The long and winding road to realise DICE

Ever watched Stranger things on Netflix? Whenever I watched this series and with all its sci-fi trappings, I can’t help but to reminisce my time growing up in the 80s. I spent some of my time in Madison, Wisconsin, a cold place in the north of the USA similar to Hawkins, Indiana.

I followed my father who had a chance to continue his studies to complete his PhD at the university there.  I grew up with in Arcades, read X-men comics and enjoyed Transformers the movie (even cried buckets when my hero Optimus Prime died). These influences still continue to pepper my thoughts as I grow in these years.

Never would I have thought that my journey would land me here.

In 1996 when I returned home to Malaysia, I wasn’t sure where I was headed. All I knew was getting a job.  I was told of a new initiative – and project that the government was embarking on. The Multimedia Super Corridor and the company that was pushing it forward – the Multimedia Development Corporation or MDC.

My early journey in MDC included sleeping in the cold outside the door of the first International Advisory Panel in Stanford (was tired of all the jet lag then). I was tasked to develop one of the 7 flagship applications – the Borderless marketing and Worldwide Manufacturing Web. I also built the first few websites of the MSC and MDC. Creativity was always something that inspired me.

Then I had the opportunity to learn from the process of creating Saladin. It was one of the first large scale animation projects that the country would undertake. I wasn’t part of the team then, but the original team worked beside our IT team and I immersed and listened to what they did.

One day, the Executive Chairman of MDC then, Arwah Tan Sri Othman Yeop called me and colleague of mine to his office and asked if I could be interested to manage the first VR centre in Malaysia. Powered by SGI, this became the premier VR center for the region. This was the starting point for me to be formally part of the CMC team and with that – the journey of into what will become of my lifelong passion.

VR uses real/time engines – the same that powers most 3D games then on consoles like the PlayStation and Dreamcast. As technology pushed forward, 3D cards became available for consumers. We even worked on the Virtual Malacca walkthrough- which was developed by VisualExtreme. We had students by the droves come into our centre and get enraptured by the awe of travelling back to the 1500s. (Fun fact- to those whose seen it – you might have seen the Saladin characters that peppered the virtual space)

This led to the establishment of the CADC of which we had a team that came together from the original Saladin team. Then the true team that made Saladin into the Emmy-award nominated co-production with the renowned al Jazeera’s Children’s Channel was formed. Saladin grew from a trailer we made with Silverant to showcase what our best animation companies could do. That trailer captured the minds of everyone who saw it and also the international community. That one day, a call from the GM of AJC to our producer startled us. He wished to fly us to Qatar and wanted to co-produce with us. As they say, the rest is amazing history.

Dozens of our great animations were created then with Dato Kamil helming our division and our team fueling the industry. Upin & Ipin, Kung Fu Chicken (Chuck Chicken now), BoBoiBoy, Awang Khenit, Didi & Friends, Ejen Ali and so many more have initiated under MDEC’s support.

I then decided to take up an opportunity to be part of industry. I heard that Rhythm and Hues Malaysia – a world-class VFX house – was growing in Cyberjaya. It was also going to work on the Life of Pi, one of my most favorite books. I left the company after 14 years to the hectic life of production. And what an experience it was. It was also one of the toughest points of the journey.

R&H was the home of brilliant artists who created one of the most wondrous things we see on screen. Tirelessly hundreds of talented VFX artists work in many stages to provide the magic to the biggest box office films. What’s more amazing of that over 1000 staff of R&H we had at the peak, almost 120 of them were based in Cyberjaya. We are ever so grateful to the experienced brothers we had from both LA and India who came to uplift our local talent. We had hundreds of apprentices come through our office from around MALAYSIA. Going through many of our programs to train the new breed of VFX artists, R&H believed in Malaysia and our talent pool – and they were not disappointed.

Unfortunately, after celebrating our 25 years of magic, the global business became too competitive and it brought us to our knees.

Many Malaysians would not know that we had great young talents from all over Malaysia who worked on 22 Hollywood films from Cyberjaya, movies like Yogi Bear, Alvin & the Chipmunks, X-men First Class and Snow White and the Huntsman among others.

In 2013, Malaysia was part of the VFX Oscar race for 2 movies – the Life of Pi and Snow White and the Huntsman. We had many of our artists who contributed to both these films and we were all so proud that we Malaysians could do it and compete on the same level as the talents from large global companies.

