What keeps the Philippines game industry from being more successful? Part 1

Recently on the local IGDA Facebook group a question was asked about “What is stopping the Philippine game industry from having more financial success and global cultural influence?” I generally don't like these questions because they're overly broad and usually are just expressions of frustration looking for affirmation. Luckily it did spark a lot of interesting conversation, so that's great. I was tempted to weigh in, but Facebook is a poor way to communicate. While this is only tangentially related to Squeaky Wheel, I guess I can get away with saying that it may be interesting to talk about the environment in which we make games. I'll respond with my thoughts on some of the responses, try to tie it in with our own experiences as a small PC game studio, and offer suggestions for improvement.

Note: My opinion is skewed towards PC games, and indie PC games in particular, since that is what we make. As such I have little interest in the mobile games market.

Is there a Lack of Support from fellow Pinoy (Filipinos)?

This one is a relatively easy one for me to respond to. We never targeted Filipino players in the first place because we don't believe the market is large enough to support us. This is a belief that I've long held, which only now is slowly starting to change.

Note : Just a warning, I'm not a statistician and the numbers I share with you here are taken from websites that may or may not have accurate research. I do believe them to be generally true, which is why I hold this belief about selling to the local market.

First, let's compare GDP at PPP between the US and the Philippines. GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is the value of goods and services produced in a country in a year. Divided by the population of a country, this gives you a rough estimate of how much an average individual in that country earns. PPP (Purchasing Power Parity) is a formula used to equalize the cost of goods between different countries. So basically we are comparing an average person's income between countries, which is important because we want to know how many people might be able to buy our games.

Using the numbers from this Wikipedia page, I took the data from the IMF, World Bank, and CIA lists and divided by 3 to get the average GDP at PPP for 4 countries : The Philippines, The USA to act as the “successful model”, and Thailand and Indonesia as comparatively similar economies.


So what this graph tells is that an average person in the USA has almost 6 times the purchasing powe of the average person in the Philippines, which means much more money to spend on things above basic necessities (ie games and other entertainment). So all things being equal, the average game developer in the US has a much larger domestic market than the average Philippine developer.

Things get worse when you factor in socioeconomic classes. According to this site (according to an SWS survey), the percentage of people in the upper and middle classes (A,B and C) are about 10%, while about 90% would be considered working class or poor. Let's assume that the survey is a little skewed and double the number of ABC classes to 20% of the total population.

That still means that of the average population that is earning less in GDP at PPP than even Thailand or Indonesia, only 20% of that population might have the disposable income to be spend on games. This doesn't even take into consideration access to PC/consoles, credit cards, piracy, and other mitigating factors that make depending on the local market a dangerous idea. So to respond to the claim that there isn’t enough support, I would say the more important question is whether there is even statistically enough people that are able to support a healthy industry. My answer would be a flat no.

That said, that doesn't mean that you should ignore the folks them. There are a quite a few players out there that are happy and willing to support local development, and I was pleasantly surprised at how many people came by our booth last year to buy Early Access copies of Academia : School Simulator. To be fair, I had expected not to sell a single copy, so my standards were pretty low. Certain communities can also be quite supportive. When I politely shared that we have Jose Rizal as a trading card on the r/Philippines subreddit, people were quite supportive and surprised that the game had been made in the Philippines. We also get excited youtube users that comment on our videos that they were excited to hear we're from the Philippines.

And of course the local development scene is pretty friendly and usually ready to help out (ourselves included, when we are able).

So yeah, it's a great morale boost to get some support from local fans, and we want to represent as best as we can in local events like ESGS, but our long term strategy is to sell to the world first, then hope that trickles down into interest from local fans. Given that the internet (via Steam and other global distribution platforms) gives you access to the global marketplace, you have a much better chance at survival as a game developer by selling to the world rather than just selling to the domestic marketplace.

It would be great to one day have such a large domestic marketplace that is large enough to accommodate super niche games as well as giant triple A games. But a lot of that is completely beyond us and has to do with the economic health of the nation. For now, the best we can do is to nurture the current communities that are already supporting local game developers, and survive by selling to the world.

This is part 1 of what may be a multi-part series. No promises, as this takes me way too long to write than is probably worth it!

Thanks for reading, and hope you found this interesting! If you want to support us, you can buy Academia: School Simulator now! If you're not ready to buy, please sign up for our mailing list, join the Facebook group, follow us on Twitter, or subscribe to our Youtube channel and help us spread the word!