Filipino game developers find second home in Singapore’s diversity
SINGAPORE—If there are two things that Filipinos in the Ubisoft studio here share in common, it will be all the fun they had in childhood playing video games over doing school work, and the difficulties they had to endure when they actually pursued a career in gaming years later, not to mention in a foreign land.
“It’s funny that I didn’t even know there were people making games,” said Felix Marlo Flor, senior art director at Ubisoft Singapore who started his game development career in the Philippines before moving here in 2008, as he recalled his young and carefree self.
Flor, who graduated from the University of the Philippines, was one of the pioneer developers in the French gaming giant’s Singapore studio, which made its mark in the industry for being one of the lead producers of the hit “Assassin’s Creed” franchise.
“When I got here, I couldn’t even show my portfolio. It was really different from what I was doing, and it took me time to adjust,” said Crisanto Tarce III, who worked as graphic artist in the Philippines for about seven years before moving to Singapore.
Tarce, a Leyte native who took up fine arts at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila, was all excited and nervous when he learned that he had to fly here for an interview on the same day that he learned of the job opening in Ubisoft.
Things were a little bit rough when he arrived, as the job offered to him as concept artist was different from what he used to do. “Moving to Singapore was not easy for me, because I was used to my old discipline,” he said.
But Tarce, who is now a senior User Interface artist after a few years in the company, said it was also a good thing to learn something new aside from what he already knew. “It’s worth a try considering Singapore still provides a better offer financially. I managed to cope up with the demands from work which opened new doors for me… I met a lot of talented artist and amazing people dedicated to their job which inspired me to never stop learning,” he said.
The case of Jose “Beej” Cua Paz was not entirely different. From a sound engineer in post-production of a broadcasting giant in the Philippines, he gave game development a shot because of his interest in video games.
“The adjustment was crazy and the transition was quite challenging for me,” said Paz, who is now working as a sound engineer in Ubisoft Singapore.
Part of his craft as sound engineer was traveling places to capture and develop sound effects that will make the audio in video games more natural and realistic.
But despite the initial difficulty in adjustment and fear of uncertainty, they all managed to learn the ropes and worked their way up. Asked for his advice to aspiring young game developers in the Philippines, Tarce said young talents should not hesitate to try and commit mistakes.
“They really have to explore a lot. It’s okay to make mistakes. You can build your own technique and create something out of your mistakes,” he said.
Paz said young people should know what they really want to pursue and choose the best school that will equip them with the necessary skills, while Flor advised aspirants to “focus on the fundamentals” and find other avenues of learning outside classroom walls.
Leap of faith
For Estrella Briones, a build engineer in Ubisoft who previously worked as developer in mobile telecommunications in the Philippines, going to Singapore was taking a leap of faith.
Briones, who started playing video games at the age of four, said she learned of the job opening in Ubisoft Singapore on Facebook and was “more than inspired” to go for it, especially that she just finished playing Assassin’s Creed Bloodlines that time.
“The skills that I have previously acquired matched me with the Data Manager position that will maintain a game development’s build system and tools. I still remember the HR sounded very happy when I got a phone call as she had difficulty finding a profile,” Briones said.
“I grew to be a build engineer during my five years stay in the studio and it brings me joy to find out that the tools I create and maintain are working across the globe,” she added.
Asked about the impression that gaming is dominated by men, Briones said video games are also art forms that women like her can relate to.
“Game is also an art. It’s very visual. It stimulates the senses. Girls will very much relate depending on the games they play, and we have female characters who are strong women and family-oriented,” she said.
Flying to Singapore was also like “taking a plunge” for Nino Vedad, who worked as a software QA (quality assurance) tester for seven years in the IT industry in the Philippines. Currently the lead game tester for Ubisoft Singapore, he started as QA tester on Assassin’s Creed Revelations five years ago.
Vedad’s passion for video games started at an early age, recalling how his father used to scold him for playing. He now has a child of his own, a 7-year-old daughter, whom he allows to play video games like Assassin’s Creed.
Vedad took the opportunity to utilize his expertise while doing what he always wanted to do. He said game-testing is more than just trying out games for themselves, as QA testers are now part of the production team involved in the game-making process.
“We try to understand the features, what our game is intended to be, solve the inconsistencies in graphics and movements of the characters, and the like,” he said. “Consumers want quality so you have to understand the game… That’s how game development works. You have to give feedback.”
In the case of Ubisoft programmer Eugene Jarder, who took up electronics and communications engineering from UP Diliman, it was never too late to start over and pursue one’s passion.
Having started gaming very young, Jarder first worked as a game developer in the Philippines, but later opted to work as programmer in other more corporate industries.
In the end, however, he found himself coming back to the gaming industry when he flew to Singapore five years ago. “It’s more exciting than being in a corporate company. Things change quite fast,” he said.
Collaboration in diversity
Asked about the best practices they have acquired here in their workplace in Singapore that they were not able to witness in their previous work in the Philippines, Filipinos in Ubisoft agreed that the openness to collaboration was very evident in the studio despite cultural and personality differences.
Ubisoft Singapore, which started operations in 2008 with only 22 people, now houses about 300 employees with 32 different nationalities.
“Collaboration becomes a big part of it. The bigger something is, the more difficult it is to move, but it is more powerful as well, so there’s a trade off there,” Flor said.
“Sharing plays a big part in what we do, and that’s how you can leverage a big group,” he added.
Echoing Flor, Paz said the environment here promotes the “beauty to collaborate” and the “drive to learn new things.”
“You have the autonomy. You can push things and share ideas,” he said.
Jarder said being in Singapore was being home in its own sense as Ubisoft has a “family-like and caring atmosphere.”
“Working in Singapore opened up my eyes to how life in other countries could go. Initially, I was concerned since it was the first time I was going to work in another country. Will the locals accept me? Will I get used to the food here? Thankfully, I am now used to the way of life here. I have made new friends here—locals, fellow expats from other countries, and other Filipinos trying to make a living,” Jarder added.
But amid all the comfort and convenience that they have been reaping from hard work—”we can now live the life we want to live,” as Vedad put it—Filipinos in the Ubisoft studio here said they are always looking forward to coming back home.
“Yes, why not? Because it’s still home and it’s also another opportunity because when you go back to your country, it’s like you are a changed person, you learned a lot, and you also want to share what you’ve seen,” Briones said. TVJ