If the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic was a strange time to be opening up a new market, well, that's what Epic Games did.
The gaming publisher and developer headed to Southeast Asia after one of its longtime enterprise customers for Unreal Engine convinced someone at Epic to open an office here at the tail end of 2020.
"I spent about four or five years convincing Epic that we need an office, because Southeast Asia is going to be huge. And about four years later, they agreed," said Dean Reinhard, Technical Account Manager and Evangelist for Epic and its first Southeast Asia employee in an interview with Yahoo Gaming SEA.
Since then, the company has grown to about "800% in size", joked Reinhard.
"It is a nice number, but from one to eight is still not huge, we're not kind of planning to grow like gigantic overnight."
That said, the company does intend to reach out to the region with local hires, using Singapore as its regional hub.
Reinhard added that Epic plans to increase its headcount here to 16, up from its current eight.
Its HR and Finance teams are based here, as well as its International Head of Publishing, which handles the distribution of Epic games such as Fortnite, Rocket League and Fall Guys for markets outside of the US.
"Singapore is a really great place because we are kind of right in the middle. We are seeing more remote work, so Singapore is a really good hub for us to try and build out an international team from here as well," said Reinhard.
"We see Southeast Asia as like a really, really big growth market, especially in the game side of things."
It's almost Unreal
But it's also the platform side of things that Reinhard is particularly interested in, since he handles Unreal Engine and focuses more on getting the engine used in film, animation, architecture, and automotive industries.
In particular, Reinhard points out that SEA countries such as Malaysia and Vietnam used to be seen as outsourcing hubs for international companies to send work over, but these local teams are now starting to work on their own content.
And Epic wants to make it easy for them to do, with part of their strategy to provide "training for anybody that's interested" to use Unreal Engine.
With the pandemic forcing people to work from home, Epic also made a decision to give out virtual machines to users in Indonesia, Vietnam, and India to open up the market, giving them high-performance virtual workstations to create.
Another thing that Epic hopes will draw in users is to provide pre-made content that they can easily use in the Unreal Engine.
One tool, Metahuman Creator, gives users access to a photo-realistic person that's already rigged, skinned, and weighted.
This allows them to quickly animate without having to wait for a full team taking months or years to create a model from scratch.
"Megascans is another one as well, where we have a team that travels around the world, taking photos," said Reinhard.
"Like I'm super jealous of what they get to just go out to all these exotic locations and take photos of rocks and trees and rubble and buildings and all these different everyday items, which you don't have to think about too much until you want to build that virtual world."
By providing all these tools, Reinhard believes that smaller teams can quickly create amazing content and compete with the big players without having to waste time building assets.
One thing that Epic is well aware of is that Southeast Asia is a fragmented market, with each country speaking their own lingua franca.
Hence, localisation is a big part of its strategy as well.
"Southeast Asia is a very complex market in that respect that we can't just give everything out in English and expect everyone to be able to work with it," said Reinhard.
He added that it was not just a direct translation, as there is technical information that needs to be conveyed as well, especially for its training materials.
To do that, Epic has an authorized instructor program that it uses to train users in the various markets.
Lastly, Reinhard shared that its Unreal Engine 5 is being used by game dev studios here in Southeast Asia, but these will only be released later in the year.
But expect to also see mobile games made in Southeast Asia as well.
"Pretty much anyone that's going to be releasing a game likely from the second half to fourth quarter this year, they're probably all going to be on UE5. And as you probably would've guessed, there are plenty around the mobile heavy markets here that are already pushing into UE5," he said.
Aloysius Low is an ex-CNET editor with more than 15 years of experience. He's really into cats and is currently reviewing products at canbuyornot.com