As we celebrated our win with Life of Pi that day, we also were beset with the news that our company was in dire straits. The business was tough and we were experiencing the downturn. As management, we scrambled every day to look for opportunities to keep going. We had so many talented artists all over the world – including that 120 in Malaysia. It was one of the darkest times for me and the team. When there was some light at the end of the tunnel – it flickered and became dark again. It happened a few times until finally R&H was acquired, but not after major downsizing. As the last few had left, I joined the job market. Until today I remember talking to each and every artist under my care, and the tears that flowed from their eyes. I promised myself that what I would do in the future will matter for these talented artists one day. And this journey was that pit stop that reminded me how far we still need to go. How strong we all need to be to persevere.

After a year outside doing some consultancy and learning a whole lot about the AAA games business, an opportunity came up to rejoin my team in MDEC. This time to lead this great experienced crew to new heights.

And at the end of 2014, the journey in MDEC to build our Digital Creative Content industry just went into overdrive. We pushed out multiple programs and celebrated all our achievements. We kept on educating and creating awareness of the industry within Malaysia and on the global stage. We haven’t let up since.

On the 9th of August 2019, we have collectively come to another point in our journey together. Something the industry deserves, something that will bring together both the public sector and industry and chart the next stage of growth.

YB Gobind Singh Deo, Minister of Multimedia and Communications Malaysia, announced the next evolution of our way forward for the Industry – a policy known as the Digital Content Ecosystem Policy or DICE. The industry and stakeholder engagements and consultations will be the prelude to eventual policy formulation. The vision is to create a digital content ecosystem that is conducive, inclusive and competitive. That is my promise.

YB Gobind Singh Deo, Minister of Multimedia and Communications Malaysia, announcing the DICE policy at the Level Up KL Media Announcement recently.

DICE is the culmination of many years of MDEC’s collaborations, research and experience in developing and promoting the Digital Creative Content Industry. The announcement last week was to initiate the engagement with public and industry stakeholders who are involved and have vested interest to see our Malaysian Digital Creative Content Industry continue its leadership in the region.  It aims to ensure that our industry will have a productive and capable talent pool, a strong industry with global achievements, prolific output of commercial IP and the awareness and push of Malaysia as a regional hub. Several initiatives will be put forward for consideration and will be the basis to grow the industry even further.

I humbly request this – if anyone of you passionately desires to accelerate the growth and success of our amazing industry and help make its mark globally , this is the time to say your thoughts or shout and let it all out.

We will have platforms for you to engage us. In the meantime, email me with your suggestions. I’ll put it on the net for us to talk and figure out how we can push this industry to the stratosphere. This is the time my friends and together let’s make our mark.

DICE will be our Neverending Story.

#DigitalMalaysiaForward #LetsBuildTogether

– Hasnul Hadi Samsudin is the Vice President of Digital Creative Content, at Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC)

Why Malaysia’s Creative Sector a Credible Driver for the Digital Economy

Creativity will drive new engines of innovation

While most nations focus on socio-economic development, ecosystem growths, marketplace transformation and other ‘real world’ agendas, there other critical factors that must be brought into play.

Let’s consider these  the following milestones, which are powered by the twin drivers – creativity and digital technology:

  • Malaysia is now a multimedia powerhouse, which is producing highly sought-after digital content
  • Malaysian talents are now being sourced for various digital and technology related industries
  • Malaysia has become a defining example of a rapidly-accelerating digital economy

Now, that the first arc of the story has been achieved, Malaysia is  switching up through the gears  and increasing  its pace of development. The creative content industry – is rapidly growing into  a lucrative and financially stable sector.

What is the backstory to this positive position?

Well, to answer that, let’s look at how things were like 10 years ago.

Creative Niche

One of the original goals for the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) was the daunting task of producing an expansive animated world with Saladin: the Animated Series. Conceptualised in 2004, it was an  ambitious, long-sighted project that was filled with passionate and talented people who wanted to see the Malaysia recognized. This project brought together private businesses, government facilitation, and an international co-production. That feat alone is remarkable and the ensuing internationally critical and commercial success surpassed all expectations.

Of course, a more fundamental aspect emerged and took root. What started off as an initiative to kick-start the 3D animation industry for Malaysia, became the source of inspiration to create and grow an industry, which focused purely on creative pursuits –  powered by advanced technology and innovations.

