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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