Games have been an integral part of all cultures; they are the oldest form of social interaction between humans. They were – and are – an integral part of cultural events, be it for royalty, the elite or common people.
Dutch cultural historian Johan Huizinga stated in his book “Homo Ludens”, published in 1938, that games were a primary condition of the generation of human cultures. He argued that playing games “is older than culture, for culture, however inadequately defined, always presupposes human society, and animals have not waited for man to teach them their playing.” Huizinga saw games as a starting point for complex human activities such as language, law, war, philosophy and art.
The nature of games has, of course, changed over the centuries, particularly in the age of modern technology. The earliest computer games were developed in the US in the mid 20th
century; during the 1950s and 1960s, early computer games ran on university mainframe computers at American universities. This was followed by the arcade video games hype in the 1980s; afterwards, it didn’t take long until the home video game industry followed suit, which was, however, dominated by Japan, not the US anymore.
These days, online gaming is a common pastime among children, teenager and even adults. On every smartphone, one can download gaming apps; location-based, augmented reality games like Pokemon Go have mesmerized generations of users worldwide. Virtual reality gaming, where a person can experience being in a three-dimensional environment and interact with that environment during a game, is no longer a dream of the future.
Given Indonesians’ obsession with smartphones, social media and anything along those lines, it is not surprising that there are many gaming fans across the country. Therefore, the game industry in Indonesia shows great potential. But in the past, Indonesians seemed mostly content playing games that have been developed abroad, happily spending hours and hours on their Nintendo, Sega or Sony consoles. Only a few homegrown game developers tried their own hand at creating games.
It took until 1999 that Indonesians eventually fully followed the worldwide trend and Matahari Studios became the country’s pioneer as first local game developer; more and more emerged during the early 2000s. However, it was still not easy to develop one’s own games and then publish and distribute them, as the costs were relatively high. But with the advances in technology, the gaming industry in Indonesia began to evolve and grow.
In 2009, Agate Studio in Bandung was established. Led by Arief Widhiyasa, Agate became a frontrunner for Indonesian game developers. The studio focuses on crafting high quality entertainment games but also develops training games, advertising games and educational games. Agate has received several awards for its work.
The Indonesian gaming industry received another boost between 2010 and 2015, as the government – through the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economies – began to support its development and got involved in game-related events, such as “Indonesia Bermain” which was held for the first time in 2012 and closely followed by the formation of the Indonesian Game Association (AGI) one year later. Other specific events catering to the gaming industry are the Indonesia Game Show and the annual Game Development Gathering in Bandung.
Triawan Munaf, the Chairman of Badan Ekonomi Kreatif (BEKRAF) Indonesia, a government organisation established in particular to develop Indonesia’s creative industry, voiced his support for the local gaming industry in November 2015 when he opened a sharing session for “Game Mixer,” a project initiated by Goethe-Institut Indonesien that brought together Indonesian and German game developers for the first time. The project also included a game jam, during which the participants teamed up in small groups and developed a game – or at least the basic ideas and initial concept for a game – within 48 hours.
The success of “Game Mixer” led to a follow up project, where again Indonesian and German game developers have come together to create an app that teaches the German language in a fun way. The app – currently still under its working title “Jermania” – will be released in a few months time.
Currently, there are almost 100 active game developers in Indonesia, most of them based in big cities like Jakarta, Bandung, Yogyakarta and Surabaya. The gaming industry in Indonesia perhaps is still lagging behind other countries like Japan or South Korea, but it is a rapidly growing industry – game developers, users and gaming communities are gaining ground quickly.
Indonesia has creative minds aplenty. If they form networks and exchange ideas with game developers abroad, it will only be a matter of time until we see the next Pokemon Go emerging from the archipelago – in true Indonesian style!