A few months ago, Contact Singapore made me an offer that was hard to refuse. An agency of the Singapore government (whose primary function is to draw people from around the world to work, invest, and live in that country, with the ultimate aim of boosting economic development) extended an invitation to me and a few other writers in the digital media space to visit and learn about how the Asian country is focusing its efforts to build up its digital media sector. So, on New Year’s Day I left cold and snowy New England and traveled halfway around the world to the equatorial destination with three other writers. We were there to observe how Singapore was cultivating the interactive digital media segment within its borders, and see what the country was doing to attract professionals in that market—in essence, to see how its citizens and ex-patriots work and play.
To fully understand the government’s strategy requires a brief history lesson. Singapore became a British trading colony in the early 1800s, and quickly became a vital port city. It joined the Malaysian Federation in the 1960s, but became independent two years later. Facing high unemployment and a housing crisis, Singapore started to control its future and embarked on a modernization program. It was a country with a strategy. (Even today, not much is left to happenstance in Singapore; everything is meticulously planned.) It established a manufacturing industry. It built desirable public housing. It revamped its education system. It installed state-of-the-art infrastructure. And, the results were amazing. The country thrived, and today it is one of the most prosperous nations in the world. It is a world shipping hub. A manufacturing hub. A banking/financial hub. A biomedical hub.
Now, Singapore is starting to apply this same “build it and they will come” approach to making the country a digital media hub.?“Singapore hopes to become an interactive and digital media (IDM) capital, where Singapore creations are made for global consumption,” points out Ng Siew Kiang, executive director of
On a large scope, the same underlying elements that are attracting other businesses to Singapore pertain to this new market. For those wishing to do business in Asia (a must for today’s global movers and shakers), the country offers the infrastructure, political stability, open business policies, skilled workers, and respect for intellectual property necessary for achieving this success. And there’s another plus: English is the dominant business language, making communication much easier. In terms of the digital media market, Singapore plans to create 10,000 new jobs and generate $10 million (Singapore dollars) by 2018. It is well on its way.
We also met with the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) revealed that the country has hosted broadcast operations since the 1990s; currently a number of big names are doing production work in Singapore, including Sony Pictures, Disney, HBO, Nickelodeon, and the BBC. On the animation front, Lucasfilm’s Clone Wars is done here, while in gaming, EA, Ubisoft, LucasArts, and others have set up shop. On the postproduction end, ILM and Double Negative are two strong names that are drawing talent from inside and outside Singapore’s borders. In addition to these facilities, a number of local studios are establishing themselves in this growing segment.
To achieve its vision, Contact Singapore is focused on reaching out to IDM talent. “We want both fresh and experienced talent within the realms of animation, visual effects, and game development from all over the world to come to Singapore, where they can be at the center of a vibrant and budding IDM industry,” says Kiang.
Approximately 30 percent of Singapore’s workforce hails from outside the country’s borders. And that’s just fine, according to the country’s Media Development Authority (MDA) officials. The goal is to import talent to fill skilled positions in IDM—from modeler and animator, to programmer, to director, and everything in between. The goal is to hire the best. To that end, Singapore is hoping to attract this talent with the lure of available jobs, good wages, and a safe, clean living environment. Some expatriates I met there have committed to living in Singapore for a five-year run; some plan to stay indefinitely, citing the reasons above for their decision.
With an eye to developing local talent, the country is stepping up its DCC education and training initiatives. Well-respected schools, such as DigiPen Institute of Technology, LaSalle College of the Arts, and NYU Tisch School of the Arts, have campuses here. Upon graduation, some students may opt for jobs elsewhere, but by offering an attractive work (and living) situation, some likely will put down roots.
“Human capital is a key resource for Singapore—our future depends on our ability to grow, attract, and retain talent,” says Christine Loh, director of the International Manpower Division at the Singapore Ministry of Manpower. “Besides the availability of local talent, overseas investors are attracted to Singapore, as they know we have a strong pool of global talent. Our long-term strategy is to build a globally competitive workforce for Singapore and position our country as an attractive place to live, work, and play.”
Will Singapore’s IDM vision come true? Based on its history and its clear vision, indeed it will. No doubt, in the near future we will increasingly see “Made in Singapore” pop up on film, game, and TV credits.