promote closer ties among themselves.

Balakrishnan said Singapore has committed S$500 million (US$327 million) over five years to fund research and development in interactive and digital media.

“This is a high-growth area. Singapore intends to be part of the action,” he said.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved