Singapore Brands Going Overseas: Levelling the Playing Field

Once thought of as a frivolous pastime, video games are now big business and it is an industry that Singapore has an intimate knowledge of. Homegrown brands Garena and Secretlab share how they are taking the gaming world by storm.

By SGN | 13 Jan 2020

Jason Ng, VP of Strategic Partnerships at Garena (Credit: Garena)

Many Singaporean children would have been told that they’ll never achieve anything by playing too many video games. Yet, it is exactly the deep love for gaming that unites the founders of successful Singaporean brands Garena and Secretlab. After recognising that there is a massive, growing market of people like themselves, they took the leap to create a better gaming experience – starting in Singapore, followed by a rapid expansion overseas.

Building a global gaming powerhouse from the ground up – Garena

At the start of the last decade, despite a growing number of multiplayer online games available internationally, players in Southeast Asia were still getting the short end of the stick. Garena, a portmanteau of “global arena”, started in 2009 with an international vision after realising that gamers in the region were being underserved. For example, games often lacked localisation, available payment methods and suffered high latency levels from servers located outside the region.

To address this, Garena’s initial goal was to create a gaming platform that brought together players and game developers from the region.

“When we started out, most game developers did not spend much time thinking about gamers in Southeast Asia. In fact, developers would commonly maintain their servers at night (US time), which often meant that players in Asia could not play during our daytime!” shared Jason Ng, Vice-President of Strategic Partnerships.

Building on the success of their gaming platform, the company went on to pioneer professional gaming in the region, including the launch of Garena World in 2013, their annual flagship esports tournament.

The latest and biggest edition of Garena World was in April last year in Bangkok, Thailand. The event attracted approximately 270 thousand visitors and drew more than 30 million views online over two days.

Free Fire World Series 2019 Grand Finals in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (Credit: Garena)

Garena has also expanded into in-house game development with the launch of Free Fire, a mobile battle royale game, in 2017. It now has over 450 million registered users and grossed over $1 billion worldwide as of end Oct 2019, in markets including Latin America, India and Southeast Asia. The finals of the largest global Free Fire tournament, Free Fire World Series 2019, was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and had more than 2 million concurrent online viewers – a new world record for mobile esports events. Free Fire was also the most downloaded mobile game of 2019 across iOS and Android, according to App Annie.

“Garena has grown to be the leading online games developer and publisher in Southeast Asia, Taiwan, and Latin America and we continue to expand into other fast-growing markets globally,” revealed Ng.

This success did not come easy, and it was the decisions Garena made early on which set the standard for the years to come.

“Since the beginning, we knew that talent acquisition would be a challenge. We focused on identifying promising talent and giving them the opportunity to grow with us by giving them room to grow and to make mistakes. This is why so many aspects of our businesses are run by people who have come up through our ranks.”

“Garena’s success over the years has been driven by the hard work, creativity, and dedication of our talented homegrown Garenians, who have years of experience publishing great games in complex, fast-growing markets across the region.”

During one of the offsite events with the employees at Garena (Credit: Garena)

If you are looking for a chance to be part of a homegrown company and to take on exciting new roles both in Singapore and overseas, why not apply to be the next Garenian? You can check out their careers page for available opportunities.

From customers to producers – Secretlab

Alaric Choo (left) and Ian Alexander Ang (right), the founders of Secretlab (Credit: Secretlab)

Secretlab began in 2014 when co-founders Alaric Choo and Ian Alexander Ang had the vision of creating the most important gaming equipment.

“Our goal was to engineer the perfect gaming chair for every gamer and computer user in the world. We wanted to be the undisputed number one choice in the world for every gamer who’s looking to improve his or her sitting and gaming experience, and we’ve achieved that,” said Ang, who is also the CEO.

Demand was so strong that Secretlab was able to expand into Malaysia in the same year. Growth continued so the company entered Australia and the US in 2016, and UK, Europe and Canada in 2017. Today, Secretlab chairs are found in 50 countries.

“We initially thought we’d be selling a number of units per month to friends and closed communities. But today we’ve over a quarter of a million users, including the world’s top professional gamers and esports teams, and that’s continually inspired and pushed us to improve and only deliver the best.”

As competitive gamers themselves, Ang and Choo believed it was important to ensure the highest quality product, as well as the best customer experience. This meant that while the chairs are relatively expensive, they were consistently well-reviewed.

“Something that really spurs us on every day is seeing comments on the Internet from people across the world about how much they love their Secretlab chair and how the purchase, despite being a few hundred dollars, is the best purchase they’ve ever made. It drives us to continue being obsessed with the details of the product and customer experience,” Ang emphasised.

Secretlab MSI Edition (Credit: Secretlab)

That said, the process of building the company was not easy, especially with their rapid expansion.

“We faced tough challenges and decisions, week in week out, since the very first week of inception, as most real growing businesses do. It’s like eating glass, no matter how calculated your decisions are, you don’t know if things will turn out good,” shared Ang,

However, local Singaporean support from partners, press, the government and of course, its pioneer batch of customers, went a long way to helping them scale their business. While the company has grown so big that the Singapore market makes up only 5 per cent of its customer base now, the country will always be home to Secretlab.

Secretlab Game of Thrones Collection (Credit: Secretlab)

As a brand that prides itself on delivering excellent customer experience, Secretlab’s entry into markets with non-native English speakers has seen it put even more effort into building lines of communication. This means taking the different cultures of each country seriously, as well as closely following the different laws and regulations.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to partner with global brands like HBO to produce the world’s first Game of Thrones gaming chairs either.

Think you’ve got what it takes to be part of the Secretlab team? Check out their careers page for their latest opportunities.

Channelling a love for gaming into a business may seem glamorous, but the founders of Garena and Secretlab know that it takes a lot of hard work to reach a global market and even more work to maintain a customer base that is always evolving and demanding the best. With esports becoming a billion-dollar industry this year, these brands can only continue to grow.

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