Those involved with Saladin strongly believe that Malaysia has the potential to lead the creative sector and grow into a regional powerhouse.  That same  fervent hope saw that this marketplace could transform into a critical economic driver. Productive weeks turned into fruitful months, and later into years of empowerment for this space.

Conduit of Growth

With help from MDEC, the creative content industry has started to crystallise, and to take definite shape. . The goal has always been about establishing Malaysia as a regional Creative Hub: one that  nurtures both the talent and industry to serve regional and global needs. Nearly 15 years later,  opportunities are multiplying, from as far afield as France, Europe, UK, as well as from key Asian markets – all currently working with talents and businesses in Malaysia.

To-date, there are about 11,000 professionals in the Malaysia’s creative content and technology industry. Most of these  are providing in-depth coverage within key creative segments, such as animation, games, visual effects & new media, multimedia assets for apps, and content-enabled delivery platforms. Companies in this space exporting RM1.2 billion in 2016 alone, making it the fastest growing technology marketplace in the last three years.

Deep diving into any of the industry sub-segments will bring up some surprising insights. Take the animation sector, as an example. The statistics alone are mind-boggling – market revenues for animation and related efforts have reached 187.7 million in 2016, translating to an estimated 11.2% boost from 2014 to 2016. Equally as impressive is the games market. From a consumption standpoint, research shows a US$587 million revenue forecast in 2017, adhering to a year-on-year growth rate of 16.3%. In terms of market size, there are 14 million Malaysian gamers, 7.8 million of these are paying customers.  Take this data into account alone suggests  that one out of every two Malaysians are gamers and voracious consumers of quality digital content and services related to these immersive materials.

The creative content and technology industry is today a  fast growing, influential, and high potential sector – one that has been experiencing exponential growth in the last few years. Knowing this, Malaysia is keen on further accelerating the creative development segment and the massive pool of talents keen to delve into this new marketplace. This includes building new digital technologies, growing the ecosystem, and ensuring that its effects are translated to give value beyond the digital space.

Of course, like all progressive efforts, there are certain drivers, which are critical to these aspirations. The important ones – such as talent development and retention, up-skilling roles, and widening public awareness and acceptance –  are the most empowering factors for the creative industry. Attracting  support from  influencers on talent – such as family, school, and the environment  – is equally significant.

Transformative Marketplace

All these performance scaling and industry growths offer much more than continuous revenue streams. Beyond the more obvious outcomes, the creative content sector has helped Malaysia to take the lead in various initiatives. One of the first initiatives MDEC introduced to empower talents was the Intellectual Property Creative Challenge (IPCC). A platform like IPCC –  now become a must-go-to event for potential creatives –  has opened another door into animation and videogames development.  IPCC has helped some people go on to create multiple industry milestones.

Another step includes establishing the Malaysia Animation and Creative Content Centre (MAC3), an incubation and accelerator initiative, to give the creative development sector another boost, and inspire similar services to open their doors. The latest of these efforts is the public-private sector initiative between MDEC and UOA with  industry partners  in launching the LEVEL UP Inc. – the premier games  incubator. With one of the partners, Media Prima Digital, Malaysia now has a proper privately-led digital games publisher that is willing to fund and develop digital games that have commercialisation potential. This includes merchandising efforts and scaling to regional markets.

This move allows MDEC to leverage the tremendous potential Malaysia has to offer as an investment location as well as offer a talent supply line for the creative content industry. There is a need to provide support for local content development efforts  and so feed further  growth of the ecosystem. This is important for digital games development:  this, among others, is the primary reason such spaces are essential.

Malaysia is no longer taking baby steps;  it has now grown into a champion for the creative content industry. While there is much more to be done, there is no doubt that things are now in place and moving in the right direction. It is  now a matter of building more pace within  the content ecosystem and matching this to the speed of growth of other engines of innovation and economic development in Malaysia.

Personally, I believe that it will take more than the separate capabilities of the private and public sectors or relevant players to further revolutionise the creative industry segment. Multiple collaborations, which not only cross-over verticals but also geographical boundaries,  will become the primary play-book for all within the content development space.

To end, we are like the crew of the Starship Enterprise, boldly going where no one has really gone before. The only thing that is keeping us alive and moving forward is the team effort that we as Malaysia is putting out there. Everyone plays a part and our job in MDEC is to make sure the Warp Drive is fully operational.

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