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Can Singtel make waves in Southeast Asia’s gaming market?

Written by Khamila Mulia Published on     6 mins read

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Singtel has big ambitions in the gaming and e-sports space thanks to its gaming startup Storms, 5G cloud gaming technology, and e-sports arena PVP Esports.

Singapore’s Singtel Group, one of the four major telcos operating in the country, has been embracing digital transformation by rolling out various tech product and subsidiaries. This includes e-wallet platform Dash, digital advertising subsidiary Amobee, and mobility intelligence platform Data Spark.

The firm claimed to have around 700 million customers in Singapore and beyond through its affiliates including wholly-owned subsidiary Optus in Australia, Telkomsel in Indonesia, Advanced Info Service (AIS) in Thailand, Airtel in India, and others. 

Leveraging on its network to strengthen its digital offerings, gaming and e-sports are currently two of Singtel International’s major focuses.

Spotlight on Storms

In March, Singtel, Thai Telco AIS, and South Korea’s SK Telecom announced their USD 30 million investment in a new joint venture, a gaming company called Storms. The shareholders appointed David Yin, a former top executive at Google Play Apps and Games in Southeast Asia, Australia, and New Zealand, to lead the new startup.

“We work very closely with our three investors and focus on four business lines which are the key gaps in the gaming industry today,” Yin told KrASIA.

The startup’s first business line is Storms mobile app, which focuses on gaming news, games rewards, and community building, and will be launched around the middle of next year. Second, Storms serves as a publisher, working with indie gaming studios in Southeast Asia and India. “We also have a game advisory business where we work with large game studios globally that want to grow their business by tapping into Singtel’s telco network”, said Yin. Third, the firm is developing a html5 gaming platform, Yin revealed.

Storms’ first mobile game titled “Umbra: Amulet of Light” is set to launch on November 25 in partnership with Google and Indonesia network provider Telkomsel. Umbra is a three-dimension puzzle game developed by Indonesian indie game studio Niji Games, which was a participant in Google’s Indie Games Accelerator program.

Storms’ publishing unit is focusing on casual and hyper-casual mobile gaming, which according to its CEO, has less significant competitors in Southeast Asia compared to mid-core games from major publishers like Garena and Tencent. Storms also has a few strategic advantages that allow them to make a profit.

“We have agreements in place with Singtel’s associates where we have the ability to acquire users on Singtel’s network at discounted prices, which reduces the cost per install. We have an extensive network of gaming studios that makes it easy for us to work together and publish the next game. It definitely comes down to a long term value versus cost per install equation, and we are in a good position on the former,” said Yin.

Read more: Can Indonesian gaming firms compete with global players?

Storms CEO David Yin. Courtesy of Storms.

Singtel’s gaming ambition

Storms is not Singtel’s first entry into the gaming industry, as the firm has previously launched e-sports platform and championship PVP Esports to lure young users. Also, in October 2018, Singtel signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with its affiliates Optus, Airtel, AIS, Globe, and Telkomsel to cooperate and jointly leverage their strengths to grow the gaming and esports ecosystem in Southeast Asia, Australia, and India.

Recently, the firm has been also testing its 5G network for cloud gaming in collaboration with cloud gaming provider Ubitus. The trial achieved 85% lower latency than 4G, significantly reducing lag and greatly enhancing the gaming experience. The company will leverage its 5G cloud gaming network to significantly enhance mobile and video gaming experience, as well as boosting the development of virtual reality and augmented reality.

“When I joined Singtel about three years ago, one of my key challenges was how to bring our 700 million customer base together. Going beyond our core telco business, developing the digital business was key. We realized that gaming was growing significantly, and we tapped our regional associates to start our e-sports business. With Storms, we will grow further in the region and bring our customers even closer together,” Singtel International CEO Arthur Lang told KrASIA.

Singtel International CEO Arthur Lang. Courtesy of Singtel.

According to Lang, about 65% of Singtel Group’s customer base are currently between 18 and 35 years old, the group that consumes digital content the most. “We got all the different telcos to discuss and we realized gaming and e-sports are the best way to create engagement with customers,” Lang continued.

Singtel has some assets under its belt to play effectively in the gaming space. First, its large customer base with a growing data consumption average. “The amount of data that is consumed by our customers is huge. Take Thai telco AIS, for example, one customer consumes 17 gigabytes per month. In Singapore, it continues to trend up,” he said.

Second, Singtel’s “high-quality connectivity” which has been proven during the COVID-19 pandemic, where most people worked and studied from home, according to Lang. “There has been big pressure and stress on the network [during pandemic and lockdowns], but we’ve managed to provide good capacity and speeds to customers which matters to a game.”

The third element is Singtel’s digital payment services. In Singapore, the firm manages mobile wallet Singtel Dash, while Singtel is also affiliated with e-wallet LinkAja in Indonesia.

“We are a big direct carrier billing player, which allows people to use their phone plans to pay for a game or video they purchase. This is very powerful because credit card penetrations in many ASEAN countries is less than 10%, while mobile internet penetration continues to rise.”

Finally, Lang said Singtel has a good ecosystem of partners in the gaming world, whether they are developers, content providers, or even cloud gaming operators. “Although we aren’t producing games ourselves, we can leverage on our customer insights which is useful for game developers, and connect them with a publisher like Storms that can work with them to come up with the next best games,” Lang continued.

Learning from past challenges

Gaming gives telco operators opportunities to diversify their business. According to a report titled “How telecom operators can win with gaming” by Strategy&, a move into gaming can increase telcos’ data usage and generate more insights about their customers. This means games can help telcos to improve their behavioral analytics to create a more targeted customer experience and increase their monetization models.

There are at least five ways to exploit the gaming market, according to the report: providing connectivity through infrastructure, partnering with gaming publishers for exclusive game releases or in-game advertisements, working together with game developers to make relevant gaming content, developing and launching own games, and finally, investing in e-sports by hosting events or building an e-sports team.

Reflecting on these strategies, Singtel seems to have checked all the boxes through Storms, PVP Esports, and its 5g cloud gaming network. However, there is no guarantee yet that Singtel gaming services will reap success. Although the telco has been known as a pretty progressive player, it has also experienced a fair share of setbacks in its digital businesses. For instance, the downfall of its backed streaming video platform Hooq earlier this year, after filing for liquidation in March, due to not being able to grow enough to provide sustainable returns, according to Reuters.

“It is right that we’ve faced quite a significant challenge for Hooq, particularly in a space where dominant players are willing to spend a huge amount of capital to acquire content. But at the end of the day, we learned how to navigate a complex industry with fierce competition,” said Lang. He added that Singtel and other shareholders have hired “the best people” for Storms to succeed in the gaming market, explaining that about 90% of Storms staff comes from global gaming companies like Google, Ubisoft, Tencent, and others.

Singtel will be however more careful on its digital ventures like gaming, Lang said.

“The mindset of being digital for Singtel is to always realize that we have to build the ecosystem. We can’t be everything for everyone; we have to be very clear about our strength and use it very well. So in gaming, I’ve talked about how we can utilize our telco infrastructures. But in the areas where we are not strong, let’s not kid ourselves and bring better strategic partners to strengthen each other capabilities.”

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